A range of policy options are available to maximize access to broadband and to maximize its benefits.
Policy-makers must regularly review and revise regulatory frameworks to encourage the development of broadband and ICTs. According to ITU’s Trends in Telecommunication Reform Report 2015, many countries have adopted or are in the process of adopting more flexible regulatory frameworks over the past decade.
By now, a large majority of countries have moved to engage with market liberalization measures in their telecommunication sector. For example, by 2016, 151 countries had allowed private sector participation in their fixed-line sector, at least 147 countries had allowed private sector participation in their mobile (spectrum-based) operators, and there are now 164 regulatory authorities worldwide by 2016.
As outlined in The State of Broadband 2016: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, today, regulatory frameworks should also include consideration of the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), data privacy and protection.
Cisco forecasts that, by 2020, there will be at least 25 billion smart objects connected to the Internet. The exponential growth in connected devices can be traced to the rising popularity of consumer applications in smart homes, autonomous vehicles and consumer wearables. This has propelled many to declare the IoT as the next frontier of ICT development.
“With the Internet today increasingly becoming a basic utility for individuals, households and organizations, some consumers may inevitably be lagging behind as businesses and governments leap forward in IoT adoption,” explained Mr. Leong Keng Thai, Deputy Chief Executive, IDA, Singapore. “Governments need to ensure that no segment of the community is excluded from the benefits that the Internet and IoT can bring. The key priority for policy-makers should always remain, first and foremost, on addressing the challenges and needs of their people and citizens.”
Bridging barriers: affordability, access and locally relevant content
Although there is evidence that broadband prices are falling internationally, relating prices to income may mean that there are still large segments of the population for whom broadband Internet service costs far more than 5% of total household income, once their effective purchasing power is taken into account. Regulators and policy-makers may wish to evaluate and monitor the relative purchasing power of their population and consider introducing targeted subsidies or support measures for certain areas or specific socio-economic groups. In addressing this issue, regulators and policy-makers should consider innovative business models to users. Subsidies were still the third most popular option with ITU Member States for helping achieve universal service, in use by an eighth or around 16% of all ITU Member States.
Increased awareness and the ability to use broadband services effectively are critical to bringing the next 1.5 billion people online and to stimulating the growth, take-up and use of the Internet by new consumers. Investments in awareness campaigns, training programmes and the development and hosting of local content, including in local languages, can help promote effective use of broadband services.
Locally relevant content
Locally relevant content is one of the key enablers of internet adoption. Recently, in developing countries, there have been significant efforts to promote local innovation through strategic hosting of content via locally hosted data centres (managed by private or public entities) as part of efforts to develop the local Internet ecosystem. “After moving the content inside the country, locally hosted content resulted in positive impact on Internet usage – within two months, usage increased by 80%,” according to Antonio Garcia-Zaballos (IADB) and Natalija Gelvanovska (World Bank).
Statistical indicators are also essential to assess the impact of broadband policies and to track progress towards broadband goals and targets, such as the SDGs. Data collected nationally should be based on international standards and definitions, such as those developed by ITU. ITU hosts an annual World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS) for progress in the definition and collection of reliable and consistent data. The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is working on a set of National Digital Scorecards to evaluate digitization in different countries across the globe.
More on policy recommendations to maximize access to broadband can be found in The State of Broadband 2016: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, available here.