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Editorial - World leaders accept social economic benefits of broadband
A great deal can happen in two years.
Things have changed since the formation of the UN Commission of Broadband back in early 2010. The trans-sector concept that we helped to introduce at that time has been very well-received and there are no countries at the moment that do not accept the social and economic benefits of broadband infrastructure. Over 50 countries have now put government policies in place that should see a more rapid deployment of high-speed broadband networks and the UN is asking all countries to have such a plan in place by 2015.
In the developed countries these infrastructure developments concentrate on FttH. In developing countries they are looking at fibre backbone networks with wireless broadband to deliver the services to the users. A key element here is to get affordable devices out and the $35 tablet introduced in India is a very big step in this direction.
While two years ago there were still questions regarding the social and economic benefits, these have now largely been answered and even in economies that are driven by the free market it has become clear that government leadership is required.
The UN Broadband Commission consists of 58 eminent world leaders. They include ministers from individual countries; hard-nosed and free market businessmen such as Carlos Slim; CEOs of all the leading telco vendors; chairpersons and CEOs of telco operators such as China Mobile, Bharti, Digicell and Telmex; and secretary-generals and director-generals of most of the leading global institutions, including the OECD and the EU.
They can’t all be wrong when they say that broadband infrastructure is critical for the development of both the global and the national economies. Only recently the EU has launched plans that should lead to a €100 billion investment in broadband infrastructure.
Time and again these world leaders have said that there is no one-size-fits-all solution – no silver bullet – and that all countries will have to develop their own national broadband plan. Comparing implementation models is something the Commission will never do. Instead they support countries sharing their models and their findings, which allows for a far more rapid learning process. These leaders believe that, for both social and economic reasons, time is of the essence.
The other significant advance is that the development of government policies and broadband rollout plans has accelerated over the last two years.
When the Commission was initiated, Australia, a key influence during the birth of that organisation, was the only country with bold plans for the future. Others are quickly catching up. The consensus among these world leaders is quite astonishing. Despite the diversity of interests it nevertheless did not take long at all, during the last meeting in Geneva, to reach a consensus regarding the targets and the wording of the manifesto. There were some discussions in the corridors regarding minor issues but from the very start there was overall agreement on the main principles.
Very importantly, in the weeks following the UN conference media reaction has been extremely positive about the outcomes of the meeting. Two years ago that would have been a different story, when many people still didn’t understand the importance of broadband and so were sceptical about governments becoming involved in developing policies to stimulate this infrastructure deployment.
It is therefore most disturbing that in Australia, the country where it all started, there is still no bipartisan agreement – at a minimum on the cost benefits of high-speed broadband to the nation and the overall high-level strategic plan necessary to make that happen. As I have said before, we can argue about the timelines and the initial technology mix but the overall plan is sound – as agreed by the global leaders and global experts in the field. It is time the Australian opposition party joined these world leaders and supported the development of the NBN.
While the chances of ‘killing the NBN’ in Australia are becoming smaller the official goal of the opposition leader is still to do exactly that. For once Australia is a leader in global ICT and our country and our industries will profit greatly from this, but the official mantra of the opposition leader continues to be ‘kill’.
It is time for the broader community and the industry to step up their involvement in this discussion and make it very clear to the politicians that we, as a country, want the NBN. The people have sent out this message twice – during the elections of 2007 and 2010, and I am convinced that they will do the same again if we have an election in 2013. However, it would be far better if we got, at least at a high policy level, bipartisan agreement – if we could persuade the opposition to join the rest of the world in recognising the importance of broadband infrastructure for the social and economic development of the country.
If that is agreed it will become much easier to fill in the details on how to get there.