Gather any group of telecom professionals and government ministers in a room and raise the topic of broadband access and the resulting debate will more often than not require the help of trained negotiators to diffuse. This is exactly what happened recently as the UN highlighted the condition of broadband access on a global scale.

The figures the UN released make for sober reading. In the world’s poorest countries, less than 1% of the population have access to fixed broadband and the costs for this access reach as high as 100% of monthly average incomes. This contrasts with developed countries where over 30% have access at a cost of 1%.

These figures were released ahead of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit to be held in New York later this month. One of the MDGs is to raise the levels of broadband access by 2015, with specific focus on rural connectivity. There are clearly some ambitious figures and ones that certainly raise questions as to how they will be implemented over such a short time. The map below highlights the broadband penetration on a global scale and the size of the challenges faced.

broadband_world_penetration

Dr Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), believes that we no longer face a digital divide, but a broadband divide. Looking at mobile subscription rates for developing countries this certainly seems to be true. Over one billion people throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America now have access to mobile phones and are actively using them for services such as mobile banking.

In order to take the next step, Dr Toure is asking all countries to develop a policy that ensures broadband access is seen as a public service, one that every citizen has access to. After that, Dr Toure believes that it is up to the private sector to invest.

Do you agree with this approach? Can the private sector be expected to deliver the infrastructure that is required? And what of rural connectivity in developed nations? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.