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Global - Infrastructure Policies to Stimulate the Economy

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Last updated: 18 Feb 2009 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 161

Analyst: Stephen McNamara

Publication Overview

The financial crisis has led to a major rethink on how the various political, social and economic systems operate. Instead of repairing broken systems new approaches are being developed, better-suited for the current environment. Telecoms investments play a key role in most economic stimulus packages. And with government involvement we can work on ways to use the telecommunications networks for the national good. A major requirement in new telecoms infrastructure is that they be based on trans-sectoral thinking, which will create a multiplier effect to benefit healthcare, education, energy and the environment, as well as commerce, media and communications in general. BuddeComm has been involved in generating government policies around open networks, structural separation and trans-sectoral developments on three continents. The report covers all these topics, to update readers on the significant developments that are currently taking place.

Executive Summary

Financial crisis requires new methods – don’t fix broken systems, create new ones

The financial crisis has given rise to a major rethink of how we operate in the world. It has become clear that without making massive changes to our political, social and economic systems we cannot sustain the lifestyle we enjoy today – nor can we improve the lifestyle of others less fortunate than us. The environment had already begun to ring alarm bells but the advent of the financial crisis has clearly showed that the systems we presently rely on are damaged beyond repair. We need to start from scratch and build a new, more sustainable future. 

The crisis also brought into question the wisdom of the vested interests that have been in control for the last fifty years. In the past the power wielded by some of these entities has made them untouchable, especially in the area of finance, but their spectacular fall from grace has now opened the door for a widespread review of the way the world operates. 

Roles for government and the market

The ‘old guard’ believed that the market would solve all problems; that it would sort things out without the need for intervention. We now know that this is not so. 

And all those regulation-averse people were very quick to ask their governments to bail them out. Almost the entire global financial system was nationalised overnight, simply because of the incredible miscalculations made by the capitalistic brains of the world. 

Doubts are already being expressed about the ability of bureaucrats to run these systems, and BuddeComm, too, is sceptical. But we are sure nothing could be worse than the way those so-called market experts operated. Surely the market will eventually manage the various systems and services again, but not before some serious structural changes have been made, creating more a transparent and democratic environment. 

Grass roots involvement

None of the large-scale problems we are facing can be solved by fixing broken systems. It is essential that a new approach be formulated in all sectors – healthcare, education, energy, environment and the economy. The new order that is being established is also making it possible for communities to wrest power from the vested interests and take control of some of these developments. Instead of a few large corporations running the show smaller grassroots entities could now become involved in the new developments. 

An unprecedented level of grassroots knowledge and education is now available to do things in a different way. We also have communications systems that allow us more involvement than ever before. The Internet and associated technologies such as email, blogs, social networks, etc have given us the tools that will be crucial to recovery.

Trans-sectoral thinking

Applying lessons learned in the 1930s, the new approach that uses economic stimulus packages will enable us to build new and better systems in all of the above sectors. This will have a major effect on future infrastructure developments, and telecoms infrastructure is seen as a spearhead in the activities aimed at economic revival. But the bureaucracy seems to be trapped in a silo mentality. What is needed is a trans-sectoral approach, where administrations function across departments and ministers perform a coordinating and facilitating role, for example in the distribution of these services. 

As an example, if we build new telecoms infrastructure we should make use of the multiplier effect that digital infrastructure has to offer in areas such as healthcare, education, climate change and energy. The same broadband infrastructure can be used simultaneously for all those sectors. This would allow a massive increase in the quality of these services and, for a country such as Australia, savings in the region of tens of billions of dollars per sector. 

So we can use the same infrastructure for e-health, tele-education and smart grids, as well as for Internet and media services. However these institutions need to be actively involved; they should not just be recipients of the infrastructure. Furthermore they will have to remove the internal blockages that obstruct the use of this new environment. For instance, under current healthcare regulations a video consultation is not covered under health insurance. In the energy sector, electricity utilities are discouraged from investing in intelligent networks as that is not seen as core by the energy regulator. So, as well as the telecoms regulatory approach, we are simultaneously operating a very positive campaign promoting the social and economic benefits of the open access infrastructure, and stimulating these organisations to begin making internal changes to adapt to the new environment. 

A trans-sectoral approach should also be taken when looking at other infrastructure developments – look at combining roads, electricity, water, gas and telecoms projects. When stringing electricity cable, why not include a fibre link? When replacing sewerage facilities, include a fibre cable at the same time. 

Our industry can play a leadership role in this environment. ICT is one of the few sectors that can facilitate trans-sectoral thinking and I believe that we are in a prime position to assist governments in building these new platforms – the systems that will enable us to obtain the economic benefits associated with the use of digital infrastructure. 

Investing in the communications revolution

Fortunately the financial crisis has coincided with the communications revolution we are all experiencing at the moment. For the first time most of the world is at least within reach of communications; and many countries in Africa and Latin America have seen a telecoms-driven economic boom over the last five years. This has created an unprecedented level of connectivity between people, which has engendered significant social and economic benefits. 

In the developed world no small business will be able to perform well without access to Internet, email, mobile, etc. Studies have shown that the financial benefits to customers of being online are around $150 per month. No country can afford the spiralling costs in e-health and education and we can’t maintain the present level of service without the use of online networks. While telecoms can’t solve these problems, none of these problems can be solved without communications (or, perhaps better, without ICT). 

Professor Carlota Perez’s views on the communications revolution puts this into perspective. She offers improved guidelines through which to view the transitional period of the communications revolution. We are now moving towards what she calls the mass deployment phase, which will be accompanied by unprecedented social and economic benefits – not just for individual nations but, if we do it right, for the global community also. 

How to create the right environment

Once it has been established that networks can be built differently it will be necessary to work out how it can be done. The main problem is that most incumbents use vertically-integrated business models. This enables them to ‘game’ the often extremely complex regulatory systems. They control the infrastructure and the wholesale and retail markets. And they can juggle their data between these sectors, making it almost impossible for any government or regulator to get a clear picture of how their incumbent’s system works. 

For the last few decades most governments have made strong commitments to competition and innovation and they are very frustrated by how little progress their policies have generated in the telecoms sector. After all those years the incumbents still rule the roost. 

For more than a decade regulators have tried to regulate prices and access, and despite truckloads of expert reports most countries have made very little progress. 

In frustration governments have moved on to the next level, which involves separation of the infrastructure from the services – close to a dozen countries have now moved in that direction. Separation can also be carried out voluntarily, but the reality is that unless the government/regulator wields a big stick there won’t be a great deal of voluntary action taken by incumbents. 

The USA is looking at possible ways to empower local communities to build their own networks. This trend has already begun in Australia and with the right regulatory protection it could also assist in building the new networks. 

It is most important that any developments be protected from anti-competitive behaviour by the incumbents. The creation of open networks (see boxed item below) is the best course, and BuddeComm has been associated with the formulation of government policies around open networks, structural separation and other aspects of the new approach. The topics included in this report are the same topics that have been discussed with government policymakers and industry leaders in the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. 

Open networks

Open networks are the next step in the evolution of telecoms infrastructure as they give users full control of the services and applications that can be made available over high-speed broadband infrastructure. Open networks also signify a democratisation of the telecoms infrastructure. The topology and the architecture of the open network should be such that infrastructure, service and content providers can all offer higher quality and different ‘premium’ products and services.

 

We analyse the importance of open networks for a successful telecoms industry and provide an example of Open Access Principles. 

So for those involved in these changes, or those who will be affected by these changes, it is good to know what the people who are making these decisions are reading. All of these strategic topics are covered in this report.

 

Regulating fibre access

Countries with effective and strong regulatory policies are forging ahead with a lively fibre footprint. When regulators get the bit between their teeth and take action the fibre sector gets moving, because operators are no longer put off by regulatory uncertainty. By promoting effective fibre regimes regulators are in turn supported by governments that are conscious of the socio-economic benefits of fast broadband networks, and the consideration that such networks are vital to national infrastructure. 

This report includes a detailed case study of developments in Europe as they are important on a global scale. Europe’s 2008 regulatory policies aim to encourage fibre infrastructure investment while promoting competition. 

Strategies for the digital economy

The ‘business case’ for Fibre-to-the-Home networks is no longer based solely on the commercial returns from Internet access and other communication services. It also incorporates the social and economic benefits provided by such infrastructure. In Australia, for example, the government is looking at using next-generation telecoms infrastructure to promote the digital economy, including e-health, tele-education, smart grids, media and other FttH applications. 

BuddeComm has taken an industry leadership role in assisting the government with these developments. A major advantage in the process is having the support not just of the Minister for Communications, but of the Ministers for Healthcare, Education, Energy and the Environment also. We have been able to get all the Federal Ministers involved. This is a positive course of action that should be replicated in other countries if possible. The key is to raise the bar above high-speed Internet issues and get trans-sectoral support to create the infrastructure multiplier effect. 

The key elements relating to the digital economy that are covered in the report are:

·         Smart grids;.

·         E-commerce;

·         E-government;

·         E-health;

·         E-education;

·         E-science.

 

Smart grids

There is widespread agreement on the need for smart grids; however the regulatory system and the risk-averse electricity distribution culture are seen to be hampering a more rapid deployment. This is creating opportunities for other telcos and companies such as Google and Microsoft to enter this market. Energy and communications technologies offer a powerful coalition that could lead to an energy/comms revolution, resulting in unprecedented new opportunities that will benefit the planet. Energy will be saved, costs will be reduced and new business opportunities will be created. 

The communications revolution is an important element of the broader ICT revolution, and it is unfolding before our eyes. We are right in the middle of a transition from old communications structures (mainly one-way streets) to new intelligent structures that are fully-interactive and video-based. 

This is not simply a technology-based development. It brings with it massive changes in the way we live, work and communicate. It impacts on healthcare and education, as well as on environmental services such as smart electricity grids, and collaboration is necessary between the various industries – utilities, telcos, IT, vendors and consultants. 

In addition to the benefits the transformation brings massive new business opportunities are created. 

The energy industry will be one of the last in the world to be affected by the ICT revolution. A complete business transformation will be required over the next 5-10 years. 

E-commerce

In 2009 China has more Internet users than the USA, and these are two of the markets that now offer significant opportunities for businesses operating in the e-commerce space. Worldwide Internet users have now reached around 1.3 billion and in 2008 it was estimated that more than $470 billion was spent by consumers on online retail worldwide. While the economic slowdown will probably curb e-commerce growth to a certain extent over the next couple of years – particularly spending on online advertising – there is evidence that the online retail market has remained steady so far, due mostly to the lower prices available via online shopping. 

We analyse the underlying trends that are developing, which will shape the future of this market and influence the nature of strategic investments. It includes broad global statistics and forecasts for e-commerce; e-payments and e-banking. 

E-government

Many countries around the world have become aware of the importance of e-government and many governments have shown leadership in developing online services. The advantages of e-government applications can include cost-cutting and improving processes and information flow, but one of the primary aims is to improve customer service for citizens. 

This report provides information on e-government, with a focus on web-based services. The report identifies the leading governments, common applications and benefits of e-government. 

E-health

E-health is rapidly shaping up as one of the main killer apps on the truly high-speed broadband networks and millions of people around the world can potentially benefit from e-health applications. 

In the western world we are facing a huge dilemma in relation to healthcare. New technologies and knowledge has resulted in increased life expectation and improved lifestyles. The cost of this, however, is enormous and we simply can no longer afford to finance these advances through the public health systems. 

In countries with proper broadband infrastructure e-health is developing in a way that will enable us to enjoy these advances in medical technology and medical services, at a more affordable cost. In developing markets, such as Africa, where mobile phones make up the majority of telephone subscriptions, mobile applications may also offer access to better quality healthcare. 

We provide an overview of the developments taking place in the e-health market, including analysis and statistics. 

E-education and e-science

The Internet and associated Web 2.0 technologies have further broadened the opportunity for, and quality of, remote education and the ‘virtual classroom’. Tele-education is also becoming increasingly important in training health professionals in remote areas. Corporations and universities are continuing to adopt e-learning solutions in an effort to lower costs and provide training and education to a wider audience. 

The report provides an overview of e-education in terms of both tele-education and e-learning. Brief case studies on Europe and developing markets such as Africa are also provided. The report also introduces and analyses the concept of E-science. E-science refers to a worldwide development to bridge the gap between scientists in application domains and the developments of ICT. E-science comes in different flavours, but the common goal is to make the most efficient use of the very fast developing ICT infrastructure in all fields of science and research.  

Researchers:- Paul Budde, Lawrence Baker, Lucia Bibolini, Peter Evans, Dominic Hebert, Lisa Hulme-Jones, Paul Kwon, Henry Lancaster, Peter Lange, Tine Lewis, Kylie Wansink

Current publication date:- February 2009 (1st Edition)

 

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

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