Broadband: The premise of a social web

As you may have written down in you diary that a major event to attend in November was the 2006 MyADSL Broadband Conference held at Vodaworld, Midrand, South Africa. That was one of the many ICT related forum focusing directly on widening digital access to communities and the information poor. In this article i am going to explore four major components with regard to broadband. These include a definition and little background on broadband, the meaning of broadband access, broadband access and the idea of the Internet, Policy and Regulations: a regulatory dilemma and Broadband challenges for the information poor.

What is broadband?
Refers to the capacity to transmit/exchange large volume and quality of electronic signals (including data, video, text and voice) as quick as possible. You have probably heard of convergence, yes? Broadband is at the heart of the convergence of telecommunication, information technology and broadcasting. As you may have read my early publication on Neotel, Neotel is one such of an example of convergence. By convergence, we mean to imply that different technologies and media are used to provide broadband (in this instance) services. In other words, these definitions should give rise to two points, the first is that communications should then be cheap and affordable, think of outsourcing as an example. Secondly, communication should be of quality and be rapid. There may be competition between: networks , as will be a case in South Africa since Neotel joined Telkom. Together these two issues imply a radical change in competitive at all levels from the application service provider to the network provider. There may be a need to review and modify competition policy and regulation. One should however remember that regulation has long been justified as a means to regulate scarce resources, now things are changing. But can regulation then disappear? No-nation states will continue to be relevant.

What is broadband access/connectivity?
Broadband access can be provided by guided media (either copper or fibre-optic), or by unguided media (air-interface) such as satellite or terrestrial microwave. Many developed and middle income countries have a policy of rolling out fibre-based infrastructure across the country. If broadband networks are to have a wide geographic coverage, the expense of this investment may render public-private cooperation essential in some countries. Even with public-private cooperation, the cost of establishing fibre infrastructure in rural or regional areas means that universal service may never be achieved. For developing countries the more immediate goal may be to promote wider Internet access, which may be possible.

Broadband access and the idea of the Internet!
The current interest in broadband is largely due to the Internet, which permits familiar services to be delivered in unfamiliar ways. This includes the delivery of voice services that compete with traditional telephony delivered over circuit-switched networks. Similarly, broadband infrastructure enables web casting of video or audio signals that compete with broadcast networks. Until now, the Internet has generally delivered these services at a lower quality with less reliability than conventional networks, but broadband access promises to change all that. Broadband is often called high-speed Internet, because it usually has a high rate of data transmission. In general, any connection to the customer of 256 kbps (0.250 Mbit/s) or more is considered broadband Internet. The International Telecommunication Union Standardization Sector (ITU-T) recommendation I.113 has defined broadband as a transmission capacity that is faster than primary rate ISDN, at 1.5 to 2 Mbit/s. Policy and Regulations: a regulatory dilemma. The high costs of duplicating broadband infrastructure suggests a monopoly advantage to the first mover in both the backbone and the local loop. Such as Telkom, despite the South African Department of Communications newly established community on ‘unbundling the local loop’. This raises competition policy concerns. Experts argue that competition for a particular broadband operator can come in the form of regulated sharing of infrastructure, such as 3G licences tend to require, or from other broadband media such as terrestrial microwave or satellite. However, the first mover advantage remains strong.

Cross-media competition points to issues of technologically neutral regulation. Broadcast TV, telephony and cable TV, for example, are typically subject to distinct policy philosophies and regulation .The question arises: just how can technologically-neutral regulation accommodate factors that have traditionally been technologically-specific and around which entire industries have grown up?

Broadband challenges for the information poor!
The challenges facing the future of broadband in remote areas has often been referred to as ‘Rural broadband’-One of the great challenges of broadband is to provide service to potential customers in areas of low population density, such as to farmers .We have heard those from Open Access Networks, Neotel , and others at the 2006 MyADSL Conference about challenges facing municipalities .However, In cities where the population density is high, it is easy for a service provider to recover equipment costs, but each rural customer may require thousands of rands of equipment to get connected. A similar problem existed a century ago when electrical power was invented. Cities were the first to receive electric lighting, as early as 1880, while in the United States some remote rural areas were still not electrified until the 1940’s, and even then only with the help of federally funded programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the same in South Africa. Several rural broadband solutions exist, though each has its own pitfalls and limitations. Some choices are better than others, but are dependent on how proactive the local phone company is about upgrading their rural technology. These are the debate that centred around broadband connectivity forums in 2006, but the dream of universal access can not disappear, ordinary citizens must be empowered by providing access to technologies.

Related story:
Affordable broadband for SA
A freer telecoms market in SA?

  • Noleen Coolens

    A good insight indeed, we will be having a conference on this topic in recent months, and i wish to hear thoughs and idea such as these once-let me know if you wamt to present a paper on this!

    Noleen, New York, USA