ITU launches new study paper on broadband and connectivity solutions for rural and remote areas
Rural and remote areas of many countries worldwide continue to be sparsely covered in terms of broadband connectivity.
Major challenges for rural and remote area connectivity include inadequate supporting infrastructure, difficult terrain, illiteracy, high cost of installation of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and policy issues.
For many of these reasons, rural and remote areas are often not considered viable business cases by telecommunication operators.
Meanwhile, the recent growth of teledensity in urban areas, fueled by mobile technology, has meant that the already existing digital gap between rural and urban areas has now widened.
A new ITU study paper recommends ways that regulators, policymakers and operators can change that.
4 key recommendations for regulators and policymakers
Following the outcomes of a workshop held at ITU in Geneva in September 2019, ITU makes 4 key recommendations for regulators and policymakers to be able to enhance broadband development and rollout in rural areas:
1) Ease regulatory requirements for community network operators.
2) Promote tax and customs duty breaks to enable more investment in infrastructure.
3) Enhance transparency and ease of doing business to encourage investment in infrastructure.
4) Focus on complementary access networks that service underserved markets.
Following the workshop discussions, a number of observations were made with regard to policy on broadband development in rural areas. Here are just a few.
Governments, for example, should recognize that market forces do not always address connectivity for rural and remote areas. Therefore, governments should promote investment– that is, public, private, partnership models (PPPs) – in relation to both supply and demand creation pertaining to broadband network infrastructure deployment for rural and remote areas.
Governments should also create an enabling environment that includes the elaboration and deployment of incentives for investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas.
Governments should make land available for installation of mobile towers and have clear policies and precision in the role of each Government department in the document approval chain for facilitating installations.
‘Dig once’ policies should be implemented in relation to the laying of fibre, in order to make the cost of installation affordable, while at the same time keeping service fees low.
Policy makers are encouraged to ensure that ICT training is incorporated into school curriculum as digital literacy also stimulates demand.
Caecilia Nyamutswa, Rapporteur of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) Study Group 1, Q5/1, answered a few questions on ITU’s policy recommendations to help bring connectivity to people in rural and remote areas in a recent video interview.
“Governments should make an enabling environment for people to be able to invest in those rural and remote areas,” says Nyamutswa, because “usually, without incentives, you find that the operators will just not go there.”
Ms Nyamutswa highlighted the importance of making sure that “universal funds are also putting up infrastructure that can be shared by various operators to make the burden lighter for them,” which can help remote areas to be connected.
On the question of ITU’s recommendations to make investing in rural and remote areas attractive to operators, Ms Nyamutswa, says that there are a number of policy steps that governments and regulators can make. “One could be to use tax incentives – maybe give them tax breaks so that the investment is not too heavy on them [the operators],” she says.
Nyamutswa explains that when governments provide spectrum to the operators, they should make the conditions attractive for the operators to move into the rural and remote areas. “And also, just to open their minds, and license difference types of technologies in the rural areas,” she adds.
Recommendations for operators
The ITU study paper also makes recommendations and guidelines for operators:
- Upgrade 2G network sites to 3G or 4G.
- Extend or densify networks through low cost solutions.
- Use alternative energy to power tower sites.
- Make use of Wi-fi hotspots for public areas.
- Embrace smaller operators, virtual network operators and community networks run by local community businesses, as complementary rather than view them as competition.
- Invest in research and development to find cost effective last mile connectivity solutions for rural and remote areas.
- Make use of partnerships with governments and Universal Service funds, when deploying networks to rural and remote areas.
- Encourage and implement infrastructure sharing.
The ITU Study paper also offers further insight on trends in backbone infrastructure, last-mile connectivity as well as business and regulatory policy models.
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