Friday, 23 January 2009

The digital leveller

It's sometimes nice to reflect on the positive work that's done by telecoms. In amongst all the hard-bitten competition we sometimes forget that this industry is (as Sellar and Yeatman would have said) "a good thing". Mobile broadband in particular offers an opportunity to bridge the digital divide that threatens the economic opportunities of rural populations across the world.

As one example of mobile broadband as digital leveller, the Irish government has announced a €223 million scheme to roll out services to the 10% of the population that currently have no access to broadband over the next 2 years. As the underserved are rural the lion's share of responsibility for connecting the unconnected will fall to mobile. The government has contracted 3 to provide HSDPA coverage at a cost of €19.99 per month. A small proportion of the population will also be connected by satellite.

With Keynesian economic theory once more to the fore in many European countries, I think we can expect a number of governments to pursue big ticket digital infrastructure projects and for many, mobile is the only realistic option.

Now I've got that out of the way, I'll return to my old cynical self.


  1. Ah, policy debate, my favourite pet topic of the moment.

    There's different ways to view the digital divide, and mobile seems like a solution for the urban/rural part of the equation, but not necessarily for the rich/poor part.

    In addition, as next generation wireline gains momentum and services that fit that ecosystem start to appear, it may be that mobile broadband remains to wireline fiber what dial-up is to DSL: a solution that allows you to access the bare minimum but cuts you from 95% of online activities.

    Having said that, even in Keynesian times, investing in fiber deployment in rural areas is unlikely to happen. Some communities in the UK are taking matters into their own hands though, see

  2. It remains a mystery why the UK and Ireland are utter and bitter failures in telecommunications infrastructure. Both are small countries with large populations compared to the Scandinavian countries who have universal broadband and mobile available, even in the most remote locations.

  3. Sammael99 - I agree that there is a misconception that urban/rural is somehow the same as rich/poor. In fact quite the reverse. There are, however, a number of regions which are particularly depressed (and in receipt of additional EU funding) precisely because they are remote. I'm thinking particularly of Cornwall. What we want to avoid is a USO simply encouraging rich people to work from their second home in Cornwall once a week. An impossible balance to strike though.