Broadband around the world

* Panel reveals state of broadband network access in different regions

Two weeks ago, Larry had the chance to participate in a panel discussion at the International Engineering Consortium’s 21st Century Communications World Forum hosted by British Telecom in London. The forum was truly a global event, with high-quality discussions in the seminars and hallways.

Larry’s panel focused on what consumers expect from their service providers. Given the international flavor of both the audience and the panel, much of the discussion highlighted the fact that different geographical, social, regulatory and economic conditions substantially affect the acceptance and availability of broadband and converged services.

For example, in North America high demand and availability of broadband access have been affected by the large numbers of businesses and consumers with personal computers, by the large numbers of users who have made the Internet part of their professional and personal lives, and by the net effect that both open competition and regulatory reform have had on making broadband access cheap and ubiquitous.

In the most of Western and Southern Europe, the lack of competition for local-loop substitutes from cable companies and from CLEC fiber might have stifled affordable broadband were it not for the regulators stepping in and forcing unbundling of local loops to encourage lower prices.

In the Asia-Pacific region, regulators have been less active to force loop unbundling. And since geographical factors and economic conditions have not made up for a lack of activist regulation in the region, broadband access continues to be unaffordable when compared to North America and Europe.

But perhaps the biggest difference was noted by one audience participant from Africa. He correctly pointed out that the real push for broadband is made by people who own computers, and that demand for high-speed Internet access is a pre-requisite for converged services. In countries where the price of a low-end computer is many times more than an average annual salary, low-cost voice phone calls are not likely to happen because the broadband infrastructure likely won’t be built.

Of course, our colleague from Africa is correct. However, there may be a bright side.

For example, in India five years ago only 4% of the population had a phone. But with more open competition in India’s wireless market, today the number of Indians who have a phone has more than doubled. We should also note, however, that many new phone owners in India have reallocated their personal budget to pay for phone service and that the demand for other consumables within India has declined over the same period. So while high-speed Internet access may not be a top priority in developing countries, the need for human communications will be met even in the face of personal sacrifice.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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