Home to over 4 billion people and covering more than 50 countries and territories, the Asia-Pacific is the largest and most diverse region of the globe. The region is home to countries like China, India, Indonesia and Japan, which account for more than half of the world’s mobile subscriber base (GSMA), while on the other hand, only 7% of people in the region have fixed broadband access (ESCAP).
Connecting the unconnected remains one of the major challenge for both governments and the industry. 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 innovative solutions that can be rapidly deployed and appropriated by under and un-served communities across the world.
ESCAP member countries have recognized the need for a concerted regional effort on promoting ICT connectivity for sustainable development. The Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS) initiative supports an environment that will lead to the promotion of inclusive access for all, acknowledging the special needs and challenges faced by least developed and developing countries. In addition to enhancing international fibre-optic backbone connectivity, the initiative under it’s ‘Broadband for All and Interconnection’ pillars, also drives the development of domestic ICT infrastructure in related countries, including domestic backbone and backhaul networks, access networks and Internet data centres, among others.
The last mile access issue is common in economies that continue to have low Internet penetration. Over the last few years, Community Networks (CN) have emerged as a complementary way to connect people and to allow for low-cost community-driven solutions to be developed to connect people in underserved locations.
A number of CNs have emerged around the Asia-Pacific region as low cost - and typically self-managed networks - providing Internet access where commercial networks generally do not find it economically viable to operate. These networks are also supplementing ‘universal access’ goals, and providing digital opportunities for rural communities to empower themselves.
However, these community-led solutions do face a number of challenges that require policymakers and regulators consideration so that they may flourish. These local networks can be used to improve delivery of Internet services and inspire creation of local content, as well other digital services – including online education and access to government services.