Affordable and reliable internet access has become an economic necessity, akin to other basic utilities like electricity and transport. A recently published World Bank Group report, Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa: Accelerating Access to High Speed Internet, indicates that only 6.7 percent of Iraqi households have access to the internet via a fixed broadband connection. In light of this reality, the Bank’s Transport and ICT Global Practice organized two workshops on business models for improving broadband access in Iraq.
In Iraq, like in many other countries, the main challenge is not infrastructure. A nationwide network of fiber-optic cables has already been deployed. Instead, the challenge is linked to the market’s failure to create incentives and opportunities for the operation of and access to these networks. Broadband take-up in the region has mostly been slow and its cost, high, says the Bank’s report. “In large part, this stems from market structures that, too often, reflect the past when telecommunications were treated as a monopoly utility service.”
Broadband assets are still viewed as a source of government revenue in Iraq and many other places. Iraq’s Ministry of Communications is working hard to develop effective strategies that can help improve access to high-speed internet as broadband is the internet link in highest demand. However, many layers of loosely regulated internet service providers are all answerable to the government’s monopoly on cross-border connectivity. As a result, some Iraqi private sector players find it difficult to expand. “We have more than 300 ISPs, all of them working without regulation…this issue [is] affecting the service,” said a representative from a leading Internet Service Provider in Iraq.