Nº 1 2015 > Broadband Commission
Special Session of the Broadband Commission in Davos
The effective use of broadband networks, services and applications is providing transformative solutions to address the key challenges of our times, including reducing poverty and malnutrition, improving health care or decoupling economic growth from the use and depletion of natural resources. To achieve these ambitious goals, broadband and information and communication technologies must reach all people, in particular those facing social exclusion, living in remote locations or facing the greatest exposure to environmental hazards and economic deprivation.
However, financing and deploying broadband to reach low-income communities or people in remote areas is proving challenging, due to a combination of factors that make these markets less attractive for private investors. This means that either governments often have to provide the sole source of funding, or take steps to attract investment or co-investment, so as to expand access to broadband to the least advantaged groups. For these purposes, the cooperation and buy-in of a range of agents in the information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem is imperative.
This Special Session of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development at the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Annual Meeting (21–24 January) in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, sought to identify actions and policies that will encourage that cooperation and attract finance and investment in broadband. In particular, stakeholders from industry, government and financial institutions were invited to present and discuss the following action areas:
- Gaining access to low-cost private sector finance;
- Introducing effective policy and regulation for the ICT sector;
- Devising appropriate tax policies for the sector;
- Selecting and implementing other interventions to underpin the necessary investment.
Participants agreed that spurring the finance and investment for the future roll-out of broadband is critical, if we are to unleash the power of broadband to deliver transformative solutions to the development goals of our day. A number of speakers noted that broadband is transforming almost every act of production and consumption, whether public or private, including the delivery of vital services with public value such as education, health and cultural services. A number of participants highlighted the gap between growing demand and traffic volumes and reduced incentives for operators to invest. Current public-private investment models may not be sufficient; innovative new financing mechanisms are needed. Participants agreed that appropriate steps are needed to encourage investment in broadband networks, as well as specific interventions with a positive impact in broadband investment.
With regard to whether regulation can keep pace with fast-moving technological change, the latest research by ITU and the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development suggests that the regulation of broadband networks and content is highly asymmetric between different types of players. Technological convergence is blurring the boundaries between services and industries. Regulators and policy-makers are seeking to adapt and update regulatory requirements, with the introduction of “fourth-generation” regulation to establish an enabling environment to encourage sustainable investment.
Participants agreed that a level regulatory playing-field might help encourage investment in broadband networks; however, few were entirely certain what a “level playing-field” would really look like, and between which sets of players. All participants were united, however, in agreeing that the stakes are high, and digital exclusion is too great a risk, so both traditional and evolving players must work together for the benefit of industry and society as a whole.