7.5.1 Least Developed Countries (LDCs)
The United Nations created the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) category in 1971 to recognize the existence of a group of countries with severe poverty and weak economic, institutional and human resources.* This group currently consists of 48 countries with a combined population of over 880 million. Most are in Africa, almost a third are in Asia and the Pacific and one is in Latin America. Around half are either small island states or landlocked.
The LDCs face tremendous supply and demand challenges in deploying broadband networks. The existing level of fixed infrastructure is generally low, as are demand-side indicators such as income and educational level. The capacity for developing effective broadband strategies and policies can also be limited due to institutional weaknesses and insufficient human resources in ministries and regulators.
New technologies such as broadband can help LDCs overcome development challenges and can move LDC economies away from their dependence on primary commodities and low-skill manufacturing.* There is some urgency to deploy broadband networks in order to mitigate LDCs falling further behind technologically and becoming even more marginalized in the world economy.* The development of international and national backbones is a main priority that will require innovative public private partnerships. Wireless broadband also holds great promise, given the significant increase in mobile networks in the LDCs and the lower costs of deploying mobile broadband. In order to successfully develop broadband networks and services, LDCs will need to introduce greater competition and allocate spectrum for wireless broadband.
7.5.2 Landlocked developing countries (LLDCs)
Landlocked developing countries (LLDCs),* predominantly located in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, “face severe challenges to growth and development due to a wide range of factors, including: a poor physical infrastructure, weak institutional and productive capacities, small domestic markets, remoteness from world markets, and a high vulnerability to external shocks.”* There are 31 LLDCs with a total population of 409 million (Figure 8).
One of the main barriers LLDCs face is distance from key ports, resulting in high transaction costs and reduced international competitiveness. Broadband can help to overcome these limitations, since it is not distance sensitive. However, geographic conditions can still pose a supply side challenge for LLDCs in terms of accessing global high-speed fiber networks.
“Virtual coastlines” can be created for LLDCs through the connection of national backbones to countries directly linked to undersea cables. This connectivity can then be brought to “virtual landing stations” in the LLDC where all ISPs can obtain cost-based access to international bandwidth. Rwanda has created such a virtual landing station, where optic fiber cables from undersea landing stations in Kenya and Tanzania (Rwanda’s “virtual coastline”) are terminated.*
Access to high-speed international bandwidth will require regional cooperation and public private partnerships to spur investment in national backbones and ensure their onward connectivity to neighboring countries with undersea fiber optic cable connections. According to an ESCAP study on Central Asia, countries must cooperate to expedite and ensure effective regional connectivity.* A broadband backbone infrastructure transcending borders requires interconnection along with ongoing management and maintenance, impacting all the countries benefiting from the network.
7.5.3 Small Island Developing States (SIDS)
The United Nations has recognized the particular problems of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) since 1994.* According to UNCTAD, SIDS face “… a greater risk of marginalization from the global economy than many other developing countries…” due to their small size, remoteness and vulnerability.* They are also susceptible to natural disasters such as tsunamis and damaging environmental changes such as sea level rise. Fifty two countries and territories are presently classified as SIDS.
The SIDS are geographically diverse with different broadband supply and demand challenges. On the demand side, many SIDS have relatively small populations that may deter investment. However, the small size makes it easier and cheaper to quickly deploy networks with a high degree of coverage, and a growing number of SIDS are achieving universal mobile service.* Despite those success stories, mobile broadband has yet to have a significant impact in most SIDS to date due to a lack of spectrum allocation and uncertain demand.
On the supply side, their different locations affect how each country has been able to develop telecommunications networks. Most of the Caribbean SIDS, for example, are located in a condensed area, crisscrossed by a number undersea fiber optic cable networks. In addition, many of the Caribbean SIDS introduced competition in telecommunications networks a number of years ago. The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) was established as a regional regulator for countries in that sub-region. ECTEL overcomes the human resource limitations of each country having to staff their own full-fledged regulatory institution, and harmonizes sub-regional policies. ECTEL recently moved to make high-speed Internet more accessible by designating the 700 MHz Band for broadband wireless services such as WiMAX.* Saint Kitts and Nevis, a Caribbean SIDS, is profiled in a broadband country case study (see Section 5.4).
By contrast, pacific SIDS tend to be more spread out across a wider expanse. Since there are far fewer options for access to undersea fiber optic cables, most Pacific SIDS are dependent on more expensive satellite solutions. Some Pacific SIDS such as Fiji are served by undersea cables and therefore are in a position of being a potential fiber hub to neighbors.* In contrast to the Caribbean region, competition policies have only recently been established in many Pacific SIDS, delaying some of the benefits that can come from robust competition.
7.5.4 Post-conflict countries
Post-conflict countries refer to nations where war and civil strife leads to the destruction of institutions and economic facilities. There is no official definition of a post-conflict economy. They are often locations where civil conflicts have necessitated the intervention of peacekeeping troops.* ICTs can play in beneficial role in helping to reconstruct these countries by attracting foreign investment, generating employment, enhancing education prospects and creating linkages to the global economy.* Given the often poor or destroyed telecommunication infrastructure, post-conflict countries can leapfrog to state-of-the-art next generation networks. However, to maximize the capabilities and benefits of these advanced systems, such buildout should be accompanied by a liberalized telecommunication regime that recognizes convergence and promotes investment in broadband networks.
In Afghanistan, years of civil strife destroyed much of the economy, shutting down most government institutions including schools. A NATO-sponsored project has installed broadband access in universities using satellite technology.* This has overcome shortages of learning materials and teachers since professors and students can download teaching information and use on-line learning tools. In East Timor, the Australian government has been assisting with the development of the new country’s media sector by establishing broadband centers that allow journalists to upload and research news.*
One notable development in some post-conflict countries is the significant amount of private sector investment that has been directed to ICTs. Private investors have been willing to take risks in highly unstable environments such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Starting from a very low base, these countries now have growing levels of mobile access and are now expanding into wireless broadband solutions.
The case of Sri Lanka, a country emerging from a decades-long civil conflict, is highlighted in a case study and summarized in Section 6.5.