Much of the world still lacks basic Internet access. According
to ITU statistics, global Internet user penetration reached 30% in
2010, a milestone in penetration achieved in developed countries
some nine years earlier, in 2001. Internet user penetration in the
developing world as a whole, however, remains considerably lower, at
just 21% in 2010, and was just 11% in Africa.
At present, millions of people cannot enjoy these benefits because
access to broadband networks is limited or prohibitively expensive.
Broadband subscriptions cost less than 2.5 % of Gross National
Income (GNI) per capita in the 40 most connected nations. But at the
other end of the scale, in the 30 countries with the lowest level of
broadband penetration, subscriptions cost over 100% of per capita
This is not just about exclusion from the latest news, gossip or
amusing video content – it is about exclusion from critical
infrastructure; from telemedicine and remote diagnosis; from the
online wealth of educational information; from online services and
applications which can improve the lives of millions. Broadband
infrastructure cannot therefore only be for rich countries – or
there is a risk of creating a new ‘broadband divide’. Everyone –
wherever they live and whatever their means – needs and deserves
equitable and affordable access to this infrastructure.
In the 21st Century, broadband networks are today basic national
infrastructure – just like transport, energy and water networks.
With increasing machine-to-machine (M2M) communications – ‘The
Internet of Things’ – these networks will underpin a vast array of
services in areas like healthcare, education, energy management,
transport systems, emergency services and much more.
The Broadband Commission engages in
leadership to demonstrate that broadband networks:
- are basic infrastructure in a modern society -
just like roads, electricity or water;
- are uniquely powerful tools for accelerating
progress towards the MDGs;
- are remarkably cost-effective and offer
impressive returns-on-investment (ROI) in both
developed and developing economies alike;
- underpin all industrial sectors and are
increasingly the foundation of public services and
- need to be promoted by governments in joint
partnership with industry, in order to reap the full
benefits of broadband networks and services.
The Commission believes that high-speed, high-capacity broadband
connections to the Internet are critical infrastructure in modern
society, conferring broad social and economic benefits. Without
broadband infrastructure and services, developing countries risk
exclusion from participation in the burgeoning global digital
economy. For example, broadband infrastructure and services can
More efficient Infrastructure and industry
In the power industry, broadband networks can show consumers and
suppliers how much power is being used in real time, and where. This
means that demand and supply can be stabilized as power is delivered
or stored on ‘smart grids’. And in ‘smart buildings’, energy is
saved through constant monitoring of heating and lighting. The
manufacture and distribution of goods can be constantly tracked
using broadband networks, which are also the foundation for cloud
computing that offers rapid scalability of resources for businesses
— as well as flexible access for individuals.
Through e-learning, broadband improves access to digital resources,
extending education to more people of all ages, at all levels of
need, and reaching out to previously deprived communities. It also
helps in training teachers and linking databases to improve
Using broadband, it is now possible for universities and research
institutes to share vast amounts of data worldwide, and for students
to read books in libraries on the other side of the globe. This
speeds up work in countless fields, including areas such as medicine
and agriculture that have an especially important impact on the
lives of people in the poorest regions.
Preserving the Environment and responding to emergencies
One particularly important area of research involves monitoring the
Earth’s environment, through sensors on the ground or data collected
by satellite. Broadband networks ensure that data can be transmitted
swiftly to show, for example, the effects of climate change, crop
shortages, or impending natural disasters. Broadband also helps by
supporting emergency communications and medical assistance.
Safety on the roads is improved by broadband delivering real-time
information to traffic control systems and individual drivers. It
helps streamline traffic flows, cut fuel consumption and minimize
accidents, making it much easier to integrate all types of transport
safely and efficiently.
More flexible Lifestyles
Videoconferencing removes the need for travel, and with a broadband
connection, people will increasingly be able to work away from the
office, while on the move. Whether through a mobile device or at
home, they can also enjoy a huge range of content produced by the
publishing, music and video industries, for which broadband networks
have become a leading delivery channel.
Network-based monitoring of chronic medical conditions and low-cost
remote consultation and intervention will be increasingly favoured
by medical professionals, particularly those serving remote
communities or ageing populations. Telemedicine, as it is known,
will give many more people a better chance of health.
Taking Democracy and culture online
By putting information online, local and national governments can
not only keep citizens up to date with what is happening, they can
also offer immediate and interactive access to services, such as
applying for licences or registering to vote. Citizens themselves
have a powerful platform on which to create spaces for sharing ideas
and for expressing the creativity of their particular cultures.
Numerous studies have found a
positive impact on economic growth, although the estimate of its
actual magnitude varies. For example, a 10% increase in broadband
penetration has been found to increase economic growth from a low of
0.24% to a high of 1.50% (see Figure below).
Figure 1: Impact on GDP of an increase of 10% in broadband
Sources and notes
Broadband networks may even pay for themselves, due to savings
made in delivering services. In Australia, for example, it has been
estimated that cost savings in healthcare alone could pay for the
country’s National Broadband Network twice over. For developing
countries, the solution is likely to be found in mobile broadband —
using a mobile phone, of which there are now some five billion
worldwide, to connect to the information society. By improving
education, medical services, trade and more, broadband Internet
access can make a tremendous difference. High-speed networks can
lead to high-speed growth.
In the same way that the construction of electricity grids and
transport links spurred innovation far beyond the dreams of their
builders, high-speed broadband networks stimulate greater efficiency
and the creation of new businesses. For society as a whole, they
represent a platform for progress, and the Broadband Commission
encourages government and industry leaders to take action to deploy
broadband for all.
Sources: World Bank
Broadband Strategies Toolkit, citing various sources – R.Katz,
S.Vaterlaus, P. Zenhäusern & S.Suter (2010), The Impact of Broadband
on Jobs and the German Economy, Intereconomics: Review of European
Economic Policy. Vol. 45, Issue 1, p. 2 (Jan. 2010); Analysys Mason,
Assessment of Economic Impact of Wireless Broadband in India (2010);
McKinsey (2010), Fostering Economic and Social Benefits of ICT, The
Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010, World Economic
Forum; Qiang & Rossotto (2009) Economic Impacts of Broadband, 2009
Information and Communications for Development, World Bank (2009);
Czernich et al. (2009) Broadband Infrastructure and Economic Growth
Notes: * Only includes Germany; ** Average of five
country studies, including United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand,
Malaysia and a Middle Eastern country, from various sources 2003 and
2004, and Qiang and Rossotto 2009 study; *** Limited to mobile
broadband impact in India; + Various countries, upper range applies
to developing countries and lower range to developed countries; ++
Sample of 20 OECD countries.
Back to Figure 1