Get more proactive on broadband: ITU

Asian governments need to be more proactive in closing the broadband gap with initiatives like public-private partnerships, said the ITU’s No. 2 man.

“Broadband is a key lever for socioeconomic development and has become as vital as transportation and water,” said Zhao Houlin, deputy secretary-general of the ITU, in his keynote address kicking off the Next Generation Broadband Forum at CommunicAsia Wednesday.

Zhao said that for markets, particularly developing ones, to capitalize on broadband’s various benefits - from cheaper voice and video to more efficient e-government services - governments should encourage investment collaborations between the public and private sector to drive broadband infrastructure buildouts.

Zhao cited recent initiatives such as the Malaysian government’s broadband project with Telekom Malaysia - in which TM will cover the majority of the cost ($2.5 billion) to cover half of the country with broadband by 2010, with the government funding the remaining $284 million - as a prime example of public-private partnerships in action.

“Governments don’t have the budget to do this themselves, and operators need more commercial incentive without sacrificing profitability, so partnering can help both sides achieve the benefits of broadband,” he said.

However, Zhao said that Asian countries have not been as active as their western counterparts in pushing broadband forward.

“This market has good potential to lead in broadband development and R&D, so please be more active in this area,” he said.

Zhao also said the ITU can help via summits that bring state ministers and operators together to get them to understand why broadband is vital to development, citing the ITU’s ConnectAfrica summit in 2007 and the $55 billion in broadband funding pledged afterward - as an example. Similar summits are planned for Belarus and Latin America in the next 12 months.

Zhao admitted to Telecom Asia  that it was harder to set up such a pan-regional effort for Asia because of its fragmented regulatory landscape.

“Africa is behind Asia in terms of broadband but has the common political will to coordinate at the continental level,” he said. “Asia doesn’t have that, apart from smaller subsets such as ASEAN and the Pacific Islands.”