Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2012

Full speed ahead: The government broadband report Q1 2012

March 2012

Economist Intelligence Unit


The issue of high-speed internet access remains at the forefront of the policy agenda in both developed and emerging markets. While circumstances and concerns differ from one country to the next, the motivations for public-sector involvement remain the same. Governments are keen to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas by bringing basic broadband services of between 1Mbps and 5Mbps to all. Yet governments also want to facilitate greater rollout of so-called next-generation networks (NGNs) that can provide broadband speeds of between 40Mbps and 100Mbps, and sometimes higher. Because both basic and NGN services require costly investments in networks beyond areas where commercial operators may see a commercial return (i.e. regional and rural parts of a country), governments are stepping in where the private sector has traditionally stayed away. The typical evolutionary path taken by governments, depending on the current state of the market, is as follows: 1. Upgrade of national backbone and international capacity. 2. Provision of universal basic broadband coverage. 3. Rollout of NGNs in more densely populated areas. 4. Extension of NGNs to less densely populated areas. 5. Development of next-generation wireless networks, such as LTE, to complement fixed-line infrastructure. It is the nature of the partnership between government and the private sector that is driving policy development and broadband activity in many countries. Just as the specific competitive, regulatory, technology, investment and geographical conditions vary between countries, so governments have taken different approaches to broadband development, from heavy state control and direct funding of networks to extremely limited intervention through regulatory measures. The arrow graphic on page 2 provides some contrasting examples of broadband initiatives in different parts of the world.