Ensuring Universal Access

Not much new information is coming out on deregulation plans, this week. It seems to be same old mash and yet again, the media organizations seem ill-prepared to explain these developments to the local population.Using this New York Times article as a basis for discussion (a worthwhile read for everyone, interested) I would like to outline here how deregulating the cell phone network can be used to help build other crucial 21st century communications networks that can ensure universal access for the poor, allow for improved communications for emergency services like Police and Fire, and help schools get connected. The article in discussion outlines how a small town in rural Oregon was able to create a Wi-Max network through a unique public-private partnership. It involved implementing cutting-edge technology backed by the vision of policy makers looking to the future:

This kind of network is the wave of the future, and eastern Oregon shows that it’s technically and financially feasible. New York and other leading cities should be embarrassed that Morrow and Umatilla Counties in eastern Oregon are far ahead of them in providing high-speed Internet coverage to residents, schools and law enforcement officers – even though all of Morrow County doesn’t even have a single traffic light.The big cities should take note, said Kim Puzey, the general manager of the Port of Umatilla on the Columbia River here. “We’d like people to say, ‘If they can do it out in the boondocks with a small population, that model can be applied to highly complex areas,’ ” he said.

Mr. Puzey, who says wireless broadband is central to the port’s operations, argues persuasively that broadband is just the next step in expanding the national infrastructure, comparable to the transcontinental railroad, the national highway system and rural electrification.Indeed, we need to envision broadband Internet access as just another utility, like electricity or water. Often the best way to provide that will be to blanket a region with Wi-Fi coverage to create wireless computer networks, rather than running D.S.L., cable or fiber-optic lines to every home.

This public-private partnership to create the Wi-Max network should be funded by annual contributions from the new cell phone operators and ISPs. Keep in mind that TFL companies generated over $40 million in profit this last business year. Some of this money should be pumped back into the system, in my view, to facilitate the construction of a public-private Wi-Max infrastructure.Those receiving cell phone licenses should have it as a part of their contract to pay into the public-private funding and maintenance of the Wi-Max network.  Internet service providers should also be subjected to the same fee.  

Fiji is a small country and this should be an acceptable price for doing business here.  After all, we have to make sure that everyone understands that this is about taking Fiji into the future.This will allow us to offer a basic service of 1MBpS for free to all residents in range of signal. ISPs would be allowed to sell packages to those interested in faster services for residences and cater to the more complex needs of businesses. What this will end up looking like is  a three-tiered system where anyone with a wireless device can connect to the network at 1MBpS for free, and paying customers can choose from packages starting at 4-5MBpS and business packages can start at 8+MBpS. This concept is most definitely within reach:

But Hermiston is actually a global leader of our Internet future. Today, this chunk of arid farm country appears to be the largest Wi-Fi hot spot in the world, with wireless high-speed Internet access available free for some 600 square miles. Most of that is in eastern Oregon, with some just across the border in southern Washington.