In rural areas, even the simplest form of telephony can bring tremendous economic and social benefit to a region. Communications networks provide the means to not only connect remote areas to the rest of the world, but also to function as a catalyst for the local economy.
A decade ago, in the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea, overall Internet penetration was 20% for a population of 7.6 million. Access levels were some of the lowest in the world with fixed broadband penetration less than 1%. In 2007, the Papua New Guinean government allowed for the privatization of the telecommunication market. Two new mobile entrants joined the PNG market – Digicel and GreenCom. With the arrival of these new players, access began to improve. Networks were expensive to develop and investment in the projects took some time. Other obstacles facing development of a communication infrastructure included the deployment of traditional terrestrial infrastructure over complicated terrain, and capacity constraints as existing fiber networks did not have a high capacity backbone.
In 2009, The Rural Communications Project began and was projected to provide Internet connectivity to rural and remote areas of the country. The project received funding via the World Bank and was managed by the National ICT Authority of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Initial mobile network deployment saw 59 mobile base-stations deployed by Digicel in remote areas of all four regions of this island-nation country, bringing telecom connectivity to around 500,000 residents. Mobile base- stations were coupled with solar charging stations to allow residents the opportunity to charge their devices.
The project also provided technical assistance to the National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA) to address emerging regulatory challenges and reinforce competition in the telecommunication market. The World Bank also provided guidance to Papua New Guinea’s Department of Communication and Information (DCI) to establish ICT policies such as the development of a universal-service fund.
Since its inception in 2009, the World Bank invested $15 Million into PNG’s Rural Communications Project, and mobile operators in PNG provided investment that increased communication coverage to 90% nation-wide. Through this deployment, social and economic benefits have been realized as farmers are able to purchase supplies and crops over the phone. Women in rural villages have purchased mobile phones and top-up cards, and are renting their phones to others in the village for a small price. Communication networks have also improved deployment of emergency services to villages, preventing deaths by improving emergency response time.
— Post authored by Kyle Shulman, Internet Society