Asia-Pacific Regional Internet and Development Dialogue
THE INTERNET OF OPPORTUNITY: Building a sustainable future through an inclusive Internet in Asia-Pacific
The Asia-Pacific is the largest and most diverse region of the globe; home to over 4 billion people. It is also arguably the most digitally divided region in the world; while ICT champions such as the Republic of Korea boasts of an 84.3% Internet penetration rate, countries such as Myanmar has only 2.1% (World Bank). While countries, such as China, India, Indonesia and Japan, account for 37% of the world’s mobile subscriber base (GSMA), only 7% of people in the region have fixed broadband access (ESCAP).
A significant shift to smartphones and tablets is expected to drive demand even further in the region with many countries transitioning to 4G/LTE rapidly. The use of cloud-based applications in the workplace, together with video streaming and social media, will place far greater demands on the existing infrastructure than before. This can widen the digital divide between countries even further. Access to broadband Internet remains even lower for women and girls, highlighting the cross-cutting issue of gender divide in the region. Affordability of services along with connecting those that are still unconnected poses a further challenge.
One of the major issues for both governments and industry in the short to medium term will be how to connect those that still remain unconnected. The coalescence of connectivity and socio-economic inclusiveness, particularly for the last two billion, underlines the need for transformative Internet access through integrative policies, user-driven tools and technical solutions that can be rapidly deployed and appropriated by various localities across the region. The demand for international transit and sub-regional transit is also expected to increase with various regional integration initiatives such as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and closer intra-regional trade.
ESCAP member countries have recognized the need for a concerted regional effort to promote information and communications technology (ICT) connectivity for sustainable development. As a result, the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative was developed to promote the regional ICT connectivity (terrestrial or submarine fibre cables), connecting countries into a cohesive regional information superhighway to enhance competition and open new opportunities for large-scale investment in broadband infrastructure. In addition, regional connectedness will lead to economies of scale and drive international bandwidth prices down, increase resilience by offering redundancy to submarine cables, and decrease latency across the region. Such initiatives will improve availability, reliability and affordability of broadband access among much wider segments of the populations and enable them to take full advantage of the burgeoning digital economy, digital government services and environment-conscious initiatives, such as smart cities, intelligent transport, trade facilitation, smart energy grids, ICT-enabled disaster risk reduction, just to name a few.
Initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) supported by ESCAP will be even more critical to ensure continued socio-economic development and to contribute towards the effective implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, disaster risk reduction, in particular the establishment of resilient telecommunications infrastructure, need to be mainstreamed into development policies, planning and implementation in order to achieve the SDGs, given that ICT infrastructure as well as social media are vital for pre-and-post-disaster response and recovery.
For the Asia-Pacific region, ICTs, in particular the Internet, will play an important role in development, and can be an important catalyst in improving the socio-economic status of communities, as well as play a transformative role in the transition towards a digital economy.
The purpose of this conference is to convene a multi-stakeholder regional dialogue on policy issues around ‘Internet for Development’ and address some of the opportunities and challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. Special attention will be given to the transformational potentials of ICT and Internet for SDGs, as well as mainstreaming gender within topical discussions. The conference will offer open high-level discussions that will address the following dimensions:
- Connecting the Next Billion
- ICTs and Sustainable Development
- Regional Opportunities and Challenges
Conference Cross-cutting Themes
Keeping in mind SDGs and considering the opportunities the Internet enables, the conference will explore best practices and lessons learned, as well as findings from the latest studies and quantitative and qualitative analysis on the following topics:
Rural Connectivity: A significant proportion of the population in Asia-Pacific live in rural and remote areas—the same areas that, in addition to being broadly vulnerable, are also more likely to be victims of market failure, with commercial viability often an issue for ICT service providers. To this end, the conference will discuss various alternatives to Internet access provision to such communities in order to encourage diversity and resilience. It will also look into policy options for infrastructure sharing, spectrum allocation, universal service funds and subsidy models, community owned networks, as well as projects by commercial and non-commercial actors to roll out networks to underserved and unserved areas in the region.
Financial Inclusion: Financial services are crucial to encourage entrepreneurship and economic participation, especially for the informal sector--yet an estimated 1.2 billion people in Asia-Pacific do not have access to a bank account. The Internet, along with mobile technologies, are helping to fill in these gaps through mechanisms like mobile payments, micro-lending and micro-insurance, which allow the unbanked to save, transfer, transact, and borrow money at reasonable rates, and governments to deliver social benefits to the poor at much lower costs. Tailoring products to the particular needs of the unbanked is important, as well as the need for interoperability among different platforms and service providers, and harmonization of laws, standards and guidelines among jurisdictions in the region.
Disaster management and mitigation: The increasing intensity of disasters in Asia-Pacific calls for technologies to monitor environmental changes, power early warning systems, support crucial communication, and aid local and international coordination to help communities prepare and respond to disasters. With participants from the region’s disaster-prone countries, the conference will look into how connected devices and platforms like solar-powered sensors, transponders, 3D mapping and delay-tolerant networks, are being applied to emergency situations to help minimize the damage and casualties from disasters, and will explore some of the policy considerations around these emerging topics.
Enabling e-services: Increased Internet connectivity is expected to pave the way for the development of and lead to more widespread and timely distribution of ICT tools, services and applications. This will support meaningful Internet access and empowerment for marginalized sectors of community, including women, indigenous communities, and those with special needs, such as the elderly and persons with disabilities. But findings from recent research shows that the link between Internet access and use is not straightforward. While many governments in the region have launched frameworks for e-health, e-government and e-education, implementation rates vary wildly, in part due to the lack of local capacity as well as due to issues around access. An enabling environment that allows the public and private sectors, as well as not-for-profit organizations, to innovate, create and facilitate is critical, and the open Internet plays a key role in this regard. Improving access and accessibility, building digital skills and literacy, enhancing trust online, and taking into account the user’s capabilities and needs are some of the factors that will increase the value and utility of the Internet for existing and potential users.
Frugal Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Extending Internet connectivity to the last billions inevitably involves low-cost, and often low-power and open solutions that can be easily adopted or reproduced by low-income, rural and less skilled communities. The conference will seek to highlight some of the innovative equipment, platforms, software and systems that encourage future Internet users to not only become consumers, but also producers and creators of the Internet and the active and passive infrastructure, devices and services that go with it.