Broadband Penetration: A Matter of Access

broadbandIn many cases when communicating on the digital divide the focus is on whether there is access to the Internet and information and communication technology (ICT) or not.  By exploring the multiple issues that influence broadband penetration it further opens up the discussion to more closely look at the impact of infrastructure, the economics of the market, and the speed of the Internet connection have on the depth of access to the plethora of information available on the Internet.

The 2013 report released from International Telecommunication Union (ITU) detailing global broadband penetration showcases some interesting finds regarding the digital divide.   The report shares that although 41% of the world’s population is online, the breakdown is that 78% of all households in developed nations have access to the Internet in comparison to 28% in developing nations.  It goes on to further point out some alarming statistical data that 90% of the 1.1 billion households not connected to the Internet are in the developing world and overall 16% fewer women use the Internet than men in developing nations.

How do we improve the numbers?

First infrastructure.  A Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) report on competition policy, liberalization, privatization and regulations shares that issues vary from country to country and must be addressed as such, however there are similar themes.  Some nations have privatized broadband access, which has let to a less competitive market with fewer individuals having access to the broadband.  Privatization has led to there being less focus on continued investment in infrastructure.  Without a policy of continued investment into broadband expansion the numbers listed above will not improve.

Once the infrastructure is expanded, the next focus should be to improve the speed of Internet access.  The higher bandwidth available to users grants them differing online experiences to participate in or interact with.  The experiences may vary by speed and be limited based on those restrictions.  There is a significant difference between choosing how you want to experience the Web, then being subjected to limitations based on connection speeds.  Think about the distinction between email usage from the ability to download content or view video or even create content.

By supporting the ITU and WGIG in implementing programs and policies within nations that will build infrastructure, and even potentially a competitive landscape that will drive user costs down, we will begin to see the global e-village alter as access to technology opens the world up for new experiences and new content.  It is critical to see broadband expansion as a way for all of us to learn from each other and not as a type of technology imperialism.  The Internet should be a space of inclusion and diversity; one where we continue to encourage learning by promoting access for all.

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