Plans for Asia Internet superhighway

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The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), under the direction of the UN, expects its member countries to enter a pact on what it dubs the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway by 2017 to speed up the process of regional integration.

The initiative aims to increase the availability and affordability of broadband internet across Asia-Pacific and strengthen internet infrastructure in the region.

As envisioned by Escap, the plan includes regional internet maps and policy analysis to support countries in their efforts to develop a seamless information and communication space.

“Our goal is to help bridge the digital divide in the region,” said Shamika Sirimanne, director of information and communications technology and disaster risk reduction at Escap.

Broadband internet has become a critical form of communication that can stimulate economic growth, improve quality of life and render aid in times of disaster, Ms Sirimanne said after this week’s meeting of the fourth session of the Committee on Information and Communications Technology in Bangkok.

She said the proliferation of consumer-oriented connected devices had driven tremendous growth for internet data usage, especially video streaming, social media and cloud computing.

In addition, upcoming free trade activity will also increase demand for international internet bandwidth.

Inequality within Asia-Pacific still exists, particularly in terms of internet access, speed quality and affordability, Ms Sirimanne said.

In the developed economies of Japan, South Korea and Singapore, broadband internet access costs less than 2% of average monthly income. In contrast, the cost of broadband internet access in developing economies averages 41.7% of monthly income.

Ms Sirimanne said Asia-Pacific countries would spend up to US$8 trillion on ICT infrastructure development during 2010-20, with 10% of the investment going to fibre-optic networks and internet exchange points.

A report by the International Telecommunication Union revealed that 53% of households in Asia-Pacific have internet access, compared with 65% in the US and 77% in Europe.

To ease regional inequality in broadband access, Ms Sirimanne urged member countries not to rely on submarine cable alone for communications networks.

Building fibre-optic networks inside and outside their territories, increasing the number of internet exchange points and encouraging free and fair competition could bring down the price of access.

Asia-Pacific countries will discuss amending intergovernmental agreements to allow deployment of fibre-optic transmission networks along the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway.

“This is the cheapest and most practical way of laying fibre-optic cables in the region, which is connected through vast swathes of land, and therefore the way forward for realising the benefits of the information superhighway,” Ms Sirimanne said.

Yeong Ro Lee, a special adviser to the smart network division of the National Information Society Agency in South Korea, said the agency was studying a plan to build an Asean information superhighway as part of Escap’s initiative.

Source: Bangkok Post