Will more govts go universal Net access?

Will more govts go universal Net access?

Summary: As more countries, especially in Asia look to deploy next-generation broadband networks, governments will have to address digital divide issues, say industry watchers.

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Some European governments have in recent months stipulated that telecommunication operators in their countries were to make broadband access available to all citizens. At the same time, more countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, have plans to deploy next-generation broadband networks or improve existing infrastructure in the coming years.

In October, Finland's Ministry of Transport and Communications passed a law requiring telcos in the country to provide Internet connection speeds of at least 1 megabit per second (Mbps) to some 5.2 million Finnish by July 2010. Last month, the Spanish government announced it was also targeting to offer affordable broadband with speeds of at least 1 Mbps to residents by 2011.

Meanwhile, Germany is on track to achieve full nationwide coverage of basic broadband services that would give users a minimum of 1 Mbps bandwidth by 2010, according to the country's Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. By 2014, at least 75 percent of the population should have access to a bandwidth of 50 Mbps, a spokesperson said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.

She added that the current status for basic broadband services is "close to 97 percent" coverage. As for the deployment of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and fiber-to-the-building (FTTB) for high-speed Internet access, while less than 1 percent of households are currently connected, she believed that this will soon change as "[the] segment is about to sufficiently gain momentum".

According to Ovum's research director David Kennedy, the worldwide developments in high-speed broadband implementation and instituting access as a legal right will lead to "increasing pressure on governments to address digital divide issues in the near future". Particularly as these advanced networks are rolled out in urban cities, there will be a widening service gap between rural and urban areas, he noted.

Kennedy said that such pressures will partly be generated due to "internal political pressure" as well as "competitive pressure between different countries to attract investments".

Yet, not all countries are ready to mandate Internet access for all citizens.

Mark Lim, head of intellectual property of media and entertainment at Singapore-based law firm Tan Peng Chin, pointed out "it would be a bit of a stretch to characterize Internet access as a basic human right, at least not at this point of time."

In the case of Singapore, Lim said the local authorities encourage all of its residents to be connected to the Internet, and "many" of the countries policies, such as in education, support the vision.

Quickening NBN adoption in APAC
According to an Ovum study of next-generation access in the Asia-Pacific region, the region "is the world leader in next-generation access development" and "leads the world in the amount of fiber being deployed". The study attributed the rapid deployment to government initiatives, a highly competitive environment and the keenness of providing IPTV (Internet Protocol television) and other content services over their infrastructure.

Fiber installations typically refer to FTTH, FTTB and fiber-to-the-node (FTTN), the report released in October said.

Singapore is one such country in the region hoping to tap on ICT as a strategic enabler to spur its economy in the future.

Following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2006 Budget Speech, which outlined plans to build a new national broadband network (NBN), the nation's ICT regulator the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) further defined a roadmap to realize the Intelligent Nation 2015 (iN2015) vision. According to IDA's blueprint, the NBN is expected to be available across the island by 2015, providing households and businesses with Web access speeds exceeding 1 Gbps (gigabit per second).

Progress has been made toward that goal, with OpenNet, the appointed consortium to build Singapore's NBN, announcing in August that it has connected the first home with dark fiber.

The Ovum study reported that Singapore had approximately 1.1 million broadband subscribers, with household penetration reaching 94.8 percent at the end of the first quarter of 2009,. The analyst firm said it expects FTTH and FTTB subscriptions to reach 390,000, or 35 percent household penetration rate, by 2012.

Elsewhere in the region, Japan, the global leader in FTTH deployment, both in terms of subscribers and low price according to the report, is on pace to achieve its targets of providing 100 percent broadband access to its citizens, and 90 percent FTTH coverage by 2010. These objectives were set out in its 2010 Next-Generation Networking strategy announced in 2006, said the report. According to statistics dated June 2007 by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, broadband penetration was 95.6 percent, while FTTH hit 84.1 percent.

China, said to be one of the fastest growing broadband markets in the world in the Ovum report, is relying on its "local governments" to spur its NBN project. Many of these local administrations have been signing agreements with provincial offices of local telcos such as China Mobile and China Telecom, to build up its broadband infrastructure throughout 2009, said the report.

Cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, for example, have plans to build "smart cities" based on FTTH and FTTB access technologies. The fiber-based networks are expected to boast 100 percent coverage by 2012, Ovum noted in the report.

The Ovum report also said that Australia is currently working on developing a "wholesale only" FTTH access network to reach 90 percent of its population over seven to eight years, with the remaining 10 percent serviced by "wireless and other technologies". The Australian government has indicated that it will invest A$4.7 billion (US$4.3 billion), and is looking to raise more funds through private investments, according to the study.

Topics: Networking, Broadband, Emerging Tech, Mobility

Kevin Kwang

About Kevin Kwang

A Singapore-based freelance IT writer, Kevin made the move from custom publishing focusing on travel and lifestyle to the ever-changing, jargon-filled world of IT and biz tech reporting, and considered this somewhat a leap of faith. Since then, he has covered a myriad of beats including security, mobile communications, and cloud computing.

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