WASHINGTON, January 24, 2019—The World Bank launched today a new report that shows how new technologies and business models can help developing countries expand high-speed internet access. Drawing on international experience, the report “Innovative Business Models for Expanding Fiber-Optic Networks and Closing the Access Gaps” examines creative approaches to closing the global digital divide and ensuring everyone can reap the social and economic benefits of digital development—including poor or isolated communities where traditional strategies may not be economically viable.
Deploying broadband everywhere, for everyone
Once considered a luxury, broadband internet has now become an essential service for individuals, businesses, and governments. It serves as the backbone of the global digital economy, which will soon account for a quarter of the world’s GDP.
Yet half of the world population, some 4 billion people, still lack access to the internet. Connecting the “remaining half” could be costly and technically challenging, as many of them live in low-income, rural, or secluded areas. Soaring demand for faster, more reliable internet will also require extensive upgrades to existing infrastructure.
“Although emerging technologies like 5G, the Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence hold great promise for the future, we don’t want to see a scenario where developing countries are left lagging behind. To build a truly inclusive digital revolution, we must double down on our efforts to bring fast, reliable internet to all. The report offers a fresh new perspective on how to make this happen,” said Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director for Digital Development.
Toward realistic and locally relevant strategies
To provide solutions and formulate concrete recommendations, the authors reviewed a diverse set of 70 digital infrastructure projects representing all regions, income groups, and ownership models, from state-owned to fully private models and public-private partnerships. These case studies span the entire broadband value chain: cross-border networks, national backbone, middle mile and last mile connectivity. By looking into the characteristics and outcomes of each project, the report brings out valuable lessons that can be applied and adapted elsewhere.
The report finds that most successful broadband initiatives have been driven by the private sector. Public agencies play a crucial role by implementing effective sector regulation, addressing potential market failures, and creating the conditions for an open, competitive broadband sector. Increased competition for broadband services, including where appropriate the infrastructure itself, has led to significant improvements in the coverage and affordability of high-speed internet.
Recent innovations are also creating new ways to scale up access. These include, among others, broadband deployment using low-cost satellites, small cell solutions, as well as drones, balloons, and other nonpermanent structures.
As markets and technologies evolve, countries should consider opportunities to repurpose existing infrastructure. Certain television frequencies, for instance, have progressively fallen into disuse due to advances in broadcasting, and could be leveraged to expand wireless network coverage.
Infrastructure sharing, where multiple broadband providers to operate the same network to keep costs down, is another promising option. In many cases, they may work with companies in sectors such as energy or transport to pool key assets (ducts and poles, buildings, land rights, fiber networks, etc.) and combine civil works contracts.