When broadband costs 100 percent of average monthly income

The recently published ITU study, Measuring the Information Society Report, 2014, is a sobering document for those interested in how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific getting connected in the information age.

ITU estimates that almost 3 billion people globally are using the Internet, a penetration rate of over 40 per cent. However usage rates in Asia and the Pacific are low: the only region with even lower rates is Africa. And when you allow for the relatively high usage rate of China, Japan, and South Korea, the underwhelming service and low usage witnesses in many of the islands of the Pacific is brought into stark relief.

Asia and the Pacific is indisputably the world’s most diverse region in terms of ICT development, reflecting the stark differences in economic development throughout the region. At the top of the ICT Development Index (IDI) are the usual suspects. Fiji, with recent investments in connectivity, sits in the middle. The Solomon Islands are in the lower quartile: other smaller Pacific island states don’t even feature in the report.

Fixed-broadband prices as a percentage of GNI p.c. in Asia and the Pacific, 2013

Fixed-broadband prices as a percentage of GNI p.c. in Asia and the Pacific, 2013” width=

Even more alarming are the data on fixed broadband prices as a percentage of GNI per capita: Micronesia Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati, are once again reported by ITU as experiencing some of the most expensive fixed broadband pricing in the world. These countries, for which the relative cost is most crippling, have also seen the least improvement in pricing over recent years. Indeed no viable infrastructure development seems able to fix the issue to date and bring them on par with the rest of the World. Where improvements are made it’s usually in the speed, not pricing.

The report notes: “This suggests operators in several developing countries focused their efforts on improving the speed rather than the price of fixed-broadband entry level plans in 2013.”

World Bank data shows the average price of an entry level fixed broadband plan is 100 per cent of per cent of GNI per capita in Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

It gets worse: “Despite paying more for an entry-level fixed-broadband plan, customers in developing countries are getting a connection five times slower on average than that enjoyed by customers in developed countries.”

In the age of universally accessible information that’s not a recipe for national growth and development. And that’s the circle we are trying to break working with governments and private stakeholders in the Pacific Island States.

You can read the full report here.

Some thoughts after Cyclone Pam

The team at Kacific has watched with dismay at the images and stories of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

A storm of this magnitude would cause damage anywhere, but these images, carried around the globe, show just how vulnerable Pacific Islands are to extreme weather events.

“These islands have become familiar to us over the past 18 months,” said CEO Christian Patouraux. “It’s shocking to see buildings in ruins, debris littered everywhere, roads and bridges washed out, floodwaters surrounding isolated buildings and children bereft of home, family, security.”

“As the international community mobilises in response and the painful work of recovery and reconstruction gets under way the thought in everyone’s mind is ’We need better ways of preparing for and responding to these situations in future.’”

The difficulty is that radio and telephone communications with outer islands have still not yet been established — three days after the monster storm

This story from AP highlights the problem:

Radio and telephone communications with the outer islands were just beginning to be restored, but remained incredibly patchy three days after Cyclone Pam hit. People were expressing their need for help any way they could: flashing mirrors or marking an “H” in white on the ground to signal planes that were surveying the outer islands. …

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 11 people were confirmed dead, including five on Tanna, lowering their earlier report of 24 casualties after realizing some of the victims had been counted more than once. Officials with the National Disaster Management Office said they had no accurate figures on how many were dead, and aid agencies reported varying numbers.

The confusion reflects the difficulty of handling a disaster that struck whole communities on remote islands with a near-total communications blackout.

“For now the priority is to find, comfort and support the survivors and to begin repairing the damage and restoring some form of normality to these battered areas,” Christian added. “But shortly our attention must turn to preparing better for the next extreme weather event.

“As an organisation we will help now, as we are able to. And we are committed to providing practical emergency support to Vanuatu and to the governments of similarly vulnerable Pacific nations in the future.”

Thoughts after PITA 2014

Group photo of 18th PITA AGM participants outside Warwick Le Lagon Resort's Farea Pacific Conference Centre

As PITA 2014 concludes here are three take outs from Kacific:

It‘s a mix-and-match world

The Pacific Islands represent a set of unique challenges to telcos and ISPS. The physical geography of the islands and the widespread distribution of populations means that no single technology can meet all needs. To provide broadband services to the outer islands, rural areas and other remote locations consistent with a universal services obligation will require a mix of technologies – fibre, cable, and MEO and GEO satellites. The Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Moana Carcasses Kalosil (who is also Minister responsible for Information and Communications Technology), made a commitment at PITA, when he opened the conference that all schools and hospitals in the country would have broadband access by 2018 at speeds of 21 Mbps up and 12 Mbps down. Those speeds cannot be achieved on 3G networks, but they can be achieved using Ka band transmission. We believe other nations will make similar commitments, as governments recognise that these promises can be met in the short term, with relatively little risk by deploying s set of complementary technologies.

Ka-Band finds a home

That leads to our second observation: Ka Band has found truly its niche in the Pacific. It provides increased spectrum compared to C-band and Ku-band, enabling greater volumes of traffic to be transmitted. And the smaller end-user antennas, higher reach and greater bandwidth and speeds make it a very attractive offering.

Coming soon, faster, cheaper, easier broadband

Our third observation is that the Pacific will not be without good high reliable, high speed broadband for much longer: demand is surging and governments and larger customers are willing to commit for a service that can be delivered in the near term.