NHS saving could pay for fibre to the home, says ITU

A saving of 1% to 1.5% of the cost of healthcare would justify the cost of fibre to the premises throughout the UK, says the International Telecommunications Union.

A saving of 1% to 1.5% of the cost of healthcare would justify the cost of fibre to the premises throughout the UK, says the International Telecommunications Union.

Speaking to the Westminster Media Forum on Thursday, ITU secretary general Hamadoun Touré said e-health and e-education programmes could save a few percent of most countries' national health and education budgets that would pay for universal broadband access.

"Universal access to broadband could boost national GDP by 1% to 3% because of the productivity gains it enabled," Touré said.

Touré was speaking ahead of the report by the ITU's Broadband Commission to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on 19 September.

The summit will review progress on the Millennium development goals to eradicate poverty.

Touré said the targets could be missed because of the banking crisis and the recession that followed, unless there was a massive investment in broadband networks.

"With only five years left before the 2015 deadline, broadband networks are an essential and uniquely powerful tool for achieving those goals and lifting people out of poverty worldwide," Touré said.

The commission, chaired by Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Mexican mobile phone entrepreneur Carlos Slim, will report on financing models, return on investment, technology choices, and strategies for deployment across different types of economies.

Touré said he hoped the report would kick-start legislative and regulatory reform to encourage private sector investment in broadband networks, particularly mobile broadband. He saw this as essential to closing the so-called digital divide.

He said a subscription to a broadband service in the top 21 economies cost subscribers less than 1% of their monthly income. In the bottom 23 economies, the cost was more than 100% of monthly income.

"This is despite the average cost of a subscription falling 42% between 2008 and 2009," he said.

Touré said in an interview that governments were getting the message. He said that he was invited to speak at a recent meeting of African heads of state at which, for the first time, the main topic was development, not crisis management.

"Senegal is now spending 40% of its national budget on education," he said. "Senegalese are now returning home from Silicon Valley. I bet Senegal will become the next Singapore in the next five or 10 years."

Touré said Kigali, the Rwandan town synonymous with refugee misery as a result of lawlessness, was now home to an excellent technical university. Gulf states, too, were "following the Stanford model" of using state-sponsored academic excellence as a magnet for entrepreneurial talent.

"Governments are more aware that telecommunications is a profit-making, job-creating industry," Touré said. "They are starting to understand that they must provide the right legal and regulatory frameworks that attract investment."

He said the Broadband Commission's report would help both sides to understand one another's friction points. "The ITU has also developed skills in helping the two sides to reach accords, based on their individual circumstances," he said.

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