Thursday, February 12, 2009

Concept Paper


A By-Invitation-Only Seminar at Chulalongkorn University, February 24, 2009

Meaningful Broadband, a half day event and press conference hosted by Chulalongkorn University on February 24, 2009, is designed for a select group of 40 leading ICT stakeholders from government, business and academic sectors in Thailand. The event, which presents a model for the optimal deployment of high-speed internet in ASEAN countries, is sponsored by the Nokia Siemens Network.

Held at a time when US President Obama has given a starring role to high-speed internet as a factor in US economic stimulus, the event on February 24 will consider how a “broadband ecosystem” might trigger benefits to low-income Thais as well as the Thai citizenry as a whole. Drawing upon an innovative model called Meaningful Broadband that is being prepared for deployment in Indonesia, the meeting will consider how high-speed internet could have meaningful impacts in Thailand as well.

The core concept of Meaningful Broadband is that it does not refer to a single device or a single software application. Rather it refers to the formulation of a complex national “ecosystem” of products and services with four aspects: 1) backbone, 2) Last Mile, 3) devices, and 4) content. In this model the term, “meaningful" has three aspects: usable, affordable and empowering. By operationalizing this idea, regulators and technology-developers could gain the criteria needed to measure the impact of broadband technologies on citizens.

Interwoven and reinforced with public policy and new investments,this ecosystem could intertwine public and private sectors together into new strategic alliances anchored by public-private partnerships and reinforced by regulatory innovations. As it turns out, the academic sector has an important stake in the successful deployment of broadband and is itself a potential force in every aspect of the ecosystem.

In the background of this meeting is an important innovation that has emerged from the young Obama Administration in the US. Broadband received $9 billion in federal investments and, more importantly, an additional $120 billion in human-resources development investments were allocated by US Congress so that the educational and workforce-development systems could be transformed through broadband.

Prior to the US example, most governments have assumed that human-resources infrastructure and technology investments would only pay off in the long-term. But the advocates for this approach in the US have argued that the stimulus to the economy and the payoff in jobs could be immediate. Could the same logic work for Thailand?

To set the context for this discussion, the gathering will consider a model for the formulation of “meaningful” broadband ecosystems, formulated by Prof Craig Warren Smith, who first began working with the Kingdom of Thailand when he was professor of Science and Technology Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. This year he is in residence at Chulalongkorn University’s Center for Ethics of Science and Technology and serves as an organizer of the February 24 session.

Prime Minister Abhisit himself has been invited to offer his own views on this topic and we have also invited the chairman of Thailand’s regulatory agency, National Telecommunications Commission to explain NTC’s framework for interacting with the private sector regarding broadband. Finally, the gathering will announce a research agenda for assessing these options and considering a path forward.