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.
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.
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.
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.
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.