In 2011 I presented the report, Broadband: a Platform for Progress, to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
Secretary-General of the ITU, Dr Hamadoun Touré, thanked the team of experts that, as lead author of the report, I brought together. And the Director-General of UNESCO, Dr Irina Bokova, endorsed the report in her speech to the Commission.
Below is the text of my presentation to the Commission.
Broadband has an impact across the board. For that reason a trans-sector approach (cutting through silos) needs to be adopted, rather than piecemeal or duplicated projects (death by pilot). A national strategy, involving all sectors, produces huge multiplier effects that bring social and economic benefits to all.
National broadband infrastructure is already being created in a number of countries, Australia included. But it should be noted that nationally coordinated broadband infrastructure does not necessarily mean one nationally owned network. The report makes it clear that solutions to expanding broadband infrastructure will come from joint efforts by governments, regulators and the private sector – which, in most situations, is likely to provide the bulk of the investment.
What is important, however, is for all stakeholders to work together within a national framework that promotes services competition, and for policies to be created that encourage access on fair and affordable terms.
Broadband: a Platform for Progress details the infrastructure options for these networks and advocates the sharing of infrastructure wherever possible. It also emphasises that barriers restricting access to networks or services must be made as low as possible.
An overview of the wide (and rapidly expanding) array of applications is also presented in the report and we are encouraging the commissioners to expand on this with more local case studies and examples.
Education and training is crucial in helping people overcome poverty, and broadband has the potential to bring first-class education to every girl or boy, and to every institution, school or home, however remote.
Healthcare is potentially one of the most important areas where broadband can make an impact. It has been estimated that at least US$5.5 trillion is spent worldwide on providing healthcare, and major savings can be achieved through the use of telemedicine and telemonitoring – particularly in the case of aged and chronically ill people.
Governments, too, are increasingly using broadband to provide online portals where citizens can interact with the administration.
Broadband can also be a tremendously empowering tool in the promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity. Qatar aims to use it to promote Arab language services.
And, of course, we should not forget the phenomenal rise of e-commerce and online financial services. Mobile broadband is particularly significant in developing countries, where many people would not otherwise have access to such services.
When it comes to power supplies, smart grids allow electricity companies to limit losses, prevent outages, and to help manage distributed renewable energy and EVs. As well as this they provide customers with real-time information that they can use to manage and save energy at home or in their businesses.
Scientific research is greatly assisted by broadband infrastructure, which also underpins the collection, sharing and analysis of vital data on the environment and, as such, it can do much to help us adapt to climate change.
It can be used to assist in the prediction of, and response to, natural disasters and is essential in delivering emergency alerts and high quality (video-based) communication.
Broadband’s capacity, along with all its other features, such as ubiquity and affordability, allows for massive information processing, collected by sensors, mobile devices, tags, objects, etc. This is developments is also known as ‘the internet of things’. This will be a real game changer. It will allow us to improve the management of our environment, societies and economies; and it will create new jobs, companies and industries. The ‘new Google’ will be born out of this environment.
The arrival of ‘cloud computing’ is an example of this. It frees individual users and businesses from having to store data and programs on their own computers. Robust, capacity broadband networks are needed for this purpose, cloud computing offers organisations big savings in the cost of hardware, software, premises and personnel. Equally importantly, it creates new business opportunities.
In short, broadband infrastructure supports an array of developments that will become an increasingly important part of the lives of people everywhere; creating smart communities and smart countries.