Broadening the Reach of Broadband in the Developing World

broadbandGlobally, people send around 2.8 million e-mail messages per second.  That is around 90 trillion messages a year.   Analysts agree that this mind-boggling figure is bound to increase exponentially in the coming decade as the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry turns its attention towards the remaining 66 percent of the world’s population that is yet to gain access to the internet.

Around 90 percent of the more than one billion households throughout the planet that are still unconnected are in the developing world, home to some 5.7 billion people.   For developing nations, the effort to allow more people access to the internet is a major economic goal.  Access to the internet through the worldwide web means access to education, the creation of better income opportunities, improved competitiveness, and access to better healthcare services.

Broadband for a broader public

Statistics contained in a report published by the World Bank in 2010 indicate that every 10 percent increase in high-speed internet connection encourages a 1.3 increase in economic growth.  This is why Christine Zhen Wei-Qiang, an economist at the World Bank, believes that governments in the developing world must intensify their efforts to expand broadband access in their respective countries.

“Connectivity — whether the internet or mobile phones — is increasingly bringing market information, financial services, health services, to remote areas and is helping to change people’s lives in unprecedented ways,” said Zhen-Wei Qiang in an article in the World Bank website.

Obviously, there is a direct relationship between broadband penetration and its cost — and the World Bank estimates that around one out of every four people in the developing world earn less than $1.25 a day.  People who cannot afford adequate food won’t pay for access to the internet.

This poses problems for service providers seeking to expand broadband coverage in rural areas of developing nations, where large concentrations of the world’s poor reside.

Affordable plans and tax incentives

Recent studies published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) nonetheless reveal that as the annual cost of broadband drops below three percent of a family’s income, its use begins to increase dramatically.

The findings of the ITU studies appear to coincide with the research conclusions drawn by Chris Thomas and Frederico Calvalho of the Intel Corporation in a report for the World Economic Forum.   In their report, Thomas and Calvaho detail how service providers in the developing world are now finding viable solutions in “pay less for less” service schemes.

“Affordable broadband programs are starting to emerge in countries such as Sri Lanka and India, with service providers offering connectivity solutions starting as low as US$2 a month,” they write.

The two add that governments should work with RingCentral phone service providers and others in the ICT industry to accelerate the expansion of broadband coverage as appropriate policy incentives are proving quite effective.

“Some governments have realized that incentivizing technology adoption is much more lucrative than overtaxing the initial technology purchase,” according to the two.

“This realization has resulted in reducing the cost of devices through subsidies and reducing or removing some of the taxes such as import duties and value-added tax (VAT).”

Closing the gap

Thirteen years ago, Bill Clinton spoke about bridging the digital divide between developed and developing nations.  While the developing world is still a long way from closing that gap, remarkable progress has been made toward allowing the next billion internet users access to broadband services.

Thomas and Calvaho believe telecommunications companies and governments are starting to understand the opportunities offered by expanding the reach of broadband to a wider section of the developing world’s impoverished populations.  This in itself is an important step forward.

“Affordable connectivity bundled with computers, software and content are being offered by several service providers around the world,” they write. “Government-sponsored programs to equip educators, students, and lower-income families are also becoming a priority for many countries.”

Both the World Bank and United Nations (UN) are confident that the internet can help spur much-needed economic growth in the impoverished communities of developing nations.

Article author Henry Conrad is a 29-year-old game developer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Aside from gaming and being a tech junky, he also dabbles in creative writing, which allows him to create great storylines and backgrounds for his characters.