Access to Internet services concerns human rights and fundamental freedom, as well as the exercise of democratic citizenship. Access and diversity are not an aim in itself. Access and diversity are important for democracy and human rights because they ensure the individual’s right to information and participation in political, social, cultural and economic life.
As computers become more pervasive in the western world, it can be easy to forget that not every country has equal access to key digital resources and infrastructure. Broadband speed Internet is almost considered a necessity in many developed countries today, and yet many people in parts of the developing world do not have any ability to go online at all. The statistics by International Telecommunication Union shows that in spite of rapid growth of Internet use around the world, the global Information and Communications Technology (ICT) development has been quite slow, with the internet users worldwide accounting to just 30.1 percent. With only 30% world population having access to Internet means around two billions of people are disconnected or with no information service at all. However, the many important issues at stake – such as preventing or at least reducing the risk of an excessive fragmentation of the Internet; the structure of opportunities provided by the public policies within each country; protecting the rights of all the stakeholders, while defining their responsibilities; public and private initiatives towards IT education and training, investment in science and technology; the costs of ISP services; and the regulation of telecommunications; safeguarding end users from crimes and abuses; and finally encouraging every opportunity for further development – have made it obvious that issues of Internet governance need to be brought into the spotlight and discussed.
A completely connected world allows for a vast new sphere of possibilities the most prominent being improvement for humanity is simple: Universal access to information will allow people the opportunity to make informed decisions.
The proposed Round Table discussion on access and diversity of broadband internet services will bring together key personnel, researchers, and scientific application researchers in the domain of broadband internet services from across the globe. The purpose of the discussion is to identify the needs and opportunities associated with access and diversity of broadband internet services. With a multidisciplinary approach, the workshop will focus on the actions that the governments should take in the framework of national development policies, their means of implementation; developing and strengthening national, regional and international broadband network infrastructure, including delivery by satellite and other systems; broadening access to orbital resources, global frequency harmonization and global systems standardization; encouraging public/private partnership; promoting the provision of global high-speed satellite services for underserved areas such as remote and sparsely populated areas; thereby facilitating improved access. The workshop shall facilitate and provide a knowledge sharing platform for an invigorating discussion on the challenges and opportunities the internet access pose for policy makers and the broader Internet community; taking into account relevant solutions already in place in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to provide sustainable connectivity and access to remote and marginalized areas at national and regional levels.
• Identifying workable implementing mechanism to arrest the technical, commercial and policy obstacles for achieving universal affordable access to infrastructure
• Prioritising the role of Internet governance globally to enable a movement towards a participatory and inclusive internet
• Identifying the main current obstacles to access to knowledge and content online
In the age of Knowledge Revolution, broadband Internet is as big an engine of growth as coal was in the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution. The Internet is increasingly being recognized as one of the key enablers of growth and development, just like basic infrastructure such as roads and power. The growing recognition that the Internet is a public good is evident from the fact that a number of countries, starting with Finland in 2009, have made access to broadband Internet a fundamental right.
Just as good roads facilitate development by making movement of goods and people easier and more economical, and also facilitate greater interactions among people, Broadband Internet makes it possible to not just leapfrog the deficiencies in physical infrastructure, it also allows for a whole new class of services to be delivered. In many developing countries, governments are using the power of Internet to address deficiencies in essential services such as education - streaming live lectures from faculty in elite institutions to smaller institutions in the hinterland; transparency - making the procurement of goods and services exclusively through Internet-based bidding, besides putting up all tenders and advertisements on a single website; policing - a number of police forces have started using social media to update traffic conditions, engage community in policing initiatives etc.; ag- farmers are being given greater access to updated information about best practices based on soil health analysis, weather forecast and market conditions. These are just some vignettes from the multifarious uses that Broadband Internet is being put to, with the overarching purpose of facilitating development.
Internet, and the numerous networks it helps nurture, has also facilitated revolutionary change in many countries around the world. The cause of democracy has received a strong boost through the use of new social platforms that have defied the limitations of traditional modes of communication and have aided the mobilization of large numbers, helping amplify the demand for positive change. The Internet is also being increasingly used for a two-way dialogue in governance. The Planning Commission of India, has, for example, set up a dedicated online forum to seek input for the Twelfth Five Year Plan of the country. This further democratises the planning process that has been moving increasingly towards a bottom-up, decentralised approach since the 8th Plan. To quote the Draft Approach Paper , “In preparing the Approach Paper, the Planning Commission has consulted much more widely than ever before recognising the fact that citizens are now much better informed and also keen to engage. Over 950 civil society organisations across the country have provided inputs; business associations, including those representing small enterprises have been consulted; modern electronic and social media are being used to enable citizens to give suggestions. All State Governments, as well as local representative institutions and unions, have been consulted through five regional consultations. This process of consultation will be strengthened in the course of preparing the Twelfth Plan over the next few months”
Just as access to advanced techniques of mass production led to prosperous societies in industrialized countries, and in many ways created the developing-developed divide, availability of a plethora of communication technologies threatens to further exacerbate the existing schisms, both within and among nations. At the same time, the vast human resources available in developing countries can effectively be transformed into human capital through leveraging the strengths of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs), that in many ways can help leapfrog the many gaps in ‘traditional’ infrastructure – economic and social. In many ways, the Information Age is the developing world’s chance to make the jump to the next level.
As connectivity becomes an ever-more important determinant of access to development, and as calls for, and concern towards, inclusiveness in the development process grow stronger, it is pertinent to identify and address the key issues affecting connectivity. It is equally important to then address the issue of access and ability to use information – which is currently handicapped in large measure due to literacy and language-related factors.
There is considerable difference among definitions of the term ‘broadband’ across countries. The one constant factor is that connectivity has to be ‘always on’. In terms of speed, some classifications are given below:
• ITU: downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 256 kbps
• OECD: downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 256 kbps
• FCC (USA): downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 4 Mbps and downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 1 Mbps
• TRAI (India): downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 256 kbps; recommendation to raise this to 256 kbps pending implementation
• ICASA (South Africa): downstream speeds of greater than or equal to 256 kbps
• In addition, some jurisdictions such as Australia do not specify a minimum network speed but stress on factors such as connection reliability and applications supported by the network.
Broadband access technologies
The most popular technology for broadband delivery is Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) which uses the existing copper wire based telecom infrastructure. However, optical fibre cable (OFC) has been extensively used to augment the backbone and copper is now mainly used to connect the consumer to the node.
Mobile broadband is increasingly becoming popular due to much faster rollout than wireline networks. Consequently, 3G (and later) mobile networks are increasingly being deployed for mobile broadband internet.
In addition, Direct to Home (DTH), Worldwide Inteoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax) and Broadband over Powerline (BPL) are some other major access technologies in various stages of deployment worldwide.
Initiatives to promote broadband penetration
In urban areas, broadband penetration has been driven by commercial factors and has consequently experienced a rapid rate of progress. However, in order to truly leverage the transformational impact of broadband, it is imperative that access is also provided to the rural and remote areas where business-wise, rollout might not be viable, at least initially. Consequently, governments have adopted a number of mechanisms to promote broadband access.
India : The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) has been created by an Act of Parliament, in order to finance the social obligations of creating a telecom infrastructure in rural areas. Telecom service providers have to pay a Universal Service Levy (USL) @ 5% of the Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) that is then used for subsidizing the rollout of rural telecom infrastructure. A part of this subsidy is for broadband infrastructure as well. In addition to the USL, the USOF may also receive loans and grants from the government.
China : The government is providing a USD 22bn stimulus package for broadband development, part of which is for rural areas. The stimulus will be made available over the next three years through direct funding and tax incentives.
Australia : Australia has established a new company – the National Broadband Network (NBN) Co Ltd, mandated to create a nationwide fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network. The plan is expected to cost Australian $ 27 billion – the largest infrastructure investment made by an Australian Government.
Brazil: Under the National Rural Telecommunications program, the Brazilian Ministry of Communications explored several technologies to provide Brazilian citizens, schools, health clinics, and other public buildings in the most remote areas of the country with access to telephony and Internet broadband services. In 2009, this high-profile economic and social inclusion program found that such services would be best delivered via a dependable and unified wireless telephony and broadband technology using the 450-470 MHz band. Although priority is placed on serving Brazil’s rural areas, the licensees can serve urban areas as deemed necessary. Affordable service fees, a prepaid option, infrastructure sharing and the resale of services are all desired components outlined in the program, which also mandates free Internet access to rural schools.
In a short span of time, Broadband Internet has facilitated great change in many areas. However, issues related to access - both in terms of Broadband penetration and the devices needed - continue to hamper this revolutionary technology from realising its full potential. It is now well-appreciated that mobile devices would be the drivers for Internet penetration, most particularly in low-income countries. Open source architecture, low tariffs and a vibrant app ecosystem can be significant levers to use Internet as a tool for inclusive and sustainable governance. In this light, few important questions that need to be addressed are:
1. Should governments auction spectrum or should they give spectrum to companies that bid to provide services to the end-consumers at the lowest costs? In other words, should governments treat spectrum as a commodity or as an enabler for development?
2. Do we need a common ‘standard’ definition for Broadband that is applicable worldwide - a kilogram weighs the same globally, a metre is the same length. Is it desirable and feasible to have a global standard for Broadband?
3. What measures should be adopted to encourage penetration of Broadband Internet in rural areas, where commercial considerations alone might not be sufficient? Which of the many models implemented globally has been the most successful?
4. How do governments ensure net neutrality, so that the ISPs do not adopt a caste system for different types of content, and consequently price the net out of reach for many categories of citizens?
5. What steps are needed to encourage a push from below for greater access to Broadband Internet? How can it be made commercially viable? Or is the Australian model the way to go?
Dr Rajeshree Dutta Kumar, Sr Programme Specialist, CSDMS
• Countries across the world are planning to declare Internet Governance as a human right; Finland has already taken the lead in this
• However, challenges on accessibility and diversity remain and digital divide is still a critical issue
• Broadband Internet revolution is one of the basic components of the Internet infrastructure and can contribute immensely to growth and development
• Certain key issues that constrain use of broadband include high cost, connectivity and broadband in rural areas, language in which Internet is organised, access issues for illiterates and visually challenged, control of Internet and root servers, net neutrality and conversion to IPv6
Graciela Saleimi, instituto NUPEF, Brazil
• Brazil has 12.8 million broadband connections with an average monthly cost of USD 93
• This accounts for 4.5 percent of the monthly per capita income of a Brazilian citizen, which is much higher as compared to the developing countries which have an average monthly spend of 0.5 percent of the per capita income
• Broadband Internet connection in Brazil is five times more expensive than in Japan, 2.7 times more expensive than in Russia and 2.5 times more expensive than in Mexico
• There are huge gaps in terms of accessibility between the urban and rural areas
• Three companies hold 84.3 percent of the market of broadband connection Brazil
• Half of Brazilian municipalities do not have access to broadband connections, which is a critical issue that the government needs to address
• Mobiles are a potential alternative for accessing internet and Brazil has a huge penetration of mobile phones
• However, in Brazil mobile as an alternative to Internet connection is still far from being a concrete possibility
• The gender distribution in Brazil, with regard to Internet usage is balanced and both men and women are equally using Internet services
• Brazil has not also been able to develop relevant tools for allowing people with disabilities use Internet
Klaus Stoll, Acting Executive Director, Global Knowledge Partnership Foundation
• Digital divide does not exist as the unavailability of broadband mainly exists in areas where there is no awareness and demand
• We need to generate value from the Internet and the value in turn will drive the development of the applications
• As far as value is generated the cost of broadband does not matter
• ICANN has done a good job in internet development and we now need to start looking at strategic use of Internet around the World
Venkatesh Hariharan, Head of Public Policy and Government Relations, Google India
• The policymakers are pushing the right buttons in terms of increasing broadband penetration and content in local languages
• There are investments and networks in pipeline which is good news but the governance of those networks, the rule of law, the processes of law that manage these networks is also very important
• We are working on getting good quality educational content online as there is a thirst of content and knowledge
• To support the government we need a stable and enabling policy environment to work in
Sunil Abraham, Executive Director, The Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, Karnataka
• A technology solution must be made a legitimate solution, barring all copyright issues, if it offers enough value
• We must also look into the patent issues to make it easier for compliance
• Free and open source licenses must also be considered for enhancing access
Abhishek Singh, Director, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India
• Despite availability of multiple modes of internet including broadband, wireless, 3G and 4G, there are still large sections across the society that have no access to internet services
• It is a huge challenge to provide internet access to every person in the world
• The government in India is setting up 100,000 kiosks in villages and rural areas, which can provide internet connectivity in these regions
• More than 60 percent of the rural community access internet via these kiosks
• Challenge is to reduce cost of internet and provide optical fiber and connectivity in all areas
• Tablets and mobile devices costs are still high and hence providing appropriate devices for internet access is another challenge
• Relevant quality content also needs to be present in local language
• While fundamental policy levels and reforms are important, it's important to use the Internet for improving the quality of life for an ordinary citizen
Conclusions and further comments:
Sh N Ravi Shanker concluded the workshop session by highlighting on the need of having public investments in the making the broadband accessible to everyone. While it is important to drive public investment, it is equally important for the private sector participation to join in the government in the endeavour. Countries across the globe, developed and developing, are embarking on similar conclusion on having higher degree of government intervention. There is a need to bring down the cost for broadband. Services have to be made available. India has a democratizing education environment, the national knowledge network initiated by the Government of India, is a big network connecting 1500 institutions of higher learning and research across the country. Another level is the national wireless network connecting villages across India. All villages would take 3 to 4 years to build up the network. The idea is that villages would have access. It is certainly a good and interesting phase for India. We look forward to having shared cooperation from other countries within the subcontinent and beyond to make the world digitally empowered. Internet is a tool for change and exchange!
• Identifying a way forward to achieve a universal affordable access to broadband internet access
Key themes for discussion:
• Engage in a comprehensive understanding on the regulatory and policy options to address the technical, commercial and policy obstacles within the purview of broadband Internet services in a global context.
• Develop a monitoring mechanism module to address the challenges in Internet and Broadband access.
• Capacity Building of the stakeholders – How?
• Role of Public Private Partnerships in strengthening the delivery of broadband Internet services
• Roles of policymakers and the broader Internet community to access to online knowledge and content
• Best practices: Country Perspectives? Way forward.