| Danial Norjidi |
BRUNEI has officially completed a National Broadband Policy, which aims to ensure accessibility to broadband connectivity throughout the country while improving its value, quality and affordability. It also hopes to maximise broadband adoption and utilisation.
This will be achieved through the ongoing development and expansion of broadband services, introduction of a competition code of practice for the telecommunications sector, retail price controls for fixed broadband and a number of education and awareness initiatives.
The policy was made available for viewing online at the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AITI) website recently, and sets out the government’s overarching policy initiatives and goals for the development of the broadband sector over the next four years (2014–2017).
It also addresses key issues such as accessibility, affordability, quality and usage, as well as content development and positive use of the Internet.
The National Broadband Policy document itself included a foreword by Minister of Communications, Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Abdullah bin Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Haji Bakar.
“The Ministry of Communications welcomes the formulation of the National Broadband Policy. Key enablers of both the smart society and goals of Brunei Vision 2035 are ubiquitous access to broadband connectivity and widespread use of broadband-enabled services.
“Hence, with broadband development and emergence of broadband-powered services, it is hoped to open up more business opportunities for our local industry players and spur more employment opportunities. Broadband development will also provide further avenues for enhancement of skills and expertise.”
On the topic of ensuring accessibility to broadband connectivity for all, the policy highlights that building a nationwide world-class fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband network will enable all citizens of Brunei to access world-class broadband technology. This is described as an important step towards realising the vision of a smart society and enhancing the country’s international competitiveness.
“To maximise the opportunity for economic development through broadband, it is necessary to ensure that all Bruneian homes and businesses have access to high-speed broadband services by 2017. This will be an enabler for increased competitiveness and innovation in many industries and enhance social economic interaction, making ICT a key driver for economic growth,” the minister said in his foreword.
It also noted that stimulating the full economic potential of a broadband-enabled society requires targeted investment by the government. With a fund of $230 million, the government has envisaged a broadband sector that is conducive for more active participation by industry players. Through policy and regulatory initiatives, the government hopes to foster a competitive and facilitative environment.
In parallel with government initiatives, TelBru has invested $64 million to deploy FTTH broadband network in Madang, Gadong and Bandar Seri Begawan. The rollout to these areas will reach 80 per cent of premises by the end of 2014, while further deployment to other areas is currently under way.
To ensure transparency and successful delivery of this important project, AITI will be overseeing TelBru and its contractors’ network rollout, as well as track and report publicly on the progress on a dedicated website.
Meanwhile, with regards to improving the value, quality and affordability of broadband, the policy states, “The price of broadband access plays a critical role in its diffusion. Entry-level broadband services are widely affordable with a fixed or a pre-paid mobile broadband service costing approximately two per cent of average income, and a post-paid mobile broadband service costing about one per cent.”
“However, the pricing of fixed broadband services above the entry-level is much less affordable and must come down.”
Vibrant and competitive retail markets with service providers competing against each other to provide the most attractive and profitable services is generally the most effective way to lower prices and improve quality of service.
To ensure that competition delivers such benefits to all citizens of Brunei, it is necessary for a legal and regulatory framework that ensures a level playing field and promotes long-term development of effective competition.
“To this end, AITI will introduce a competition code of practice for the telecommunication and broadcasting sector. AITI will also reform the licensing arrangements for these sectors to better reflect and accommodate the convergence of services and service providers in a broadband environment.”
It states that, to facilitate a service-based competition in the supply of various communications and content services, AITI will ensure that the FTTH network is available to other licensees and service providers in an open access basis and at cost-oriented wholesale prices.
AITI will also be looking to introduce appropriate wholesale access requirements for international connectivity and national backhaul infrastructure to remove network bottlenecks. The policy also notes that while the retail prices for mobile broadband services are in line with those charged in neighbouring countries, the retail pricing of fixed broadband services in Brunei is greater than its other peers.
“This high pricing is an impediment to greater adoption and utilisation of broadband in Brunei Darussalam. The introduction of ex ante wholesale access regulation by AITI should, in time, lead to greater competition and lower retail prices. However, to improve the affordability of fixed broadband services in the interim, AITI will introduce retail price controls for fixed broadband.”
Maximising adoption and utilisation is another target listed by the policy, where it asserts that broadband connectivity is necessary, though not sufficient. It highlights that for Brunei, it is essential to rollout a world-class broadband infrastructure accompanied by the development of new services and applications. This in turn requires skills and capacity development.
The goal is to increase broadband penetration from its current rate of 31 per cent (fixed broadband) to at least 80 per cent by 2017.
The government intends to help the industry drive broadband adoption through coordinating and leading initiatives to educate customers and businesses on benefits; identifying measures to lower barriers; encouraging the development of local content and applications; and increasing awareness about potential risks and necessary safeguard measures.
In terms of policy coordination and information sharing, the document states, “The achievement of the National Broadband Policy will require coordination and cooperation across many stakeholders. In this regard, the Ministry of Communications and AITI will oversee the implementation of the policy, particularly the identified targets to ensure that implementation occurs in a concerted and complementing manner.”
For more information, those interested can download the policy document from the AITI website.
The National Broadband Policy is set to be officially launched on November 11 by the Minister of Communications in conjunction with Cybersecurity Awareness Week 2014.