[Read more session reports and live updates from the 13th Internet Governance Forum]
The moderator, Ms Sharada Srinivasan, University of Pennsylvania Law School, explained that the aim of this session was to explore the various barriers to finance and connectivity, in particular to underserved communities, and to try to understand the policy that would enable financial investments, in particular to last mile connectivity. A study of underserved communities undertaken by One World Connected found that financing connectivity had a very chequered landscape with little clarity about development finance. Large companies like Microsoft tried to fund start-ups as sustainable business models, while civil society organisations like ISOC had their Beyond the Net Funding Programme to try to fund connectivity.
Mr Antonio Garcia Zaballos (remote participant), Inter-American Development Bank, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC). Garcia emphasised four major aspects to keep in mind related to financing and infrastructure. Firstly, social demographics, for example, the area that we are intending to cover and the type of public services we want to deliver. Secondly, how we can take advantage of using public-private partnerships. The third aspect is related to the regulatory framework and finally the actual institution dealing with bringing connectivity to those areas that are not connected, or to improve the quality of the existing connectivity.
Mr Allen Bailochan Tuladhar, CEO of Picosoft P Ltd, Nepal. Overseas, the Nepalese spend about one-third of their salaries on calling home in an international call. Digital skills and connectivity would greatly reduce this cost. The government could look at a universal service fund for connectivity or they could work with a donor to look into a new technology like white space, to see if this could work in Nepal. The Internet is important for education, but is too expensive, so that if it is to be sustainable, it must be high quality, high speed and affordable. It is not only the last mile, but also the last meter, that is important, and social capital rather than purely profit-oriented capital must be a major consideration for those who need the Internet but cannot afford it.
Mr Philip D Zulueta, President and Founder of Wi-Fi Interactive Network Inc., Philippines. When we are talking about investment, we really mean return on investment. If we are to invest in connectivity, this is a high-cost item. In the Philippines, consumers are hungry of the Internet connection and do not need to have its benefits explained. One approach is to provide “free Wi-Fi”, although Wi-Fi is never actually free. However, the companies which have a stake in selling their products and services, and are dependent on the Internet connectivity, can be asked to pay to reach their consumers. They get their return on investment from access to a customer base providing them with income from purchases made online. It is a win-win situation for everybody.
Mr Paul Rowney, Technical Consultant, Adaptrum, currently living and working in Africa. Rowney said that he believes that neither last mile connectivity nor the price of equipment are a technology challenge, because this is changing and prices are becoming more affordable. He saw the biggest challenge in convincing funders you had a bankable business plan. He spent most of his time helping prospective startups develop appropriate business plans so that they could get connected to their business opportunities.
The session continued with a range of questions from the audience which expanded on what had been raised during the presentations.
By Maureen Hilyard