ITU: Broadband will pay for itself

Broadband connectivity is essential infrastructure to bring countries into next decade of development, and returns will come in form of innovation created, says Secretary-General.

SINGAPORE--Broadband connectivity is an essential piece of infrastructure to bring countries into the next decade of development, a top official with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) said Tuesday.

Hamadoun Toure, ITU Secretary-General, said in an address delivered during an Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) event that mobile phone penetration separated the developed from developing nations in the past decade, but broadband penetration would be the "decisive factor" in the next.

Toure applauded the Singapore government's efforts in laying ICT infrastructure in the country, which have helped avail Internet and broadband services to its people at very affordable rates. He said broadband cost in the island-state, measured against its average monthly income, stood at 0.6 percent last year--a drop from 0.8 percent in 2008, according to ITU estimates.

In comparison, some of the least developed countries offer broadband connectivity at over 100 percent of the average monthly income, placing it out of reach for most people, said Toure.

Nonetheless, this figure is falling. "We are seeing many developing countries follow developed nations' [plans] with national broadband efforts," he said.

This has led to a drop of 42 percent of broadband cost over average income between 2009 and 2010, globally. "The second decade [of the millenium] can really be the decade of broadband if we succeed in reducing cost significantly," he said.

Mentioning Singapore's next generation national broadband network (NBN), he said such efforts--although coming at significant investment cost--pay for themselves in the long run through innovation cultivated through the various industry verticals in a country.

Citing to an oft-quoted research statistic, Toure said a 10 point increase in mobile penetration translates to a 0.6 percent rise in a country's GDP. In Australia, the cost savings in the healthcare industry brought about by IT efficiencies could pay for the country's NBN twice over, he added.

"Very quickly, a broadband network roll out could pay for itself in innovation in sectors such as health and energy, for example," said Toure.

However, to complete a government's vision of ICT modernization, the private sector must be enticed to come in, he noted. Again, pointing to Singapore, he said the country's NBN laid out proper structural separation between infrastructure and content owners, which has helped attract robust investment from the private sector.

Moving past laying infrastructure, content development should be the next pillar of focus for governments, he added. Like Silicon Valley, enterprises need to come in with seed funding and be allowed to develop. "We need a complementary relationship between the government and private sector."

Call for focus on cybersecurity
Toure noted that with increased Internet connectivity, the issue of cybersecurity is brought to the forefront.

"Governments must commit to protecting citizens in cyberspace as they do on the streets," he said.

According to him, there should be an increased watch on children's activities online, as well as full disclosure from the government in its efforts to share information with citizens.

"Developed countries should not fool themselves into thinking they are superpowers in cyberspace," he added, mentioning the example of the "Love" virus, which took down vast systems in the year 2000, and originated from an individual in the Philippines.


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