Here’s the best way to enhance a nation’s competitive strength and the well-being of its citizens: Implement a national or rural broadband plan.
That’s why 142 countries have already developed their own plans to bring affordable broadband to all their citizens, with a particular attention to their underserved rural populations. These pioneers are demonstrating that competitive and universal broadband can deliver new tools, services and the power of instantaneous information to any country, region or economy.
The nations that join in next can build on their experience — by considering the following 6 points for creating a successful broadband plan. Key issues include new approaches to funding, how to choose the right technologies, how to shape a national transformational initiative, and the ongoing importance of enhancing user awareness.
1. Establish clear strategies and goals
Governments should be at the forefront in creating a national broadband plan, while reducing the digital divide by carefully considering the needs of all their citizens and consulting with a variety of stakeholders. The 1st step is to establish a comprehensive vision and set clear, short to long term objectives for broadband access to impact the country’s prosperity and social development.
From there, comprehensive strategies must be developed to encourage broadband investment, adoption, and usage by addressing both the supply and demand sides of new infrastructures and services. On the demand side, the strategies should set measurable goals and establish clear and comprehensive tactics for meeting the needs of key users — such as schools, hospitals, public administrations, businesses, and citizens in areas that are not yet served.
It’s also important for the plan to encourage private investment through public-private partnerships (PPPs), which can play a powerful role in removing barriers to infrastructure deployment.
2. Stimulate the market
As noted by the World Bank in its Broadband Strategies Toolkit, broadband development is “an ecosystem of mutually dependent and reinforcing components of supply and demand.” As a result, governments, the private sector, and international financing are now cooperating to overcome familiar obstacles to investment in broadband.
A balance of “give and take” can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, regulatory and legal reforms can promote private sector investment, while simultaneously looking for more effective ways to regulate concentrated markets and encourage competition. By establishing a level playing field for all parties, a national or ruralbroadband plan can encourage innovation and give businesses and individuals a broader choice of providers.
When appropriate, the government can shape a transformational national or rural project. In these cases, the government may be willing to take on demand risk, which alleviates one of the main concerns of the private sector. New Zealand’s Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative, for instance, has taken an innovative approach to funding that has resulted in a new market structure. The government is responsible for fiber deployment along streets. Then private partners fund the connection from the street to individual premises, at the customer’s request.
3. Choose technologies that support long-term goals
Either a national or rural broadband plan must identify the best technologies for meeting its diverse goals. And this process will address factors ranging from the country’s existing infrastructure, population density, and demand for services to the cost of the necessary infrastructure — and the expected financial performance of the project.
The most common types of broadband initiatives involve 3 key technologies:
Fiber-based national backbone — This capital-intensive project involves acquiring rights of way and deploying the network’s physical assets. But once it’s in place, it can provide a transformative open platform for ultra-broadband access between population centers and international submarine cable access points.
These networks are already being used worldwide to bridge the digital divide. In Columbia, for example, the state-owned telecom operator UNE EPM has upgraded the country’s national broadband infrastructure with a 100-Gbps backbone that includes Alcatel-Lucent equipment. The network connects all major urban areas and international submarine cables, serving approximately 14 million people.
FTTx-based next-generation access — A nation’s existing fiber backbone networks can be extended to the most economical point (FTTx), whether that’s to the home, the building, the node, or the curb. Then selected forms of high-speed copper, such as VDSL2 Vectoring or G.fast, can also be incorporated. This approach allows multiple service providers to bring ultra-broadband directly to all homes and businesses.
Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel, Lebanon, Qatar, and other nations are using this method to deliver last-mile ultra-broadband. The Australian government is using fiber to deliver speeds of up to 100 Mbps — along with wireless networks that offer 12 Mbps or more to citizens in remote areas.
In New Zealand, the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative is based on a Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) solution. It’s bringing downlink speeds of at least 100 Mbps to homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. And it reaches 75 percent of New Zealanders.
LTE-based open wireless access — Using 4G LTE technology, policy makers can start up broadband services faster, at affordable prices, particularly in rural and unserved markets. Physical infrastructure requirements are drastically reduced with this IP-based mobile technology. And its naturally open access platform is fully interoperable and well suited to offering mobile broadband services.
The right technology choices will satisfy today’s needs — and then continue to enhance competition well into the future. Because these choices are crucial to the success of a plan, it can be advantageous to work with advisors who are highly experienced in developing business modeling and technology strategies. Bell Labs Consulting, for example, can help governments model a broadband plan, providing pragmatic recommendations underpinned with independent, fact-based analysis based on long-established engagements around the globe.
4. Create a sustainable business model with infrastructure sharing
Traditional modes of network operation have relied entirely on commercial operators assuming all risks and making all investments. But with the unprecedented data explosion witnessed in mobile as well as in fixed services, operators in many countries could face financial struggles or may not want to this new round of investments.
Government-driven national or rural broadband plans are now devising complementary and new approaches that help meet their goals for universal, affordable broadband. For example:
- Technology- and service-neutral regulations are making it easier for multiple operators to enter the market. These regulations promote healthy competition, with more service and price options for citizens.
- Clear regulations (and simpler processes) are providing incentives for commercially driven infrastructure sharing.
- Laws and partnerships are designed to take greater advantage of open access methods and reduce infrastructure costs.
These are just a few of the emerging models that can be used to reapportion risk and reward among stakeholders to enhance the overall broadband ecosystem.
5. Promote universal access to affordable services
Governments can play a vital role in the broadband ecosystem by fostering innovation — and by educating new users on the benefits of broadband offerings. The following steps can all be used to build and sustain user demand:
- Lead digital literacy programs, so new users can develop their broadband skills and knowledge. Options include bringing instruction into the classroom and educating the public through mass media.
- Promote electronic delivery of government services — as well as local offerings that the community can afford, made available in public centers, schools, and other institutions.
- Support content developers as new entrepreneurs in the digital economy and invest in locally relevant content and applications.
- Help bring down service costs by stimulating collaborations between ministries and business leaders — with the goal of greater sharing of broadband infrastructure.
6. Monitor and maintain broadband access as a top priority
National or rural broadband plans should also establish a clear structure for achieving specific milestones — and promoting continuous improvement. It can start by fast-tracking the broadband rollout and making it a strategic economic priority. Then follow up by managing and monitoring constantly each phase, with a government-based coordinating agency to keep an eye on investment, implementation progress and adoption rate.
As time passes, it’s also important to maintain good communication with partners by learning from experience and sharing doubts, issues, and best practices.This will be necessary to anticipate the new requirements coming from society and to support new technology. For example, in the domain of smart city or virtualization of services.
And finally, a sustainable plan also requires strong citizen involvement with a dynamic supply eco-system to provide relevant and local, digital content and services. This is imperative for driving Internet adoption and getting more subscribers online.
With a well developed national and rural broadband plan, governments have a powerful way to boost their economies and social development in today’s hyper-connected world. And by bridging the digital divide, they allow all their citizens to compete and thrive in the global marketplace.
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