According to the new ITU Broadband Commission report, “State of Broadband 2016,” billions of people are still not connected to the internet and a half a billion homes that are connected do not have adequate broadband. Many of these people live in developing countries in high cost areas that are currently unprofitable to serve.
To solve this problem, policymakers should consider imposing an upfront universal service obligation, or USO, in their countries’ upcoming 700 MHz auctions. Bidders will reflect the USO’s added costs of deployment in their proposed bids. In this way, governments will efficiently fund broadband deployment costs to high cost areas and private companies will determine how best to meet the deployment obligation the regulator defines.
But even if affordable broadband is available, people need the skills to use digital tools to navigate the web. Digital literacy programs and the use of ICT and broadband in schools can help close the adoption gap.
The ITU Broadband Commission Demand Creation Report provides several examples of public private partnerships that have made a difference. For example, a program implemented by the government of Senegal and the World Bank enables many university students to obtain computers and Costa Rica’s “connected homes program” benefits vulnerable socioeconomic groups via subsidies for computers and internet access.
Also helpful is the “Smart Africa” initiative, a regional program that brought together several heads of African countries, to improve adoption of ICT and broadband across Africa.
However, despite these efforts, more can be done. The value is clear: deploying more broadband and getting millions more people online will generate myriad social and economic benefits.
I look forward to discussing how we can best make further progress on broadband deployment globally – both on supply and demand sides – in the “Reaching another billion: Understanding what works to stimulate ICT adoption” session in the Forum at ITU Telecom World 2016 in the coming days.