Getting Internet Access to the "Other Three Billion" Might Take Courage

Supplying Internet access, affordably and sustainably, to the other three billion humans on the planet is going to anything but easy, but not necessarily for technological reasons. To be sure, the cost of appliances and networks is an issue. It always is.

But operating costs are an issue, says Alcatel-Lucent Consulting Services managing partner Hilary Mine. The reason is that “jobs” are an outcome governments desire from their communications providers, not just “communications services.”

The practical implication is that although “automating everything” would help with controlling operating costs, it conflicts with the objective of creating incremental new jobs.

A similar sort of tradeoff exists in the spectrum policy area.

On one hand, Internet access provider operating costs will be lower if unlicensed spectrum is available. On the other hand, governments lose a source of revenue if spectrum is allocated in that way.

In that sense, the hard tradeoff is “less license revenue now, more sustainable tax revenue later.” But “later” is the issue.

Any politician or government official knows if always is preferable (politically rational, not necessarily always helpful for the nation) to push off costs into the future and deliver benefits now, when it can be done.

And that makes any effort to speed up Internet access delivery by using unlicensed spectrum a tough political challenge, when the alternative might be “license now, book revenue now.”

Technology matters. It always does. But so does policy. It might take some courage as well.
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