Broadband Penetration: More Than Just Internet

If you think that broadband penetration only means internet access, you are sadly mistaken. Broadband refers to a high-speed connection, which has widespread implications for those who are, or are not, connected. Many of us have distant recollections of slow dial-up internet, or perhaps a horror story from more recent travels where we have had to endure less than satisfactory internet speeds. However, in developed countries, the majority of users have reasonably high-speed connections – both on mobile and more stationary devices.

In the article “Different Paths to Broadband Access: The Impact of Governance and Policy on Broadband Diffusion in the Developed and Developing Worlds,” the authors bring up the issue of the broadband digital divide. They state: “A new digital divide is emerging both within and between nations that is due to inequalities in broadband Internet access.”[1] This new term takes the well-known digital divide issue to a new level. In addition to merely differentiating between those with access to communication technologies and those without, the broadband digital divide refers to the speed of the connection. What speed means for users is the efficiency and quantity of information that can be transferred in a certain amount of time. Those who have a broadband connection are exposed to an incredibly greater amount of data than those who are not connected, and in the age of information, this is key.

Unfortunately, the path to broadband connection involves a bit of a conundrum. Yates et. al’s research states that “When controlling for economic, political, social and educational development, there is greater broadband diffusion in countries that have an administrative culture of sound governance and make a higher shared financial investment in information and communication technologies.”[2] They further state that “While we present strong evidence that governance and policy initiatives matter, we also show that resources in terms of wealth (in technologically developing countries) and education (in developed countries) matter more for leveraging the benefits of technology for digital inclusion.”[3] Essentially, for a country to have adequate broadband penetration, they already need a certain level of political maturity, education, and wealth. This eliminates many developing countries, only exacerbating the broadband digital divide.

The “Draft WGIG issues paper on competition policy, liberalization, privatization and regulations” agrees that “In addition to road systems, airports and electricity, a modern telecoms system is seen as an essential pre-requisite for economic growth.”[4] The draft WGIG paper discusses the effect of policy on communication systems growth, primarily focusing on liberalization, privacy, and competition, however refuses to speculate on which system works best, as it recognizes that each country has a different atmosphere and needs. Liberalization focuses on opening up the market to new players, while privatization transfers entities from government ownership to private ownership. The way that a country regulates how new participants enter a market absolutely impacts the telecommunications environment, but I agree with the WGIG working group’s findings that the regulatory environment has to be set on a case-by-case basis based on a wide variety of factors.

Broadband connectivity affects three major fields: economics, education, and entertainment. For the economy, broadband can change how businesses operate, particularly in regard to their use of online sales. Broadband in education directly links to institutes’ ability to tap into cyberinfrastructure and determines students’ knowledge base. For entertainment, consumers are much more likely to utilize online streaming services if the transfer process operates smoothly. Online gaming, which has become a major industry, relies extremely heavily on one’s connectivity, as slow internet precludes players from fully participating. See below for an example (hint: the ghost [purple vehicle] should not be skipping):


Broadband penetration isn’t just faster internet – it affects everyone, and will be a topic to watch in the future, particularly in developing countries.

[1] David Yates, Girish Gulati, and Joseph Weiss, “Different Paths to Broadband Access: The Impact of Governance and Policy on Broadband Diffusion in the Developed and Developing Worlds,” Proceedings of the 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences , (2011), 1.
[2] Ibid, 9.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Draft WGIG issues paper on competition policy, liberalization, privatization and regulations,” WGIG, 2.

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