Broadband Access: Fostering Social and Economic DevelopmentBy Joaquin Saldaña | Tue, 08/03/2021 - 12:55
Telecommunications have become an important tool for humankind, initially facilitating peer-to-peer voice communication and evolving to more complex and beneficial means of communication, which are now essential to our day-to-day activities.
The convergence of information technologies and communications (ICT) has sped up the adoption of ICT all over the world, facilitating peer-to-peer voice communications as in the beginning but evolving to support entertainment, e-commerce, banking, remote work (home office), remote education and a large etcetera.
The pandemic period we are living is demonstrating the importance of broadband access for all human activities and the relevance of having more and more people connected to ensure no one is left behind as a result of social and economic development. Home office and home education are common activities for most of us, but it’s not the reality for everybody; unfortunately, there is a significant gap in broadband accessibility across the globe. Based on the Digital Ecosystem Index, developed by CAF, OECD countries have an average index of 74.3 but Latin America and the Caribbean countries average 50.7, lagging the worldwide average.
Broadband access can be provided through several technologies, including satellite, cable, ADSL, fiber and mobile, the last two of which are the most popular and with the fastest deployment growth. In fact, all those technologies can work to close the accessibility gap.
Mobile broadband access (MBB) is the most popular means of access in the world; LTE (4G) has made possible many applications and innovative services, and the evolution to 5G is becoming even more disruptive, especially for industrial use cases based on IoT, M2M and robotics, which are increasingly popular.
But back to our main topic. MBB is the key answer to the accessibility gap, as it can enable the coverage of large population areas quickly. Taking into consideration different scenarios, such as large metropolitan areas with high-density populations down to small towns (villages) with low population density or industrial areas with high demand for broadband access, we may find technological solutions to meet each scenario at the best price/performance ratio for each one. So, it’s not a problem of technology. It’s not a problem of demand. The need is there, the question is: Why are we not moving forward?
The main problem is in the low-density areas, small towns and villages, where we find low-income citizens and no use cases in places that may generate traffic for a healthy investment. The paradox is the lack of educational, banking or health services in those areas while MBB could help to provide them. Developing the right ecosystem is important to achieve the coverage objective.
By putting more elements into the equation, the odds get better. By creating use cases that take advantage of MBB, things may start moving forward, but the actors are not the same. Today, when talking about broadband access, connectivity and MBB, we may think about telecom operators and technology vendors but, when it comes to education, health, banking, etc., we find a new set of actors, or should we say stakeholders, because all of them must work together to make it possible.
As for education and health, government has a paramount role in developing new ways to provide services for the citizens in those areas. Remote primary medical care (family doctor or small clinics) is possible with MBB but new operational processes are needed. Instead of making citizens travel from small home towns to first level clinics in urban areas, they could have remote medical appointments, reducing traffic at the clinics. Only in those cases where the medical conditions indicate a physical appointment is necessary would people need to travel. This could lower the requirements for clinical space but increase healthcare. Something similar could happen with education at the elementary and mid-high levels of schooling.
Following that trend of thinking, solutions for banking services or the dispersion of social funds may arise, by implementing money transactions through MBB. This would increase the use of banking services across all demographics with the control benefits it would bring.
Another advantage of these types of services is that they can be subsidized traffic, making the service affordable for users and creating incentives for investors to improve coverage in those areas.
The challenge ahead is huge and the social responsibility to contribute to solve it is even bigger. All complex activities require that all the stakeholders sit at the same table and define the clear objective and benefits, so that each one may start moving forward toward the goal.
As all human communication and coordination among different actors if of the essence, let’s not look at this challenge only from a technological perspective. It is a cross-dimensional challenge but the benefit will be exponential in terms of social benefit to all the population without broadband access.