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Access to affordable broadband is increasing influencing government policies. Traditional remedies to improve access to affordable internet services including liberalisation and privatisation have unfortunately not resulted in reduction of the price of broadband particularly in developing countries. This has resulted in the need for new and innovative approaches to meet the growing demand for broadband access. One such approach that is gaining ground globally is the ‘open access networks (OAN)’ concept, which if applied in the deployment of infrastructure has the potential to reduce broadband access cost.
Fibre optic technology has become the technology of choice because it has unlimited capacity and is not subject to interference, signal loss or attenuation. Operators are therefore deploying fibre optic networks to maximise their return on investment particularly in urban areas with high population densities. The use of fibre in providing last-mile broadband access unfortunately requires substantial commitment of fixed costs, mainly associated with civil works or passive infrastructure (cables, ducts, splitters and shelters) which is estimated to account for 68 per cent of the total infrastructure cost.
Open access networks (OAN) allow for the sharing of passive infrastructure by multiple operators allowing them to compete in the provision of services. OAN provided as a utility by local governments have the potential to reduce the high costs of civil infrastructure and thereby reducing broadband pricing as operators can make a business case to deploy fibre by linking the long term investment in infrastructure to the supply of services resulting in vertical integration.
On the other hand government can consider policy and regulatory tools needed to support OAN without harming investment and innovation such as:
1. Setting rules operators for the deployment broadband access to that ensure shared and equal access, preventing discriminatory behaviour or monopoly tendencies by the first infrastructure operator in a given area.
2. Mandating functional and/or structural separation of vertically integrated operators where the separation would be in the wholesale functions or in the operation of a separate passive infrastructure company
3. Allowing the entry of a new category of infrastructure providers including local governments, electricity transmission companies, railway and water companies.
2. InfoDev (2005) Open Access Models Options for Improving Backbone Access in Develop...
3. ITU (2008) Trends in Telecommunication Reforms: Six Degrees of Sharing
4. Lehr, W., Sirbu, M. Gillett, S. (2004) Broadband Open Access: Lessons from Municipal Network Case Studies.
5. Njiraini, M. (2006) Open Access: Enabling Access to Broadband in Kenya. Unpublished Dissertation, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
6. Williams, Mark. (2010) Broadband for Africa: Developing Backbone Communication Networks.