Increasing the scope of broadband is more than just an economic argument

Days away from the exclusive launch of the World Bank’s latest report in Abu Dhabi, the director general of the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority shares his thoughts on playing host and the global priority for increased broadband provision
Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, TRA Director General
By HE Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim
Wed 05 Feb 2014 01:23 PM

The first three months of the year are critical for any national government, organization or commercial enterprise. Taking advantage of the opportunity to imbue those around you by clearly outlining an ambitious vision is more often than not the Q1 modus operandi.

The US President’s annual ‘State of the Union’ address to Congress this last week is a case in point. Amidst a swathe of suggested reforms and statements of intent, the President outlined his vision to improve the country’s economic footing. Within his address, the President also commented on the importance of supporting ICT ventures and in particular, made a commitment to utilizing broadband to improve national education standards.

The justification for prioritizing the extension of broadband provision here is self-evident. After all, the unassailable truth remains that by harnessing modern technology in conjunction with the delivery of increased levels of digital connectivity, the quest for educational attainment is made easier. This is a reality the Leadership in the United Arab Emirates had long recognised and was in fact the principal motivation behind the launch of the Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum Smart Learning Program in 2012. Forming part of the UAE Vision 2021, the AED1-billion project has drawn international acclaim for its intention to craft an entirely new learning experience in public schools via the introduction of ‘smart classes’.

Providing every student with a tablet and access to high-speed 4G networks by 2017, the project will place both teaching professionals and students in a state-of-the-art learning environment equipped with the necessary tools to pursue educational excellence. With blackboards and chalk confined firmly to the realms of the past, introducing cutting edge technology into UAE classrooms will train Emiratis in digital citizenship and computer literacy. As opposed to simply using ICT as a vessel to aid the process of passing exams, the project is designed specifically to facilitate the steady and continuous formation of young minds ready, willing and capable of entering the UAE’s burgeoning knowledge economy.

Through the prism of education we are presented with a working example of the tangible benefits that can be sourced from increased broadband capacity. When case for broadband is extrapolated in a wider economic setting, we are provided with another, particularly in terms of Middle East and Africa (MENA). Right now, 11 out of the 19 countries that make up the region are finalizing the details of their ‘national broadband strategy’.

Lying at the foundation of each is the concentric desire to have a greater stake in the digital economy that is experiencing such remarkable growth. It is not difficult to see the logic behind this trendy especially given that The World Bank has previously suggested that a 10 per cent rise in broadband penetration in developing countries has been shown to increase GDP by 1.38 percent on average . An attractive package whichever way one looks at it.

Thus, the case for broadband is there and is a message that rings clear and true from each of the seven Emirates who all consider themselves beneficiaries of world class broadband provision. Possible - as the UAE is consistently ranked in the top ten globally for the quality of its broadband service and internationally lauded - as the nation is well on track to deliver 100 percent broadband penetration in the near future. This ever improving digital infrastructure has understandably had a positive impact on the UAE business community at large and in turn, has seen its e-commerce arm go from strength to strength.

Following suit from the positive results seen in 2013, the forecasted growth of online transactions in the UAE for 2014 is healthy to say the least and in terms of the Middle East, the e-commerce sector is set to grow to more than $40 billion in the next three years, while m-commerce in the MENA region is set to reach $3bn in 2015. The very fact that the biggest e-commerce markets in the region are Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which lead the region in terms of internet transactions globally, is down in large part to the national priority placed on high speed and pervasive broadband networks.

Sustained and substantial digital investment gravitates to markets where the infrastructure is both advanced and secure. This will not change but perhaps the overwhelming attention given to the economic argument for broadband should slightly by placing equal emphasis on the socio-economic and developmental powers of broadband.

Such a shift is supported by the 193 member states of the United Nations specialised agency, the International Telecommunication Union, an organisation of which the UAE has been a member of for many years. The union is concerned with extending the benefits of technology to ensure they are within the grasp of everyone who occupies the planet. Viewing access, connectivity, development and the ability to acquire knowledge as an irremovable human right, the ITU highlights the full repertoire of benefits that spawn from a commitment to broadband expansion, economic and socioeconomic principles included.

It is for this reason that the TRA and the UAE assigns a great deal of value and pride to its association with the ITU. Both ITU and The World Bank recognise the subtleties involved with broadband provision and there is certainly an element of cross over in terms of the core principals their core founding principles.

It is fitting then, yet not coincidental, that The World Bank has chosen the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Abu Dhabi headquarters as the venue to launch its latest statistical exploration into broadband. In what will without doubt shed light on both the economic and human elements associated with broadband, on Thursday February 6th 2014, the TRA will open its doors to the international community with the guarantee that the eyes of those unable to attend will be fixated on the Emirate to witness the academic action as it unfolds.

As a federal entity, the UAE TRA gears all its operations towards realising the vision set to paper by the late President of the United Arab Emirates, the Father of the Nation, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Empowering all citizens to benefit from being an active member of a global digital community falls within this remit. So too does the promotion and acquisition of knowledge for the advancement of the UAE and its involvement in global affairs. The World Bank’s imminent research release speaks directly to the desire to help governments, organisations and individuals navigate their safe passage through a modern era underpinned by technological innovation for the betterment of humanity.

In this sense then, it would be a struggle to find a better host.

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