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Making Access Universal

Universal access and service programmes are vital to extending broadband to all parts of a country. Antonio GarcIa Zaballos discusses the findings of a comparative report.

Making Access Universal

According to a recent study by McKinsey, there are 4.4 billion offline individuals worldwide. Moreover, 3.4 billion of the offline population lives in just 20 countries and is disproportionately rural, low income, older, illiterate and female. The problem is not only about fixed broadband – between 1.1 billion and 2.8 billion individuals cannot get online via mobiles because they do not live within network coverage.

There is a clear need for internet infrastructure and an applications ecosystem to improve quality of life. As the UN Broadband Commission states, 10 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals that end this year) have a direct link with broadband, including: (1) ending poverty, (2) ending hunger, (3) ensuring health, (4) access to education, (7) access to energy, and (8) full employment and economic growth.

The cost of infrastructure can be high, especially fibre optic cable, with construction of trenches and ducts to lay cable being the most costly. But if policies and strategic regulation do not facilitate investment, there will be a high risk of not fulfilling universality and affordability objectives.

Many countries now recognise the need to ensure that the benefits of broadband are not only enjoyed by a fraction of the population. Universal access and service (UAS) broadband programmes have been developed to meet the needs of people in urban and remote areas and several countries have started substantial reforms of their telecoms framework to advance broadband towards universal usage.

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