Broadband: Innovation in ICT Access, Affordability and Application

connect2020-blog-nov2014

Broadband is a critical element in ensuring that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) innovation is enabled around the world; it is the platform on which ICTs are developed and built, bringing benefits to governments, businesses and individuals. Thus, a cohesive multi-stakeholder approach is required to achieve the fourth pillar of the Connect 2020 framework, ‘Innovation and Partnership – lead, improve and adapt to the changing ICT environment’.

I was joined by three experts in the field – Robert Pepper, Vice President, Global Technology Policy at Cisco; Jung-Hee Song, Chairperson at Women in Science, Engineering and Technology in the Republic of Korea; and Francis Wangusi, Director General, Communications Authority of Kenya – for the fourth of five planned roundtables in the Connect 2020 series to discuss ways to address emerging innovation challenges in ICT-enabled markets.

Innovation in ICTs is dependent on an enabling environment, namely access (appropriate infrastructure) and affordability (low-cost). There is a need for political will to create the necessary policy structures and regulatory environment to encourage investment in broadband, essential to reducing the risk of investing in broadband. Synergy between public and private sector is necessary to ensure broadband is available worldwide. All panelists stressed that Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are essential to ensuring the effective and efficient rollout of broadband. If it is purely market driven, areas which do not have a strong business case for rollout will be excluded. Thus national governments need to set up the right regulatory environment, incentives and structure to incentivize the private sector to develop national infrastructure.

ITU has also been active in enabling innovation in the ICT sector through a number of activities and initiatives from capacity building events to developing regulatory toolkits. Understanding PPP to be essential to broadband rollout, ITU launched the Connect the World Series in 2007. Five regional events have forged partnerships and mobilized human, technical and financial resources raising roughly USD 70 billion for the implementation of the connectivity targets set at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the Regional Initiatives adopted by Member States at the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in 2006 in Doha, Qatar.

PPP helped to deploy thousands of kilometers of fibre cables in Kenya ensuring that major cities were connected. While there was intense competition in areas where high economic returns were predicted, private companies did not roll out broadband infrastructure as readily to sparsely populated areas. As such, the Kenyan government set up a fund to ensure that these areas were connected helping to reduce the digital divide in these areas.

Wangusi stated that while the private sector is keen to make profits, they also have a Corporate Social Responsibility to ensure that access is set at a reasonable price for the entire population which will consequently help to develop a high rate of broadband access. Opening the market is vital as it lowers the cost for international and national capacity through competition according to Pepper. He cited Singapore as a compelling example: opening the markets to any under-sea cable that wants to land has reduced the cost of bandwidth to roughly 0.10USD per megabyte, whereas the next lowest cost in the Asian region is roughly 6USD per megabyte, with the maximum reaching around 40USD.

At the roundtable, Wangusi affirmed “my firm belief is that innovation is going to be the driver of infrastructure roll out.” Mobile money is an excellent example of this, where services were used by 50,000 people in 2008, and has since grown to around 22 million (there are 32 million mobile phone users in Kenyans). Furthermore, the application has encouraged further innovation from e-commerce to agriculture, where famers are using ICTs to facilitate payments for the delivery of goods online. Further examples can be found from education to health such as the ITU mHealth Be Healthy, Be Mobile initiative, fostering access to broadband in response to a growing demand for these applications.

We must ensure that universal access to these technologies is encouraged and treated as a component for social good. As noted by Song, Intellectual Property (IP) becomes an issue where there is a wide gap between advanced IP countries and the rest of the world. She stated that “IP moguls prohibit the power of technology to be used for better society in general, and beyond justifiable valuation.” Creative Commons communities encourage voluntary socially responsible sharing of licenses which in turn reinforces the technologies value and expands their market access. This also goes some way to combat the growing issue of ICT counterfeiting, which poses a serious risk of network disruptions, and to consumer health and safety. ITU-T will host high-level talks on Combating Counterfeit and Substandard ICT Devices on 17-18 November 2014 to address this issue.

Pate Patents and standards are intrinsically linked to the cost of ICTs, as devices can sometimes encompass hundreds of patents. Thus, the price of a device can skyrocket if one patent holder demands unreasonable compensation for the use of their IP. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy can therefore help to reduce costs. On the other hand, the policy should ensure that innovators receive a reasonable return on their investment and for their participation in the standards making process so as to encourage innovation. This led to the development of an IPR policy based on RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory), which was discussed at a recent ITU Patent Roundtable. Other initiatives lead by ITU-T include efforts to harmonize IPR policy through the Common Patent Policy for ITU-T/ITU-R/ISO/IEC and the  ITU TSB Director’s IPR Ad Hoc Group which ITU membership and invited guests provide input and guidance on issues surrounding patents and standards, and which I headed for the past eight years.

To truly foster the principles of ‘innovation and partnership’ as defined in Pillar Four, we must acknowledge the role of academia as an important force for innovation. 82 Academia members contribute significantly to ITU’s work. For example, the new ITU-T Focus Group on Digital Financial Services which helps to bring interoperability between different operators offering mobile-money services, will greatly benefit from input from ITU-T’s 61 Academia members. Additionally, our Kaleidoscope events attract excellent ideas from around the world which have benefitted all three ITU sectors.

We must cultivate innovation using all of the resources available in the multi-stakeholder sector to ensure that we develop a vibrant ICT field that benefits everyone who participated within it. This includes young people; it is estimated that 42.5% of the global population is under the age of 25, making it vital to encourage youth to get actively involved in the development of ICTs to ensure the future growth and success of the sector.

 

mjohnson-cvBy: Malcolm Johnson

Malcolm Johnson was elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in 2006 in Antalya, Turkey and was re-elected at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was elected ITU Deputy Secretary General at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan, Republic of Korea.

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