Wednesday, 11 November 2009

UNIVERSAL ACCESS POLICIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Moderator: Ms S. Scholze, Executive Superintendent, Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações (ANATEL), Brazil
Interactive panel discussion:
  • Are Universal Access and Service (UAS) policies stuck in the 20th Century?
  • Is the time right for innovative approaches?
  • Public-private partnerships, what role for the government in funding UAS?
Panelists:
  • Prof. I. Kadi, Senior Advisor, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), Saudi Arabia
  • Dr. E. Spio-Garbrah, CEO, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO)
  • Mr. Mohsen Jaziri, Vice-President, Instance Nationale des Télécommunications (INTT), Tunisia
For information:
Background Paper on Trends in Universal Access and Service Policies, Ms. Sofie Maddens, Senior International Expert for the ITU-EC Project to Provide Support for the Establishment of Harmonized Policies for the ICT Market in the ACP (HIPCAR)

Very good presentation on broadband in Rural areas and then inventiveness of people to get broadband.
Panel discussion: One of the panellists mentions that bringing broadband access in his country to rural areas has had very positive effects on social indicators like crime and other elements. He mentions the price of the use of mobile telecommunications as very detrimental. Mr. Pena from Brazil: most countries have now voice access via mobile almost everywhere. Internet is much less prevalent and broadband even more so. We’ve done a survey of the all of South America and this is the case everywhere.
In Tunisia we used fixed numbering to extend telephony to rural areas over mobile telephony. With the privatization we’ve had to revert this because it was anti-competitive. A compromise was made to allow new operators to enter the market and still get universal access. Tunisia is also trying to get the handicapped online, like the blind. This leads to some problems as they are often charged more for specific services.
Gentleman from the Commonwealth: We shouldn’t think of rural as anything other than a geographic designation. These areas are not necessarily poor. There are often companies in those areas that need connectivity and often realize their own connectivity. Sometimes we need to convince them to share that connectivity with local schools and communities. Microfinancing helps bring telecommunications out into rural areas. Even banks are interested as they can expand banking into rural areas by using mobile payments and other forms of telecommunications. Local savings informal savings initiatives are also very good in promoting savings and investments in rural areas. It is important to get the women involved, because educating a woman educates an entire village.
Discussion from the floor:
West African country: Of course we can roll out in rural areas, but how do we deal with maintenance? What if stuff breaks down? Could the panellists explain what they do to stimulate maintenance?
Answer: In the Dominican republic we have the Digital Room project. More than 80% are functioning well. The reason for the success is that we provide the computers and the backup power. But we also establish a local management team that is responsible and we get everyone involved up to the church and local social clubs. The community is made responsible and signs a contract. If the community doesn’t do adequate maintenance we take away the equipment and we give it to someone more deserving.
Answer Saudi Arabia: We set up a fund that is responsible for financing our Universal Access and this includes maintenance. 
Answer Commonwealth: Make sure that the locals are responsible by giving them ownership
Question from Mediterranean: the title of the session implies we need to enrich USF. I would caution to enlarge broadband to USF, because of the cost involved. We need a sustainable environment for investment and market forces should be at the forefront. Broadband services are generally available to those that can pay. Those that aren’t served are not rich enough. What we see is also that people are willing to pay only a fixed amount of their income to telecommunications.
Question from Uruguay: In Uruguay we have provided a laptop for every child (600.000) We also got all schools connected and through the schools we get the kids connected at home as well. We think that this experience can be copied in other countries as well. The logisitical problem was the biggest, but we got it solved through a special fund and it took us only two years to roll out the program. We now want to extend it to secondary schools.
Question from West Africa: In our country we found that if you build it they will come. People in the towns made it possible to bring affordable connections in the rural areas.
Answer Tunisia: In Tunisia we found that in the framework of the Family Computer programme we were able to distribute 50.000 computers, with maintenance included. On the question of universal access there are different ways of financing this.
Question Himalayan nation: We know that Broadband is good for rural areas. But we already are having problems with narrowband. So how are we going to Broadband. Is it worthwhile to leapfrog and go to broadband.
Answer Speaker: In the domincan republic we try to get everyone connected. That is why we establish Computer Rooms, where you can use the internet cheaply or even freely. You should be able to use it regardless of whether you have money. In my country we’re talking about wireless technologies, so we try to get the wifi that uses as much broadband as possible. The macro economic situation is such that we can go to 3G.

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