Home Asia-Pacific I 2008 Broadband and the social impact of ICT in

Broadband and the social impact of ICT in

by david.nunes
Sivasankaran P. ThampiIssue:Asia-Pacific I 2008
Article no.:1
Topic:Broadband and the social impact of ICT in
Author:Sivasankaran P. Thampi
Title:Director of the Information, Communication and Space Technology Division
Organisation:United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, UNESCAP
PDF size:213KB

About author

Mr Sivasankaran P. Thampi is the Director of the Information, Communication and Space Technology Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). Mr Thampi has held a number of positions at UNESCAP including: Economic Affairs Officer, Office of the Executive Secretary; Acting Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary; Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary; and Secretary of the Commission, and Principal Officer, Office of the Executive Secretary.

Mr Thampi obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in political science, and a Master of Urban Planning Degree (MUP) with a concentration in urban land use and environmental planning. Mr Thampi continued his studies in transportation planning and economics at the State University of New York at Binghamton and has accumulated credits towards a Ph.D. degree in urban and regional planning.

Article abstract

Although the growth of broadband in the Asia-Pacific region has been impressive, it has not always reached those in need of it as a catalyst for socio-economic development. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) progress report on Millennium Development Goals (MDG) reports mixed results. While some states made remarkable progress with health, poverty and education, none will achieve all the MDGs and some are likely to miss many or most of the goals.

Full Article

Digital divide in the broadband age The Asia-Pacific region has been at the forefront in embracing and capitalizing on broadband technologies. According to a recent article, the Philippines was the second fastest growing broadband market in the world, after Greece, with total broadband growth at 157 per cent. In December 2007, Malaysia unveiled its plan to invest US$4.46 billion over the next ten years to roll out high-speed broadband services across the country. In India, where the broadband revolution has already started, the number of broadband subscribers should reach 20 million by 2010 and propel the country to the next stage of economic growth. Although the broadband growth and dynamism in these countries are quite impressive, there are alarming signs and trends cropping up in the region. In a recent report on next generation networks (NGN), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) pointed out that 70 per cent of broadband subscribers were located in high-income countries in 2006. Among low-income countries, more than 95 per cent of broadband subscribers were located in two countries: India and Vietnam. Among the lower-middle income group, China accounted for 94 per cent of broadband subscribers. In contrast, there were only 46,000 registered subscribers among 22 of the 50 least developed countries worldwide. A study published in 2005 grouped the countries in Asia-Pacific into three categories. The first group enjoys the widespread availability of broadband networks (Republic of Korea, Hong Kong/China, Japan and Singapore). The second group, which is planning or implementing broadband initiatives, includes Malaysia, China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Service limited to basic telephone lines is the primary characteristic of the third group of countries. The dynamic development of the second group of countries moving up the ladder is what we have been witnessing, but most of the countries in the third category without the benefit of reliable and robust broadband connections to communities and individuals are largely left behind World Summit on the Information Society and thereafter The broadband digital divide is an alarming trend, five years after the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in 2003. Attended by 50 heads of state, the first phase of the summit built the global consensus on establishing an inclusive and development oriented information society and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). In order to materialize the vision, governments and various stakeholders have been making relentless efforts to put in place enabling information and communication technology (ICT) policies and regulations, expand rural telecommunication networks, develop various applications and build capacity. Subsequently, Asia-Pacific as a region has witnessed an impressive growth in the number of mobile and Internet subscribers and widespread usage of ICT-related services and products, among many other ICT indicators. One of the benefits ICT has brought about in the area of socio-economic development is enhanced capability to make evidence-based decisions, characterized by expansion of access to ICT among previously un-connected segments of the population and deepening of the ICT usage. One of the illuminating examples is e-health. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, (UNESCAP) has compiled a working paper entitled E-health for a Leapfrogging Asia and Pacific and analysed the current status of e-health development in the region. With an increasing reach of telephone networks in rural areas and introduction of ICT-enabled analytical capabilities among healthcare providers, as well as decision and policy-makers at the health ministries, it is now possible to make evidence-based decisions at various levels. An outbreak of epidemics in a remote area could be identified without waiting for the manual data compilation and tackled with timely distribution of medicines and dispatch of medical professionals. A doctor in remote rural areas could consult with a specialist in the capital or refer to an ever-increasing volume of global medical databases and networks on the Internet. These are a significant step towards materializing the vision of an inclusive and development-oriented information society. Similar development has been witnessed in e-government, e-learning, e-business and ICT-enhanced natural resource management and agriculture, to name a few. Why ICT failed to live up to expectations With the promise of what ICT can deliver and financial investments made in the ICT sector, one would expect that not only economic growth, but also social development, would have been notably accelerated and MDGs achieved ahead of the deadline of 2015 in the region. UNESCAP recently published a regional MDG progress report and the findings are rather mixed. While member states made remarkable progress on such goals as alleviating extreme poverty and primary education, Asia-Pacific still accounts for 63 per cent of the urban population who do not have access to safe sanitation, 1.9 billion in total. A high share of people suffering from tuberculosis and underweight children also marks the region. Despite the economic success of some countries, the region still has 641 million people living on less than US$1 a day. The report concluded that none of the region’s developing countries are on track to achieve all MDGs and some are likely to miss many, or most, of the goals. There are many factors to explain the huge gap between the promise and reality. From the ICT perspective, it is clear that ICT benefits have not reached the people who need them most. Evidence-based decision-making has started, but no developing country in the region has been fully capitalising on what ICT can deliver to build a people-centred information society and achieve the MDGs by 2015. In terms of access to ICT and deepening of ICT usage, which should support such evidence-based decision-making at all levels, the region is sharply divided among and within the countries. World Information Society Report 2007 published the Digital Opportunity Index 2006 based on opportunity, infrastructure and utilization. Out of 181 economies surveyed, the majority of our member states are ranked below 80th, while five of the top ten economies in the list are from the region. This also echoes the above-mentioned concentration of broadband uptake by a few countries in the region. Even in a country with an above average teledensity and useful applications, such as e-government, e-business etc, there are few indications to suggest that it led to an intake of information and knowledge by the people at large and their uplifting from poverty, mainly because the reach, quality and bandwidth of existing telecommunications networks outside urban areas is generally insufficient, if such a network exists. One of the modalities to bring ICT closer to rural areas and expand access to ICT is a telecentre. A number of our member states have been implementing or rolling out national telecentre initiatives. However, according to our preliminary study, many of the telecentres in the region have been struggling to achieve financial and technological sustainability and developmental orientation at the same time. It is understandable that achieving such sustainability is difficult, considering the fact that these centres are designed and built to assist poor communities located primarily in under-serviced remote and rural areas. An assumption regarding establishing a telecentre was that the facility would be used to deepen ICT usage by community members and function as an interface between ICT applications and communities. However, studies and research done on the performance of telecentres in the region repeatedly pointed out that lack of reliable, affordable, robust telecommunications infrastructure hindered such a process. In some extreme cases, telecentres had to cease their operations or abandon development orientation to sustain their operations. In the case of e-health, UNESCAP also noted in compiling the above mentioned e-health working paper that some of the telemedicine initiatives didn’t meet expectations due to insufficient bandwidth available in rural areas, which limits the type and scope of deliverable e-health applications. Affordability and reliability were another set of challenges with the existing telecommunication networks. The role of broadband access Broadband has a lot to offer to the region. Its economic benefits are well established and therefore not mentioned here. What is equally important are its social benefits, to materialize the inclusiveness of an information society which was agreed during the World Summit and to achieve MDGs as global commitments. Broadband technologies – be it fibre, wireless or satellite – should be encouraged to provide connectivity not only in the industrialized but also developing country context. It is no longer a luxury for the urban dwellers, but a critical foundation of an information society where an increasing level of decision-making takes place based on data, information and knowledge. Convergence has also been accelerated by expanded broadband connectivity, providing businesses and communities with affordable Internet and voice services. The example of the Philippines is striking. In May 2005, the Government of the Philippines classified VoIP as a value-added service (VAS), which brought fierce competition to the telecommunications market and lowered the long-distance tariff by 75 per cent within a few days. Convergence also means that different types of information, such as data, video and audio, can be made more widely available to the people in the format most suitable to them. UNESCAP has been assisting the member states in the region in advancing an inclusive, people-centred information society and achieving MDGs. We have coordinated regional consultations and consensus building towards WSIS in the form of Tokyo and Tehran Declarations. In addition to assistance in the area of ICT policy formulation, capacity building and knowledge sharing, UNESCAP organized a sub-regional workshop to promote a regional broadband network in Central Asia in July 2007. Organized in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the workshop succeeded in raising awareness among various stakeholders in the telecommunications sector on latest broadband technologies as well as global and regional trends. It also discussed a blueprint of a regional broadband network, entitled the Broadband Silkroad, project designed for Central Asia. As a regional arm of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific, UNESCAP’s roles in this and other ICT initiatives include enhancing regional cooperation and knowledge sharing. UNESCAP recognises the importance of regional cooperation, especially for land-locked countries, in the development of such telecommunication networks. Another role is to assist member states to create an enabling policy, legal and regulatory environment conducive to the development and financing of affordable, reliable and robust telecommunications networks, including broadband and optimal utilization of the networks to advance socio-economic development in the region. In November 2007, the Confederation of Indian Industry organised a conference entitled Connecting the Next 500 million: Telecom Roadmap for the 11th Five Year Plan 2007. With the implementation of wireless broadband networks currently ongoing in the country, the next 500 million users will be in rural areas. This expansion of broadband networks into rural areas has started to bear fruit, as evidenced in the increase in business process offshoring in rural areas with good telecommunications infrastructure in India and Sri Lanka. The ICT revolution has already started and has been transforming economy, society and people’s lives, but the ‘have-nots’ were just bystanders until now. Finally, it is time for them to harness the power of the technology.

Related Articles

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More