A 2013 update of how far away the Caribbean might be from achieving the targets set out by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.
Last month, the Broadband Commission for Digital Development published its latest report, The State of Broadband 2013: Universalizing Broadband, in which it continues to track the progress countries worldwide have been making towards achieve the targets it had set in 2011. These targets, which should be achieved by 2015, focus on the use of ICT to meet the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations.
Since 2011, ICT Pulse has also been tracking the progress of Caribbean countries towards the Broadband Commission’s targets. In this post we update our findings and as appropriate, highlight some of the salient points from the Commission’s latest report.
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 latest report, the Broadband Commission noted the steady growth in the countries that had prepared national broadband plans or strategies, but also acknowledged that a number of countries will face some difficulty in completing such an initiative:
By mid-2013, some 134 or 69% of all countries had a national plan, strategy, or policy in place to promote broadband, and a further 12 countries or 6% were planning to introduce such measures in the near future (Figure 5). However, some 47 countries (or nearly a quarter of all countries) still do not have any plan, strategy or policy in place. Even when countries have plans, achieving progress in implementation may prove challenging or slow.
With regard to the Caribbean, a little more than half (57%) of the countries have prepared a plan or strategy, as shown Table 1. Over the past year, Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados published their policies, but in the grouping shown, six countries are yet to formally adopt a national broadband policy.
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).
Similar to last year’s report, it was acknowledged that generally, fixed broadband is becoming increasingly affordable. However, the Commission was also quick to recognise that broadband still remains unaffordable in the developing countries:
By 2012, the majority of countries had reached the Commission’s target of offering basic fixed- broadband services at <5% of monthly GNI per capita, but broadband remains unaffordable in many parts of the developing world. Huge discrepancies in affordability persist… Availability and affordability gaps are disproportionately impacting people in Africa, Asia- Pacific, and Latin America…. However, more developing countries are approaching the target threshold – the number of developing countries where broadband cost between 5-10% of average income has increased from 15 in 2011 to 24 in 2012
In the Caribbean, and based on our 2013 Snapshot on Internet affordability, slightly more that half of the 16 countries samples had Internet service plans with an advertised download speed of 2 Mbps that would consume less than 5% of the average person’s monthly income (Figure 1). However, a wide variation still exists across the region, as the proportion of income consumed ranged from 1.6% in the Cayman Islands, to 31.72% in Belize. However, taking the average across the region (excluding Belize, which would skew the results), the amount expended on a 2 Mbps plan would be approximately 4.9%.
Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband.
By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have Internet access.
As at the writing of its report, the Broadband Commission is not optimistic that this target will be achieved by 2015:
Globally, 41% of all households will be connected to the Internet by end 2013; in the developing world, 28% of households have Internet access … compared with over three-quarters or 78% of all households in the developed world. Of the 1.1 billion households still not connected to the Internet, 90% are in the developing world.
However, the Commission does note the increased availability and take-up of mobile Internet, especially in developing countries. Hence individuals will have an alternate channel to access the Internet, especially, where fixed broadband infrastructure might be limited.
With regard to the Caribbean, Figure 2 presents the results available for the Caribbean countries, which were collected from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and included in the report. Only four countries – Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago – have reportedly achieved the target of 40% of households having Internet access.
It is interesting to note that in last year’s report, the Commission indicated that Saint Lucia had achieved the target. However, in this year’s report, the percentage of households with Internet was recorded at 32.2%. A possible reason for this might be that Saint Lucia shared inaccurate information with the ITU on an earlier occasion, which has since been corrected.
Target 4: Getting people online.
By 2015, Internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in LDCs.
Similar to the previous target, the Commission is not optimistic that it will be achieved by 2015:
By the end of 2013, some 2.7 billion people will be online, equivalent to a global penetration rate of 39% (up from 32.5% or 2.27 billion Internet users at the end of 2011). In the developing world, Internet penetration will reach 31% by the end of 2013 and 10% in the LDCs …
At current growth rates, this target looks unlikely to be achieved. By 2015, the Broadband Commission predicts that despite the growth of mobile broadband, global Internet user penetration will reach 45% worldwide, far short of its target of 60%, while Internet user penetration will reach 37% in developing countries, far short of its target of 50%…
Based on data from the ITU, which was included in the Commission’s report, Figure 3 shows Internet user penetration in the Caribbean. To date, only six countries have so far achieved the 50% target set for developing countries: Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda. With regard to the 60% Internet user penetration target, only four countries, Barbados, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda, have achieved that milestone.
In the year since the last review, the Caribbean has improved with respect to all of the targets prescribed by the Broadband Commission. For example, with regard to Internet penetration in households, and with the exception of Saint Lucia (which appears to be an anomaly), an improvement ranging from 7% to 29% was recorded between 2011 and 2012, as shown in Figure 4.
Similarly and with regard to Internet user penetration, over the last two years, the results for this indicator reportedly increased by as little as 2% in Antigua and Barbuda, to as much as 48% in Jamaica (Figure 5).
With regard to the roll out national broadband policies, and as discussed in The transformational nature of ICT: are we taking advantage of it?, countries, especially those in the Caribbean that have enjoyed considerable success in liberalising their telecoms sectors, might not fully appreciate the importance of having a dedicated broadband policy. However, this may mean that they might not be in a position to fully harness and benefit from incorporation of ICTs, and specifically broadband Internet, across a broad range of crosscutting and multi-sectoral initiatives.
Finally, it is highlighted that due to the unavailability of data, we are still unable to undertake a comprehensive review of how all of the 14 Caribbean countries included in the report performed for all targets. Typically, the ITU (or other similar agency) regularly requests data from its member countries for a comprehensive number of indicators. The onus is thus on the countries to establish the systems through which the requisite datasets can be collected. Hence many of our countries still have some work to do in order to be able to track their progress towards achieving the Broadband Commission’s targets.