A 2012 update of how far away the Caribbean might from achieving the targets set out by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.
As the Internet becomes increasingly ubiquitous, there has been greater focus on ensuring comprehensive access to Internet broadband. A number of organisations are monitoring broadband take-up worldwide, including the Broadband Commission for Digital Development. This Commission, which was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), advocates for the use of ICTs to meet the Millennium Development Goals. In turn, it has established four broadband targets that should be achieved by 2015, and we conducted an initial review of those goals in December 2011 in our post, How far away are we from reaching the 2015 broadband targets?
This month, the Broadband Commission has published the report, “The state of broadband 2012: achieving digital inclusion for all”, which aims to “expand[s] awareness and understanding of the importance of broadband networks, services and applications for generating economic growth and achieving social progress” (Source: Broadband Commission). The report also provides some insight into the extent to which the four targets have been achieved, and we have used it as a springboard to revisit how far away the Caribbean might be from reaching those targets.
Target 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.
In its report, the Broadband Commission does not provide any specifics, such as identifying the countries that might not yet have realised this goal. Instead the report states:
… Today, some 119 or 62% of all countries have developed a national plan, strategy, or policy to promote broadband; and a further 12 countries or 6% are planning to introduce such measures in the near future… However, 62 countries do not have any form of broadband plan, strategy or policy in place. Further, of those countries with plans, achieving progress in implementation may be more challenging or slower than envisaged…
Since our 2011 review, there have been a few new developments, for example, Montserrat has recently prepared a National ICT Policy, Strategy and Implementation Plan 2012—2016. However, increasingly in the Caribbean, the terms “Internet” and “broadband” are becoming synonymous, since dial-up Internet service is no longer being offered in most countries. Having said this, some countries, such as Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, still offer Internet service plans well under 1 Mbps, which would not readily be considered ‘broadband” (see Snapshot: Internet speeds and pricing update 2012).
Nevertheless, with the phasing out of dial-up Internet, the reference or threshold for “basic Internet service” in many Caribbean countries is evolving to mean “broadband Internet service”. As a result, when existing Universal Service/Universal Access Policies speak about promoting access to “basic Internet service”, those policies are now being construed – without much debate – as requiring Internet broadband service (or non-dial-up Internet service) to be provided to consumers.
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).
Again, the Broadband Commission’s report does not provide specifics by country, but does state the following:
Huge discrepancies in affordability persist. In 2011, the price of fixed broadband access cost less than 2% of average monthly income in 49 economies in the world, mostly in the industrialized world. Meanwhile, broadband access cost more than half of average national income in 30 economies; in 19 of the LDCs, the price of broadband exceeds average monthly income (ITU, 20128). By 2011, there were 48 developing economies where entry-level broadband access cost less than 5% of average monthly income, up from just 35 the year before…
With regard to the Caribbean, our own Snapshot: Internet affordability update 2012, does provide some insight on the region’s performance. For example Figure 1, which shows the percentage monthly income that could be spent on an Internet service plan with an advertised download speed of 2 Mbps., highlights the wide variation that exists across the region. In the Cayman Islands, the percentage monthly spend could be as low as 1.62% of an individual’s income, while that figure would be around 12.26% in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, with an average among the sample group of 5.23% of monthly income.
Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband.
By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access.
The Broadband Commission’s report provides some insight into the progress that has been made to date on this target. First, it notes that,
… In developed countries, more than two thirds of households already had Internet access at the end of 2011, compared to around 20.5% of households in the developing world… Yet this proportion is likely to increase significantly by 2015, especially with the rise of mobile Internet…
Thereafter, country-specific data has been included on the percentage of households in developing countries with Internet, and the 127 countries assessed have been ranked. Figure 2 presents the results for the Caribbean countries included in the report, where only Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Lucia have already achieved the target of 40% of households having Internet access.
Target 4: Getting people online.
By 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in LDCs.
The Broadband Commission’s report does provide country data for this target, which has been sourced from the ITU. The Internet user penetration for countries in the Caribbean is presented in Figure 3.
Based on the assessment, Antigua and Barbuda was ranked 16th worldwide – out of 177 countries and immediately after the UK – with approximately 82 individuals per 100 inhabitants using the Internet. This was followed by Barbados, which was ranked 32nd; and the Bahamas, at 65th.
In summary, the Caribbean, as represented by the countries included in the Broadband Commission’s report and the above discourse, appear to be well on their way to achieving the stated targets. One notable challenge, which hopefully will be addressed in the short term, is to improve data collection and reporting of key statistics for such assessments. For example, the Commission’s report did not include Belize, Dominica, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis, in most of the evaluations due to ‘unavailable data’.
Finally, it is emphasised, as was noted in the Commission’s report, the availability and technological evolution of mobile/cellular phones means that increasingly, individuals will have ready access to devices that can support the Internet. Hence in future evaluations, a concerted effort will be necessary to correctly reflect the progress being made via mobile/cellular technology towards realising the stated targets.
Image credit: Mal_irl (flickr)