It is the goal of every African nation to adopt regulatory and statutory measures to promote affordable and widespread access to broadband services and to support the development of ICT skills and to adopt national e-strategies. The evidence is fairly conclusive that broadband has a positive contribution to GDP and that this contribution is magnified as penetration increases.
National broadband planning as a tool
In recent years, several countries in the developed and developing worlds have formulated national broadband plans; these plans outline both coverage and service targets, as well as policies, with the purpose of achieving near or complete universal broadband service.
National broadband plans touch upon four broad policy areas:
Assignement of Spectrum assets for universal broadband service coverage : It is also widely recognized that wireless broadband will be the primary technology used to provide ample broadband coverage in developing countries. As such Regulators in Africa must accelerate the allocation for high demand spectrum ( 2.6 and 800mhz ) to set up LTE 4 G networks.
Investment in promotion of adoption programmes: is oriented at addressing demand gaps with particular focus on: universal service policies; the stimulation of the adoption of broadband through digital literacy; economic subsidies; deployment of public access centres; and the development of eGovernment applications in order to promote adoption of broadband.
Adoption of a competition policy: an endorsement of either facilities-based competition between vertically-integrated players such as the telecommunications operators or service-based competition (through unbundling of the telecommunication network of the incumbent operator and the sharing of incumbent facilities).
Removal of any potential supply obstacles: relates to the belief that competition among service suppliers is the right model to stimulate broadband supply, national broadband plans focus on how to lower economic barriers to entry. Relevant policy initiatives could include infrastructure sharing policies, which can range from stipulating rules for duct, mast, and tower sharing to lowering pole attachment costs (in aerial networks) to joint trenching rules.
Start with a Vision
With the rise of broadband-enabled services and applications and the increasing migration of many aspects of modern life online, a lack of broadband connectivity can increasingly have a negative impact on social and economic development by excluding those who lack broadband access or do not understand the relevance of broadband-enabled services.
A good plan should aim to promote efficiency and equity, facilitate demand, and help to support the social and economic goals of the country. The most successful plans will start with a clear vision of what broadband development should be and contain well-articulated goals that can be used to develop specific strategies to achieve success.
Any national broadband policy needs to fulfill the following imperatives :
• Orienting private investments to ensure wide regional coverage of broadband services;
• Making complementary public investments in basic transport infrastructure to promote competition in non-replicable network segments;
• Promoting service affordability and appropriate service quality benchmarks; and
• Stimulating broadband demand through complementary investments in digital literacy, content and applications, research and development, and public access centres.
What to avoid
It is important that the Regulator or Ministry Of Telecommunications ( whoever has the mandate to compile a National Broadband Plan ) understand the challenges that result from well-documented market failures in the provision of broadband services. Among them are:
• Regional disparities in broadband penetration, which reduce development opportunities for the poorest regions
• Limited capillary presence of the backbone infrastructure for data transport, which results in high prices and low service quality outside the main urban centres;
• Limited connectivity among public schools, libraries, and government offices;
• Inadequate skills and low penetration of terminal equipment among disadvantaged households, which reduces demand incentives; and
• Limited development of local content and appropriate electronic services, which also reduces broadband demand.
Korea : shining example of broadband policies and spectacular results !!!
The government of the Republic of Korea was one of the early broadband leaders. It has developed six plans since the mid-1980s that have helped to shape broadband policy in the country. The Korea example shows that policy approaches can effectively move beyond network rollout and include research, manufacturing promotion, user awareness, and digital literacy. As such in any broadband policy initiative the Govt needs to provide concrete actions rather than political bombast and take responsibility :
• Government should focus on maximizing competition, including removing entry barriers and improving the incentives and climate for private investment.
• Government should provide for specific, limited, and well justified public funding interventions only in exceptional circumstances (for example, where governments are trying to promote growth of underdeveloped markets).
• Government funding or policy should not compete with or displace private sector investment.
• Subsidized networks should be open access (that is, they should offer capacity or access to all market participants in a nondiscriminatory way)
• Government may need to regulate dominant providers to avoid market concentration or other adverse impacts on overall market competition.
• Government should eliminate barriers to content creation and refrain from blocking access to content, including social networking sites, or restricting local content creation.
Don’t forget skills development
In order to realize broadband’s full potential for economic growth, an educated workforce trained in the use of ICTs is necessary. Additionally, there is a self-reinforcing effect between education and broadband, since broadband can help to improve fundamental educational outcomes, including learning how to use broadband better.
A review of 17 impact studies and surveys carried out at the national, European, and international levels by the European Commission found that the services and applications available over broadband networks improve basic educational performance . These studies found that broadband and ICTs positively affect learning outcomes in math, science, and language skills. In addition to facilitating basic skills, broadband improves the opportunities for individuals with ICT training, and such individuals generally have a better chance of finding employment as well as higher earning potential.
Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )