“We’ve heard a great deal about the mobile miracle; how can that be replicated for broadband – especially in Asia?”
That’s a very good question. And that’s one of the main reasons ITU set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development with UNESCO last year.
The Commission wants to ensure that broadband is at the top of national development agendas around the world, and to demonstrate the enormous benefits of broadband in terms of social and economic progress – as well as in helping us to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 target date.
The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. I myself, along with Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, serve as co-vice-chairs.
We have around 50 top-level Commissioners from industry, government, UN and other international agencies, who bring with them tremendous expertise and experience.
Together, they are committed to ensuring that broadband networks reach every corner of the planet, and that access is affordable to all, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances – whether that’s in Asia or anywhere else in the world.
“The Broadband Commission for Digital Development met in Paris earlier this month, and I know that ‘Broadband Business Models’ were on the agenda. Can you tell us something more about that?”
Yes, indeed. We had a very fruitful meeting, and the issue of business models came up in two distinct ways.
Firstly, we used the meeting as the opportunity to launch a new substantive report from the Commission entitled ‘Broadband: A Platform for Progress’.
The report lists more than a hundred studies showing the positive economic and social effects of broadband, and it examines how these networks could be expanded and the tremendous services they can deliver.
And secondly, we had a very dynamic and engaging roundtable on the specific subject of ‘Broadband Business Models’.
During this session I was pleased to see quite vigorous debate – notably between Commissioners from the private sector and Commissioners from government – who clearly demonstrated that there is no ‘silver bullet’, but instead many different business models available.
Uruguay’s bold decision to put low-cost laptops into the hands of all 400,000 schoolchildren there;
New satellite projects that aim to deliver broadband access to the next three billion users;
Australia’s ambitious National Broadband Network that will offer high-speed Internet access to all homes, schools and businesses – even those in the most remote locations; and
Pre-paid mobile broadband subscriptions that are already rapidly driving down the costs of broadband across Africa and Asia.
“Looking to specific projects here in Asia, can you tell us about ITU’s perspective on LION, the Longest International Open-access Network, particularly in the light of possible United Nations involvement in that project?”
I first heard about this project a few months ago at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and as I said then, we at ITU – and of course on the Broadband Commission – applaud all initiatives that aim to improve Internet access, particularly large-scale initiatives such as this one.
This particular project is very interesting, as it aims to leverage existing infrastructure – some 140,000 kilometres of roads which make up the Asian Highway Network – to accelerate broadband rollout across the continent.
The Asian Highway Project has been backed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, UNESCAP.
The LION project aims to build on this good work, using public-private partnerships, and has some particularities which make it especially interesting:
With public highways, there are many fewer rights-of-way issues in laying fibre-optic cables, which brings down investment costs;
The network would be owned by the road authorities of the respective countries, rather than telecom operators, increasing the potential for public good;
Revenues from the network – once investment costs have been recovered – can be used to help pay for road maintenance.
Let me therefore encourage continued discussions with UNESCAP, as well as with ITU, and see how this ambitious project can be brought to fruition.