In the US, President Obama’s $800 billion economic stimulus plan includes $7 billion in spending for improving the nation’s broadband infrastructure.

From the GigaOm post:

taking the dollar amount for broadband grants in the Senate bill from $9 billion to $7 billion and increasing the tax credits for broadband deployments, as well as limiting their use [in] rural areas. Wireless also got a boost in the tax credits with faster wireless broadband speeds of 6 Mbps down becoming eligible for a 40 percent credit, while speeds of only 3 Mbps down could receive a 30 percent break.

What’s happening in the US brings up a very important question for Fiji: What role should public policy play in the deployment of network infrastructure?

While everyone in Fiji should be thinking about this question, I think this responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the newly set up  Telecommunications Authority of Fiji.

Two items that should be high on their agenda:

1) Promoting investment in additional international gateways. Whether it’s additional submarine cables or the satellite-based IP trunking solution offered by O3b, internet in Fiji will not improve unless their is a competitor to the Southern Cross Cable.

2) Deployment of wireless infrastructure.  (See previous posts Universal Access Part I, Part II)  Provide companies, especially new entrants, with incentives such as lowered tax-bills to ensure that deployed networks:

a) cover as wide a geographic area and as much of the population, including outer-islands and those in the interior

b) have provision for use by Police, Fire, Ambulance, disaster management, and education

c) feature a two-tier structure for service. A premium-offering for paying customers and a free lower-tier offering.   Internationally, it is documented that where broadband costs are more than 2.5% of GDP per capita, broadband usage rates remain low.

Regulators (and business people) have to keep in mind that the free users of today will become the paying customers of the future.

It is in interest of taxpayers for governments to promote and sometimes directly fund universal deployment of network infrastructure, because these networks  provide for the common good.