Make no mistake; the Broadband Commission is an excellent initiative and forum whose goals are laudable – perhaps even essential – if the ICT industry is to achieve its legacy of creating a global connected society. It deserves the support of all of us. But if it is to distance itself from the numerous other ICT initiatives that exist simply to bring awareness to issues, and instead directly influence and shape government policy and corporate actions, then it needs to up its game.
This week sees the release of the Commission’s latest report, ‘The Broadband Bridge: Linking ICT with Climate Action’, derived from research undertaken by its Working Group on Climate Change. The group, one of several within the Commission, is chaired by Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg, and relies heavily on Ericsson’s support – and thankfully Ericsson has continued its industry-leading focus on low-carbon initiatives after Vestberg replaced Carl-Henric Svanberg as CEO. The report’s release coincides with the 5th meeting of the Commission, this time in Macedonia (unfortunately, unlike the previous two meetings, TelecomTV is not in attendance, sorry).
The report aims to raise awareness of the role ICT and broadband networks can play in helping creating a low carbon economy of the future, and highlights the importance of public private partnerships in accelerating change. It seeks to build on the agreements achieved at the 2011 UN Climate Change conference (COP-17).
As you would expect, the report documents examples of transformative solutions that are enabled by broadband, providing practical examples of how broadband can contribute to reducing greenhouse gasses, mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, and promote resource efficiency. All while building more prosperous and inclusive societies. As we said earlier, highly laudable and to be encouraged.
But haven’t we been here before? Yes we have. Back in 2009 TelecomTV travelled the world to create the Green Planet documentary series (in partnership with the ITU and Ericsson, together with Juniper Networks and HP) in the run up to the COP-15 conference – the conference that the ICT industry thought it would take by storm with its vision of a low-carbon society empowered by broadband and telecoms technology. Except it didn’t. Despite valiant efforts by the ITU, the ICT industry was pretty much snubbed (we know, we were there).
So here we are in 2012, with another attempt to persuade the powers-that-be to see sense. The report opens with the following joint message from Vestberg and Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the ITU and co-vice chair of the Commission :
“Climate change is among the biggest challenges humankind has ever faced. No country will remain untouched. Tackling climate change requires coordinated global action.
Creating a low-carbon economy means transitioning from the energy-intensive physical infrastructure of the 20th century to the innovative, connected, information-based infrastructure that will be the hallmark of the 21st century.”
As part of the lead-up to the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June, the report presents ten recommendations for policymakers and global leaders to accelerate global progress towards a low-carbon economy:
* Adopt a long-term National Broadband Plan or Strategy based on universal affordability and accessibility, open markets and innovation;
* Bring convergence to ICT policy formulation so that it aligns with other policy areas in order to maximise impact;
* Ensure clear regulatory rules and regulations on climate and broadband to create a framework of investment certainty;
* Drive cross-ministry collaboration and use government procurement to send the right market signals;
* Identify and remove the regulatory and policy barriers hindering research and investment in ICT-based broadband infrastructure and low carbon solutions;
* Encourage uptake of low-carbon solutions and spur innovation;
* Build a strong business case to attract private investment;
* Form partnerships across public, private and non-governmental sectors;
* Measure and standardise;
* Share knowledge and raise awareness.
The Broadband Commission’s report says that traditionally governments have played a ‘push’ role in stimulating provision of ICT. Now, in order to accelerate progress towards the low-carbon economy, they need to move to ‘pull’ strategies aimed at stimulating demand for broadband services and applications by changing mindsets, promoting digital literacy, establishing an enabling environment, and fostering the development of applications:
"An appropriate regulatory framework must include policies that encourage open innovation and competition. By focusing on performance-based (outcome) rather than technology-specific (delivery mechanism) approaches, industry-wide innovation is fostered."
According to data from Ericsson, direct ICT emissions account for 330 tonnes CO2e per year, but the enabling effects could account for savings of 15,740 tonne – a substantial net gain.
The report goes into some detail about the benefits of cloud computing. It cites the November 2011 work by the Carbon Disclosure Project that examines the impact of cloud computing adoption, energy savings, carbon emission reductions and economic impact through 2020. It found that large US companies that use cloud computing can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and annual carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil. It also references a project by John Hopkins University that concluded that cloud computing has the potential to abate at least 1.5 million tonnes of CO2e within France, Germany, Sweden and the UK.
This equates to a 90% reduction in the energy required to provide email, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and groupware compared to existing on-premise infrastructure and a 5% reduction of the ICT sector’s total carbon footprint in the four focus countries.
Unusually for an ITU-backed report, though, it does contains some worryingly dated statistics. For example, at the start of the section on a Central 21st Century Strategy, it states that:
“According to the ITU’s latest statistics, 161 countries and territories had a national e-strategy in place by April 2010, with another 14 countries and territories in the process of formulating [one]. By 2009 over 30 countries had explicitly mandated access to broadband.”
What about 2012? What’s the bang-up-to-date picture of government support for broadband and e-services? Come on Commissioners, you need to operate at internet speed here, otherwise you’ll lose momentum and risk credibility.
The report concludes – quite rightly – that the next steps will require a concerted effort by all stakeholders to take bold measures that will lead to real and lasting change. The authors believe though that much more work needs to be done on creating awareness:
“Policies and strategies will need to consider how to influence individual behaviour and raise awareness to enhance the uptake of broadband-enabled low-carbon solutions among consumers worldwide. By taking action now, broadband’s potential as a transformational technology will more rapidly move from ideal to reality.”
Let’s hope so. And let’s hope we see timely updates on the progress made by the Commission – identify best practices, and shame those who continue to ignore the facts. Less talk, more action.
Download the full report or a one-page summary.
please sign in to rate this article