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Policies to Promote Broadband Access in Developing Countries

Mwendwa Kivuva

In the 2014 Istanbul-Turkey IGF workshop on policies to promote broadband access in developing countries organised by Rui ZHONG of ISOC China, we realized that while technological solutions are advancing rapidly, policy and regulations remain a significant barrier to affordable internet especially in the developing world.

According to a report by Alliance for Affordable Internet ( A4AI), the key to affordability is the policy and regulatory environment that shapes the different actors in the market. Reforms to make markets more open, competitive and socially efficient are often the best and quickest way to drive prices down and increase broadband use.

Kenya launched it's broadband strategy in 2013. The bold document projected to roll Internet in all schools and hospitals by year 2017, and increase the speeds for broadband in urban areas to 2GBPS and in rural areas to 500MBPS by 2030. Some policies for reducing cost of broadband and increasing access have been suggested over the years viz:

1. Proper use and monitoring of Universal Service Funds (USF). The USF should not only be used to provide infrastructure investments in under-served regions, but also promote digital literacy. Digital literacy will ensure the community knows the value of the Internet and how it can improve their lives. Better management of USF and community involvement in how the USF are used, together with Political goodwill are all necessary ingredients for successful USF implementation. In Kenya, USF was formed under an act of parliament in 2009, but the USF management board was inaugurated in July 2014. Operators are required to pay upto 0.5 per cent of their annual turnover to the USF kitty. The snail pace in implementing USF has ensured the dream for broadband access to the under-served regions is delayed, and even deferred. Transparent and consultative processes, incorporating stakeholder inputs and priorities is a must for the success of the USF. Currently service providers are protesting because they were not included in the management of the funds. Internet end user representatives like the Internet Society should also be part of the team that advises on how the USF should be used.

2. Reduced luxury tax on infrastructure equipment, end user devices, and services especially in undeserved regions. Those living below the UN poverty index of $2/day have other priorities like food, and health. Cost of broadband is as high as 90% of income on population with low per ca-pita income.

3. License Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) who ride on existing infrastructure from competitors. This reduces investment capital outlay by new players while increasing broadband coverage. In 2014, Kenya licensed two MVNOs.

4. Sharing of resources by service providers. Masts, fiber cable, etc. The end user will foot the bill if every provider has to compete laying infrastructure that has less than 10% utilization overall. Allow service providers to use infrastructure setup through taxpayers money. This is more so through the legacy government owned telecommunication monopolies that litter the landscape across Africa. An example is the National Fiber Optic Cable (NOFBI) laid across Kenya by the government with a target reach of 80%. NOFBI not fully utilized. Private sector can make use of these resources instead of laying parallel infrastructure. In the broadband strategy, the government has pledged to increase the coverage of NOFBI by an additional 30,000KMs

5. Efficient spectrum management. Open, transparent, and fair allocation and licensing mechanism.

6. Foster Innovation, like the use of TV white space, and other innovations. License Plain FREE community internet service in least privileged areas. An example is setting up free MESH networks like those pioneered by X-Lab and connecting the communities to local community servers with open access content like Wikipedia, open streetmaps, OwnCloud storage, news, local agricultural content, free e-books, municipal portals, chartrooms, and a directory for all these content.

7. Streamlined processes for infrastructure deployment. Efficient and effective access to public rights of way Coordinated with other infrastructure projects (fiber or duct laid during road works)

8. Establish Local and/or regional internet exchange point (IXP), and have data caching. The AXIS project in Africa though partnership of ISOC and AU has already setup about 4 IXPs and held training across the continent.

9. Energy. There cannot be access without affordable sustainable electricity. Electricity is very expensive per kilowatt in developing countries. This cost is usually passed down to end users. Developing countries should seriously look for permanent ways of solving their perennial energy problems. Computer laboratories can be powered through solar and wind energy.

10. Content. Develop policies that support relevant local content that users will feel the need to consume. Most societies have solved the content problem to a greater extend.

11. Data collection of key indicators to measure effectiveness of the strategies implemented.

and FINALLY

12. Move from talking to acting to develop concrete policies and better regulation and monitoring. All these are possible through collaboration and improved relationships between the business, governments and local communities.

By Mwendwa Kivuva, Internet Governance enthusiast
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