Clos­ing the broad­band gap in Asia-Pa­cific

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

Ad­vances in in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy (ICT) have been in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing and lead­ing so­cioe­co­nomic trans­for­ma­tions across Asia and the Pa­cific. One key to this trans­for­ma­tion is the tech­nol­ogy bun­dled around the “In­ter­net of Things”, which en­ables bil­lions of de­vices to con­nect over the in­ter­net for more ac­cu­rate, real time data col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis on an un­par­al­leled scale. Through in­ter­net-con­nected sen­sors at­tached to in­fra­struc­ture, ear­lyon main­te­nance alarms can be raised for prob­lems, such as de­fects or wear and tear, thereby po­ten­tially sav­ing the lives of peo­ple us­ing them.

De­spite the spot­light on the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of tech­nolo­gies such as the IoT, the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion suf­fers from a lack of ICT con­nec­tiv­ity, and the dig­i­tal di­vide con­tin­ues to be one of the largest in the world. The Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals ac­knowl­edge ICT as a de­vel­op­ment en­abler and the foun­da­tional in­fra­struc­ture for achiev­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. In this con­text, en­hanc­ing ac­cess to af­ford­able, re­li­able and ro­bust broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity must be seen as a pre­req­ui­site for ac­cel­er­ated and in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

A fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge re­lated to ICT ad­vance­ments is how to best con­nect those who are still un­con­nected, so that they too can reap the ben­e­fits. TheUnited Na­tions Eco­nomic and So­cial Com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pa­cific un­der­scored the need to ad­dress this chal­lenge in a re­cent re­port ti­tled the “State of ICT in Asia and the Pa­cific 2016: Un­cov­er­ing the Widen­ing Broad­band Di­vide”. The re­port high­lights the alarm­ing dis­par­ity in broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity in the Asia-Pa­cific, with high-in­come coun­tries ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a higher growth rate of broad­band pen­e­tra­tion rel­a­tive to other coun­tries.

Twenty coun­tries in the re­gion have only 2 per­cent of fixed broad­band sub­scrip­tion per 100 in­hab­i­tants, while ICT champions such as the Repub­lic of Korea, en­joy over 40 per­cent broad­band pen­e­tra­tion. Fur­ther em­pha­siz­ing re­gional dis­par­i­ties, 75 per­cent of fixed broad­band sub­scrip­tions were registered in­North andNorth­east Asia, mainly in China, the ROK and Ja­pan.

Broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity, es­pe­cially re­li­able, af­ford­able and re­silient fixed broad­band in­fra­struc­ture, is a critical foun­da­tion which sup­ports ini­tia­tives that are es­sen­tial for the achieve­ment of the SDGs, rang­ing from traf­fic and trans­port man­age­ment, to smart power man­age­ment, trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion, dis­as­ter man­age­ment and fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion.

While suc­cess sto­ries in e-com­merce abound, such as China’s Ali- baba, less is known about the use of ICT for so­cioe­co­nomic ben­e­fits, such as mo­bile money in Pak­istan and the Philip­pines where salaries and re­mit­tances are sent over mo­bile phones. Farm­ers and ru­ral res­i­dents in­creas­ingly use the in­ter­net, al­low­ing them to gain un­par­al­leled ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and helping to fur­ther de­velop mul­ti­ple sec­tors, such as agri­cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and health­care.

ICT also plays a cru­cial role in dis­as­ter man­age­ment. When a dis­as­ter strikes, it is the tele­com in­fra­struc­ture that pro­vides the plat­form to com­mu­ni­cate with those in need and col­lect data on dam­age to fa­cil­i­tate res­cue, re­lief and re­con­struc­tion op­er­a­tions. The Asia-Pa­cific, how­ever, is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to fre­quent nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Earth­quakes, for in­stance, have dis­rupted sub­ma­rine ca­bles and sub­se­quently ac­cess to the in­ter­net in densely pop­u­lated coastal ar­eas and cities. The re­gion ur­gently needs to im­prove and ex­pand its broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity to pro­vide al­ter­na­tive routes and net­works to build greater re­gional re­silience to dis­as­ters.

In this con­text, ESCAP sup­ports the Asia-Pa­cific In­for­ma­tion Su­per­high­way, a re­gional broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity ini­tia­tive that aims to en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity from Turkey to Kiri­bati in a holis­tic man­ner, through ef­fec­tive in­ter­net traf­fic man­age­ment, e-re­silience and in­clu­sive broad­band ac­cess.

ESCAP’s Com­mit­tee on ICT, Science, Tech­nol­ogy and In­no­va­tion, sched­uled for Oct 5-7 in Bangkok, also pro­vides an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal plat­form to en­gage mem­ber coun­tries and other stake­hold­ers in dis­cus­sions con­tribut­ing to a re­gional vi­sion of what ICT can and should do for the re­gion’s future. It is im­per­a­tive that we en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity, be­cause with­out ef­fec­tive and vi­able “peo­ple con­nec­tions,” the re­gion’s full po­ten­tial will not be re­al­ized.

The author is UN un­der-sec­re­tary­gen­eral and ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of ESCAP, and has been the UN’s sherpa for the G20 and gov­er­nor of the Cen­tral Bank of Pak­istan and vice-pres­i­dent of the MENA Re­gion of theWorld Bank.


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