How far away are we from reaching the 2015 broadband targets?

This post examines how far away the English-speaking Caribbean might be from meeting broadband targets for 2015 that have been set by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

In our news roundup for the week ending 11 December, we highlighted the on-going work being conducted by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to finalise the regional broadband policy. The policy is slated for urgent completion, since the region recognises Internet broadband as a critical tool for economic, social and national development, in keeping with the premise of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.

In a nutshell, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, an initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), advocates for the use of ICT to meet the Millennium Development Goals. It has established four broadband targets that should be achieved by 2015. This post examines how far away we in the English-speaking Caribbean might be from meeting those targets.

Targets 1: Making broadband policy universal.

By 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access/Service Definitions.

A review of policy material available online indicates that most countries in the Caribbean have not specifically included broadband on their national broadband plans or Universal Access/Service Definitions. Some of the exceptions are:

  • the ECTEL Member States (St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada), where the Universal Service Fund can be used to promote broadband connectivity.
  • Trinidad and Tobago, where its Universality Framework speaks to affordable broadband with a minimum speed of 512 kbps.

However, although many of the countries might appear not to have satisfied this target as yet, it should be noted, as reflected in our November 2011 Snapshot: Available Internet speeds and spend on Internet service, 3 of the 16 Caribbean countries examined still sold Internet plans with advertised download speeds under 1 Mbps. In the other 13 countries, the lowest download speed plans started at 1 Mbps and over, which suggests that we in the region are well on our way to meeting the stated target by 2015, possibly without it being mandated in policy documents.

Target 2: Making broadband affordable.

By 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (amounting to less than 5% of average monthly income).

Over the past several months, we have been tracking the changes in Internet services plans across the region. Using the outputs of our most recent Snapshot of Internet speed and pricing, we have compared the monthly rates for an Internet plan with an advertised download speed of 2 Mbps, against estimated monthly income, based on per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Note: Between 1.5 and 2 Mbps is widely recognised as the minimum speed for classifying an Internet service as broadband.

Figure 1: Portion of monthly income spent on 2 Mbps Internet service plan in select Caribbean countries as at November 2011 (Sources: ISP websites, IMF, CIA)

The results, which are shown in Figure 1, indicate that the Caribbean has some work to do to achieve this target. Under 40% of the countries examined have monthly spends for an Internet plan with an advertised download speed of 2 Mbps amounting to less than 5% of average monthly income. Furthermore, across the entire sample, 2 Mbps is not the maximum download speed that can be secured. Hence the average customer might not be able to afford faster broadband plans, since they would consume considerably larger portions of his/her monthly income.

Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband.

By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access.

Within the region, Internet access among households is not a regularly measured indicator. Most countries keep track of the number of Internet (or broadband) lines per 100 of the population, as reflected in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Number of broadband lines per 100 of the population in select Caribbean countries for 2010 (Source: ITU, ECTEL)

This above measure normally includes all Internet/broadband lines, i.e. both business and domestic. Hence it is likely that the business sector contributes significantly to the overall perceived broadband connectivity of a country. Additionally, in countries that sill have relatively low network build out, it likely that broadband penetration by households would still be low. Nevertheless, to accurately determine the extent to which we have achieved this target, the requisite data ought to be secured and validated.

Target 4: Getting people online.

By 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in LDCs.

Internet user penetration is another indicator that is not consistently measured across the region. However, comprehensive data was available at Internet World Stats, which is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2: Number of broadband lines per 100 of the population in select Caribbean countries for 2010 (Source: ITU, ECTEL)

The results indicate that about half of the sample have met or exceeded the threshold set for developing countries (50%), whilst 25% have exceeded the base set for developed countries (60 users per 100 of the population).

Although broadband line penetration across the region might be relatively low, as per Figure 2, the numbers of Internet users is considerably higher in virtually all of the countries assessed. In addition to connectivity in households, citizens would most likely be accessing the Internet in the workplace, at schools, post offices, libraries, and other community-oriented centres, all of which would contribute to their contact with this resource.

Concluding remarks

Our review of the state of broadband access and use, relative to the targets set by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, suggest that the English-speaking Caribbean is well on its way to achieving the stated goals.  However, we still need to tackle affordability of the service – an issues consistently discussed in our Snapshot posts, and increasing household access to the Internet.

Additionally, since we do not regularly measure some indicators used for the targets, policy makers might not have access to these critical inputs in their decision-making. This is a matter that requires urgent attention, since we might need to implement targeted strategies to realize some of the stated goals.



  • A survey of ICT access in Jamaica recently noted that 15.6 per cent of households have access to the Internet and surprisingly 24 per cent have access to computers. As a student of the data I find the latter figure to be questionable given the relatively high cost of equipment, given the controversial re-imposition of duties. I believe that penetration rates are not accurate enough to guage access to broadband in the home and may lead to inflated conclusions, especially when the differences in income levels, increased inflation, increased unemployment and the known challenges of co-mingling of business and household penetration are considered. Table 2 suggests that more than half of the countries surveyed are either below 10 or barely over 10 per cent, When we rake the previous observations into account my conclusion is that broadband access to the home is unclear but probably unsatisfactorily low by our expectations as Caribbean people. I have considerable difficulty in concluding that progress is being made with regard to the MDG goals.

    • Hallam, I do share your concern that without some intervention the Caribbean might not be able to achieve the stated household broadband penetration by 2015. Question: do you have any ideas what should be done to improve our performance regarding that indicator?

  • At the minimum Michele:
    1. Every Caribbean country needs to implement at least a bi-ennial survey of ICT broadband access that addresses rural and urban access as well as affordability in a very detailed way.
    2. This research is then used by a national broadband commission to track, set targets and engineer progress towards measurable improvements which would be noted in subsequent surveys. All of this is in line with the development ofa national broadband policy which is a living document that is tweaked continuously as technology circumstances and developments change.
    3. All the above is tied to ongoing education in the use of technology and encouragement and implementation of programmes to support innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives such as associated with a Green Economy, development of apps, linkages with development and utilisation of alternative energy solutions, to name a few areas.
    (This is just a snapshot which would be part of the living national broadband policy mentioned above. Very few Caribbean countries, including my native Barbados, have a national broadband policy as described in brief here and consequently are incapable of mapping the status of their ICT sectors. While the ITU, ECTEL data is useful it does not provide the indepth analysis needed at a national level).

    • I certainly agree with you that information is key – an essential input into whatever planning and decision-making process that is implemented.

      Question though, what do you think of the “One Laptop Per Child/Student”, “One Laptop Per Family” initiatives that have been going on across the region? They do provide persons/households with PCs, so arguably when next a survey is done, there might be some improvement in PC ownership and consequently broadband penetration?

  • To further support my belief that the broadband access to the home picture is inconclusive let’s go to the Figure 2, Household Computer and Internet Access by Parish for Jamaica (the Mona School of Business) of 2011.
    The table shows that both Internet and Computer access are flat. It notes:”The continued low level of household access to computers reflects to some extent the effect of the reintroduction in 2009 of a general consumption tax (GCT) on all purchases of computers in Jamaica. Household access to the Internet was relatively low mainly due to the high cost of equipment, as perceived by the respondents. The majority of households with access (51.7 per cent) spent between J$2,001 and J$4,200 per month on internet services. Of the households with reported computer access, approximately 47 per cent had no access to internet within the household. Importantly, 23.9 per cent of households reported no need or interest i having household internet access, perhaps accounted for by an absence of public education on the need for internet linked computers at home or by an ability to gain access from other locations.”
    In short, Internet access is limited, but more detailed work could be done in this area. If Governments wants citizens to use the Internet more productively, for education, business and to pay their bills, including to Government, then there is the education need which I mentioned. I further believe that what holds true for Jamaica also holds true for other Caribbean countries but at varying degrees given that one cap cannot fit all heads nor should there be an attempt to get it to fit.

    • Like you, I do share some concern about the study conducted by the Mona Business School. From what i understand, it was conducted over a 3-month period, but the size of the sample and details on the selection process have not been revealed. Hence you are not quite sure whether the results are truly indicative of what would obtain island-wide…

      However, a national census has just been completed in Jamaica, and we are all awaiting the results with bated breath. I do believe that there were questions on PC ownership, Internet and telephone access, etc., so that could provide critical baseline data for whatever strategy Jamaica decides to implement going forward. Hopefully though, the report will be released soon in order to make a difference…

  • For the record let me say that the survey was excellent. I would recommend a thorough read prior to criticism. It speaks of 1,755 “successful interviews” which is more than adequate for research and it is very detailed. My bias leans towards expanding the data on households and including incomes and a bit more on demographics. But all the parishes were covered. This would tie in with your data posted on GDP and pricing, hence we look a bit deeper at affordability and why the Internet is seen as a priority.

    • Can you share the Mona School of Business survey report? I have access to the presentation made on the survey results, which is basis for my views – the substantive report was not publicly available…

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