National broadband plans linked to higher Internet adoption, economic growth — UN study

MANILA, Philippines — Countries with national broadband plans tend to see higher Internet adoption both on fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure, a recent study released by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU) indicated.

Of countries with dedicated policy on broadband Internet infrastructure, the ITU report on “Planning for Progress: Why National Broadband Plans Matter” found that fixed broadband penetration is 8.7 percent higher than on countries without broadband plans.

The rate is even higher in mobile, where the report found a marked 7.4 percent higher penetration rate in countries that employ a national broadband policy.

Higher mobile and fixed broadband penetration is a key ingredient in national competitiveness, where citizens are given easier and cheaper access to government services such as education, healthcare, public utilities, and environmental management, among others.

In fact, a 2009 study by the World Bank indicated that for every 10-point increase in broadband penetration, a corresponding 1-percent increase in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is attained. A separate ITU study in 2012, on the other hand, revealed that the spike in mobile broadband adoption in the Philippines contributes to about 6.9 percent of the country’s GDP annually.

“The Broadband Commission’s message about the power of broadband to transform each and every economic sector is now gaining global traction,” said ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Toure. “Broadband is the key enabler not just of human interaction, but of the machine-to-machine communications systems that will underpin tomorrow’s world.”

The report singled out the case of the Philippines in its refined focus on its national broadband plan, the Philippine Digital Strategy for 2011-2016, which outlined four strategic thrusts on e-Government, universal access to the Internet, IT/BPO industry support, and investing in people for marginalized communities.

“The Philippines Digital Strategy replaced the Philippines ICT Roadmap, which retained continuity in the same broad themes (e-government, cyber-services, human capital, infrastructure), but developed a more in-depth focus, specifically on the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, marginalized communities and universal service,” the report said.

While it has been singled out, the Philippines currently doesn’t have an integrated national plan for its broadband infrastructure, and government officials have grown allergic to the project given the controversy created by the botched National Broadband Network-ZTE project back in 2007.

The government, however, through the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), is already on its way to laying down the patchwork for a fiber optic network for its own use, while it is currently on the way to implementing the TV White Space initiative, where unused television frequencies will be used for wireless broadband to serve untapped regions of the country.

“Broadband plans clearly matter,” said Dr Robert Pepper, Vice President of Global Technology Policy for Cisco Systems. “Plans spur adoption, accelerating economic growth and increasing national competitiveness. The role of policy is to set a vision for broadband development and ensure a level playing field which then allows for the best ideas to prosper.”

Currently, Internet adoption in the Philippines is still pegged at a 33 percent level, while mobile broadband is steadily increasing to reach about 20 percent of the entire population.

The report added that the full economic and social benefits of increased broadband penetration will be felt if “there is strong partnership between government and industry, and where governments engage in a consultative, participatory approach to policy in conjunction with key stakeholders.”