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Turning Universal Service Funds into Agents of Change

While research has shown conclusively that competition among service providers and diversity in technology platforms for connectivity are a major driver for telecom penetration, it would probably take a long time for the market to create enough commercial incentives to bring connectivity to high cost remote regions and low income households. The stakes are too high and the economic and social opportunity is huge to wait for the market to bring connectivity to all. The Universal Service Funds (USFs) will play a critical role to help governments address this challenge. I want to invite Governments around the world to move with an extreme sense of urgency to turn these”sleepers” into agents of change.Before the opening of competition the funding and allocation of USF was straightforward. One telecom supplier funded either by cross subsidies between difference services or government funds supported the program to provide fixed telephony service to high cost remote locations and low income households. This model continued to exist for many years with modest results in many markets, as evidenced by the poor growth in fixed line telephony penetration rates. Read More »

Data Privacy : A Difficult Balance for Asia?

In many industrialized nations, data privacy is a given. While there are occasional differences in expectations of privacy protection, for instance between the United States and Europe, or between opt-in and opt-out practices, for most, there is general consensus that privacy is an individual right, and that some form of data privacy legislation is necessary. This, however, is not something to be taken for granted among developing economies. In Asia Pacific, while Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea have data privacy provisions in place for some years, countries such as Philippines and Thailand are only in the drafting stages of their privacy bills. Others such as Singapore and Malaysia still do not have data privacy laws in their statutes even after going through the rigors of considering such legislation over many years. Speaking of which, I recall participating as a government representative at an”Asian Personal Data Privacy Forum” from as early as 2001 where among others, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand each presented the privacy law developments of their countries. Some eight years later, things are still very much on the drawing board.What makes it so difficult to put data privacy legislation in place? Read More »

US DTV Cutover: re-purposing spectrum is harder than you think

With just 20 days until US analog television broadcasting shuts down, the various parts of the federal government are in a dither over whether to hit the brakes to give themselves four more months to prepare for the dawn of the all-digital TV age. A bill pending in Congress, crafted in response to a Obama Transition Team request, would change the date from February 17 to June 12, 2009. The radio spectrum that the old analog broadcasting service is vacating is going to be made available to new, state-of-the-art commercial broadband services and to public safety for their radio interoperability needs. Both of these issues were identified as critical priorities back in 2006 when the legislation authorizing the transition was adopted. So why delay? The old triple-play of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt seems to be a factor. Read More »

Obama Brings a New Attitude to Broadband

Wandering back to work this morning after a long weekend full of Obama, I stopped to check out the new White House website. With a new Administration comes a new website and it was impressive to see that the Obama Administration had its nicely produced website up and running already. I quickly searched for “broadband” and was not disappointed. The tech-savvy new Administration had this to say:

Deploy a Modern Communications InfrastructureDeploy Next-Generation Broadband: Work towards true broadband in every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives. America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access.

Now this is change that I can believe in! Read More »

Will Obama be the only President of the United States in 2009?

ObamaThere’s no doubting the Obama magnetism. I’m a Brit living in Brussels but next week, like much of the rest of the world, I will be eagerly watching as Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. While the world has been focused on Washington, however, developments at a meeting of the heads of state of the 27 countries of the EU in December may have paved the way for another President of the United States to emerge. Back in June, the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty -the EU’s efforts to redefine its remit and structures -by the Irish voters had thrown the EU into a crisis. However, in the December deal, described by the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen as a”major achievement for Ireland”, it was agreed the country will vote again before the end of October, paving the way for the Treaty to enter into force before the end of 2009. Before those who foam at the mouth at the mere mention of the EU get excited about my headline, I hold my hands up to a bit of hyperbole. No direct comparison can be made between the envisaged structure under the Treaty and the federal system in the US. Countries such as Finland will retain more autonomy than states such as Florida; Austria more than Alaska. Moreover, it’s no given that the Irish will vote yes, while the Czech Republic, Poland or the UK could all yet throw a spanner in the works. Read More »