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$428b investment gaps compound lack of digital access for ages 10 upward

By Adeyemi Adepetun
03 December 2021   |   3:06 am
Connecting Humanity, a study by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has indicated the need for investments estimated at $428 billion worldwide to ensure that people across

[FILES] Children with digital access

Connecting Humanity, a study by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has indicated the need for investments estimated at $428 billion worldwide to ensure that people across the globe enjoy unhindered digital access.

ITU, the United Nation’s arm in charge of global ICT, said universal access depends on connecting the remaining three billion people aged 10 and older, still nearly half of the world’s population to broadband Internet by 2030.

The telecommunications body said reaching this milestone will depend on regional and national regulatory frameworks, which are the rules needed to ensure investments happen smoothly.

It noted that as countries pursue broadband Internet rollout and use, specific policy choices and other regulatory factors can help drive investment in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and encourage innovation within the sector. Beyond the broad commitment to connectivity, such details amount to “regulatory enablers” for digital transformation.

The UN body harped on the spectrum, investments and balance to reach the unconnected across the globe.

ITU noted that to benefit end users, ICT policies need to promote competition among service providers and collaboration among regulators.

According to the study, radiocommunication experts see the sharing of radio-frequency spectrum, which is a naturally limited resource, as a key regulatory enabler. “Every time you turn on your TV, access the Internet or find a location with your smartphone, you are using a frequency allocated to your service provider,” it stated.

ITU, which coordinates the global management of radio-frequency spectrum, one of the vital services, stressed that with the rapid expansion of wireless services over the last few decades, the companies and institutions relying on radio waves to provide services or carry out essential functions find themselves constantly competing for radiofrequency spectrum. It pointed out that new applications, steady user growth and exploding traffic — especially in the face of COVID 19, all intensify the demand for scarce spectrum.

Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, Mario Maniewicz, explained, “ITU develops international regulations that enable the expansion of services and applications while protecting incumbent services. For instance, ongoing deliberations on using parts of the 6 gigahertz (GHz) radio-frequency band for mobile services should bear in mind that the band is also extensively used for fixed-satellite services.”

National regulators, Maniewicz, pointed out, can analyse spectrum sharing from varied perspectives to implement licensing schemes that increase spectrum efficiency. He stressed that spectrum can be shared among different services, different operators of the same service or among devices from the same service.

According to him, technical feasibility can never be overlooked, adding, “Ongoing studies by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) consider sharing and compatibility options to ensure new radio
communication services can function without interfering with existing ones.”

Council Chairman at the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) and 2021 Chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), Michel Van Bellinghen, harped on co-deploying infrastructure.

He said network-sharing options can help to promote investments in connectivity, “Operators must be able to use their own infrastructure, as this is the best way to promote and preserve competition in the long run.”

Sharing mobile infrastructure can encourage the rollout of 5G networks, Van Bellinghen added.

“As long as sufficient infrastructure-based competition is maintained, sharing allows cost savings and makes more extensive coverage viable.”

As regulations for infrastructure sharing come into force, ITU said regulators will normally aim to maximize efficiency, reduce market entry barriers and stimulate competition. But at the same time, they must take care not to jeopardize existing — or discourage future — investments. “Finding the middle ground requires balance,” Maniewicz emphasized.

According to a Board member at France’s Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications and Post (ARCEP), Serge Abiteboul, pro-investment regulation means seeking equilibrium, so that operators compete with their investments while sharing key network resources.

According to him, data-driven regulation can empower users, drive the market in the right direction and help reach neglected areas or communities.

Abiteboul added that alongside government-led investments, impartial regulatory legislation can assist to guide decision-making by private operators.