According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word transform means ‘to change (something) completely and usually in a good way’.
Broadband is a transformational technology, similar to other disruptive innovations – such as railroads, automobiles, airplanes and telegraphs. Broadband has not only created a new market of services, but it has added significant value to existing markets.
In fact, The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, a joint initiative of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and UNESCO believes that broadband is an essential element in modern society, offering broad social and economic benefits. Without broadband infrastructure and services, developing countries risk exclusion from participation in the rapidly growing global digital economy.
The Broadband Commission believes that broadband networks are a basic infrastructure – in the same manner as water, electricity, and roads – and has application across all industrial sectors. Additionally, broadband networks are increasingly providing the foundation for public services, social progress and sustainable development.
Interestingly enough, the Commission has chosen not to define ‘broadband’ in terms of specific speeds. Rather it views broadband as a cluster of concepts: always-on, high-capacity connectivity enabling combined provision of multiple services simultaneously.
The Need for Speed
Nonetheless, there is evidence that broadband speed can directly impact income. In a recent study authored by Ericsson in partnership with Arthur D. Little and the Chalmers University of Technology – there is a direct relationship been broadband speed and household income.
As shown, countries with the highest average connection speeds also had the highest annual household income.
According to the report, in OECD countries, upgrading broadband from 0.5Mbps to 4Mbps increased income by approximately USD 322/month, while upgrading from 4 to 8 Mbps added another USD 122 per month.
In BIC countries, introducing a 0.5Mbps connection increases household income by USD 800/year, while upgrading from 0.5Mbps to 4Mbps increased income by USD 46/month and 4 to 8 Mbps added another USD 10/month.
The Broadband Challenge
The Broadband Commission issued its Broadband Challenge to government and policy makers in 2011, by endorsing four advocacy targets for making broadband universal and boosting affordability and uptake. The targets are as follows:
Target 1: Making broadband policy universal. By 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access / Service Definitions. As of mid-2013, 134 countries have plans in place – more than double since 2009
Target 2: Making broadband affordable. By 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (amounting to less than 5 percent of average monthly income). At the end of 2012, the price of monthly fixed-broadband represented 5 percent or less of monthly GNI in 95 countries (including 48 developing countries), but there are still 78 countries where it exceeds 5 percent, with 19 above 50 percent.
Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband. By 2015, 40 percent of households in developing countries should have Internet access. As of mid-2013, 78 percent of households in developed countries had Internet access (either fixed or mobile), compared with 28 percent of households in developing economies.
Target 4: Getting people online. By 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60 percent worldwide, 50 percent in developing countries and 15 percent in LDCs. At the end of 2012, there were 2.4 billion people online, equivalent to 35.7 percent of the world’s population, up from 32.5 percent at the end of 2011. This is expected to grow to 2.7 billion by the end of 2013, representing 39 percent.
Growth of broadband (both fixed and mobile) has been nothing short of phenomenal, with fixed broadband accelerating in the mid-2000’s, while mobile broadband found its footing at the end of the last decade.
In just 10 short years – broadband has simply changed everything – for most of us. Without broadband – we would not be streaming Netflix, downloading digital music or books; using smartphones, tablets or e-readers. App Stores would not exist and we would still be communicating with people via email and telephones – rather than social networks.
For many of us – we would still be paying exorbitant long-distance fees – rather than using Skype or some other type of VoIP; and the ability to have a visual conversation (Facetime or such) would be unimaginable.
But it is the next 10 years or more where the full potential of broadband and ICT will be realized.
Broadband Key to Sustainable Development
Work within the UN is in progress to further the work of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and shape a new sustainable development agenda involving all sectors of society. The Broadband Commission considers broadband to be a vital part of this planning and has recently issued a new report “Transformative Solutions for 2015 and Beyond” – which explores some of the issues of how broadband can best contribute to development goals.
As part of this report, they have issued the following ten goals for sustainable development and discuss how broadband and ICT can offer a transformative opportunity for each goal:
Smart energy, e&m-health, e&m-education, mobile banking, smart buildings, intelligent transportation systems, e&m-government, cloud technology, M2M and Internet of things, are just a few of the many solutions enabled by broadband that can have a positive impact on sustainable development.
But they are all dependent on connectivity. And that remains the number one goal. Governments must play a vital role in creating a stable and appropriate framework for universal broadband to be successful by fostering investments, creating a level playing field, ensuring sustainable competition and reasonable spectrum policy.
High-levels of connectivity combined with advanced, low-cost devices, will provide unparalleled opportunities to empower people and improve livelihoods by advancing a more equitable, inclusive and environmentally healthy world.