Issued by the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group

Increasing broadband access to rural customers will improve the region’s economy, create jobs and stem urban migration, agreed industry experts and APEC telecommunications officials on Thursday.


Bringing broadband to rural customers and providing technology options were the main topics of concern at the industry roundtable in Da Nang, located along the central coast of Viet Nam.


Committed to achieving the goal of universal access to broadband in the APEC region by 2015, member economies have made progress to further develop ICT infrastructure.


But advances have been quicker than imagined. Therefore, APEC economies are already working toward achieving the ambitious goal of access to next generation high speed broadband by 2020 in the APEC region.


Universal Service for Rural Areas  

Viet Nam recognizes that broadband has economic as well as social benefits. Its public policy goal is to deploy broadband widely to harness these benefits. Increasing access to high-speed internet connections by 10% will bring about 1.3 percent economic growth, according to a report from the World Bank.


“Increasing broadband internet access to rural areas will attract hundreds of jobs for citizens,” says Pham Van Anh of Viet Nam’s Ministry of Information and Communications. 


“At the end of 2010, over 26 percent of Viet Nam’s population in 4,300 communes had universal access to telephone and Internet services. Ninety-seven percent of communes had public telephone access points,” she added.


“Viet Nam will continue to expand the provision of universal telecom and Internet services to all citizens and households,” said Anh. “The goal is to develop broadband infrastructure to meet the requirement of universal service by 2015.”


To increase rural access, The Viet Nam Public Utility Telecommunications Service Fund (VTF), a state-funded institution, mobilizes financial resources from tele-enterprises and provides financial support for programs and projects. Its tasks include the selection and appraisal of universal services projects and monitoring the implementation.


“The VTF supports telecommunications infrastructure development projects and carries out the government’s method for bidding on projects or placing orders,” Anh explained.


Since over two-thirds of the global population do not have access to the Internet it was suggested that access to the Internet should be offered at a more affordable price because it is likely those non-subscribers are more economically disadvantaged than the two billion that are already online.


Describing the Internet Society’s community-empowered approach (by the people, for the people) to connecting rural communities to the Internet, Duangthip Chomprang, Program Advisor for the Regional Asia Bureau, said that sustainable and reliable solutions should be economically viable for the service provider and not cost prohibitive.


Promoting a wireless Internet in developing economies enhances socio-economic-community development benefits and stimulates the creation of content, products and services originating from rural areas, healthcare and access to government and corporate services.


“Building a wireless network is easy,” said Chomprang. “The more important thing is what happens after that.”


“People’s live change,” she added. “As a result of a wireless network solution we built, more than 80 schools are connected; healthcare providers in 6 hospitals offer e-medicine and local economies have been revived by reducing urban migration and attracting local investment and encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.”


In the South Pacific, New Zealand has rolled out the Ultrafast Broadband Project to bring fiber optic technology to 70% of the population, including homes, schools, hospitals, marae and businesses.


A second initiative, the Rural Broadband Initiative, will deliver broadband Internet to rural communities at a cost and service level comparable with urban areas. Food and agribusiness contribute to over 60 percent of New Zealand's exports so the benefits of improving rural broadband are expected to be significant.


“The government’s’ goal is to connect 97% of the schools at 100 Mbps,” said Paul Brislen, Chief Executive of Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand  “They’re planning to roll out an open access network to schools and will connect those to cell phone towers.”


“This 3G network will be built on a fiber connection giving better connectivity,” he added. “Part of the rollout includes ADSL run from improved copper connections.”


Despite longer waiting periods for the approval of cell phone towers in urban areas, it only takes a few weeks to get approved to build a tower in rural areas.


“Rural New Zealand is crying out for connectivity,” Brislen explained. “We’re encouraging ways to get rural New Zealand up to speed with urban New Zealand as soon as possible.”


But compared to other economies, New Zealand’s connectivity is faster (approx 100 Mbps) than that found in most internet cafes elsewhere in the region.


In Southeast Asia, broadband access is wide but speed is a challenge. Wallace Koh says that the costs are passed down to customers because of upstream charges.


“Local area networks in Southeast Asia are quite sufficient,” asserted Koh who is with the Brunei’s Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry. “It’s not the technology know-how, it’s the cost constraints of the economy’s outgoing pipe that limits delivery of high speed internet access for consumers.”


Disaster Recovery

Lessons can be learned from economies in the APEC region that have been required to respond quickly to natural disasters.


Frequent natural disasters have caused severe damage to APEC economies and it has been recognized that ICT plays a vital role in early warning, rescue and relief operations, as well as recovery efforts.


Delegates heard from NTT DOCOMO how Japan dealt with service interruptions caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, which caused extensive damage to the mobile network.


Communication equipment was either destroyed or disrupted due to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, optical fibers and other transmission lines were disconnected, and emergency battery power was depleted due to long blackouts.


Restoring access to communications networks proved to be a challenge but industry devised new disaster preparedness measures in the month following the event, all of which have been fully or almost fully implemented, said Gorou Furuhashi who is NTT DOCOMO’s Chief Representative in Hanoi.


Next week, senior telecommunications officials will review the proposals and prepare a work plan in order chart a course to improve access and service in the region.


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