ITU’s Secretary-General, Hamadoun Touré
By Abimbola Akosile
The United Nations telecommunications agency has revealed that fixed broadband subscriptions have more than doubled over the past five years to reach an estimated 591 million people around the world.
The UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in a new report, also highlighted the importance of national regulation to accelerate the roll-out and stimulate digital development.
The 2012 flagship report of the ITU ‘Trends in Telecommunication Reform: Smart Regulation for a Broadband World’ sheds light on the often complex legal and regulatory issues emerging as broadband becomes pervasive and increasingly serves as a driving force for the development of other economic sectors.
“Ensuring investment and innovation without stifling competition is the key challenge today’s ICT (information communications technologies) regulators face,” said ITU’s Secretary-General, Hamadoun Touré, according to a UN release.
Fixed broadband penetration of 26 per cent in industrialised countries contrasts dramatically with penetration of just 4.8 per cent in developing nations, according to the report. Affordability remains a major obstacle, particularly in Africa, where fixed broadband access costs on average three times monthly per capita income, it points out.
The ITU figures indicate that the number of active social media users has surpassed one billion, many of whom connect using their mobile devices.
However, statistics on mobile broadband penetration reveal that only an estimated 8.5 per cent of the population in developing countries had access to mobile broadband services last year, with nearly half of all broadband-enabled telephones used in a handful of high-income countries, and low-income countries accounting for just five per cent of global use.
As the broadband revolution unfolds, the report notes that large segments of the world’s population are steadily being left behind. Over five billion people have still never experienced even low-speed Internet connections, or have only used it through public or shared access.
“In order for all citizens to benefit from the economic growth driven by broadband, huge and sustained investments in networks are needed,” Touré said. “This report looks at how regulators could help, and what innovative regulatory measures might be able to achieve.”
The 2012 report offers guidance to policymakers and regulators on creating a digital environment conducive to growth – both of the ICT sector and of the broader economy.