What Operator Model(s) for Digital Inclusion?

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Workshop 101

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A digital divide and digital inclusion facilitation represent a challenge. Mr Bengt Molleryd (Swedish Post and Telecom Authority) encouraged the examination of various technologies and business models employed by operators around the world.

Internet usage is on the rise at approximately 4 billion. However, there is still a significant number of users who may desire to connect but have not been able to.

Traditionally, telecom and cable operators have invested in the network infrastructure and related services and focus on sales to retail customers. It is desirable to consider the use of modern technologies to increase connectivity. Investment in technology infrastructure is without any doubt capital intensive, especially in more rural communities, but a solution is required. The discussion will revolve around two main questions:

  1. What new business models and technological solutions can assist to narrow the digital broadband divide?
  2. What operator models have proven to work well to expand connectivity?

From a regulatory standpoint, the OECD has seen three approaches that are supportive:

  • Involvement of the private sector through public/ private partnerships or government subsidies.
  • Streamlining rights of way to make the infrastructure roll-out easier.
  • The use of public space.

Mr Christoph Steck (Telefonica) discussed his company's work in efforts to connect 6 million people in Peru who are without access. Through a joint venture with two development banks and Facebook, they are trying to provide open wholesale access. Another strategy to consider is overlaying a 4G network over the existing 2G network to provide connectivity. The Web Foundation’s consideration of these models involves querying meaningful connectivity and how input from those that need to be included is involved in the design process prior to infrastructure roll-out. There is a requirement to ensure that it is not just network coverage and towers, but that the business models are shaped to provide inclusion given the spread of economic circumstances, and to widen the affordability base for the services while expanding the quality of broadband services.

Equipment costs along with spectrum and licensing costs and alignment between the regulator and private companies are important factors.

A recommendation was made for co-operation with community networks for addressing issues of roll-outs in rural areas, as well as levereging a universal access fund for geographic spaces that are not economically viable for the infrastructure investment.

By Andre Edwards

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