but this measure by itself, does nothing to help us improve either the availability or affordability of telecommunications services
Established in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, the ITU standardised the SOS signal from the work of Samuel Morse to enable our first means of international telecommunications.

Emblem of the United NationsAs a specialist agency of the United Nations, the ITU, now known as the International Telecommunications Union, has three prime roles.

First is to manage the international radio spectrum to ensure that radio systems such as TV transmitters do not interfere with each other.

Second is to set standards so that for example, telephone systems around the world can talk to each other.

Third is to help improve the availability and affordability of communications systems and services.

It is in this latter role that the ITU published their 2012 report ‘Measuring the Information Society’.   It gives us some facts such as the number of mobile broadband subscriptions now being twice the number of fixed ones.

The report also ranks countries by telecommunication factors.  For example, on their ICT Development Index (IDI), New Zealand is ranked 17th (out of 161 countries) in 2011, up one place from 2010.  What does that make us feel?  Well, nothing really.  Does it help to know that Australia is ranked below us at 21st?  It may do for some perhaps, but this measure by itself, does nothing to help us improve either the availability or affordability of telecommunications services.  To find that, we need to drill down in to the numbers that comprise that 17th ranking.

The IDI has three sub-indices, each comprised of a number of measurable factors.

The first sub-index is termed Access, and covers the penetration of fixed and mobile telephone subscriptions, households with a computer, internet access and international bandwidth.  On this measure, New Zealand is ranked at 22nd, one place lower than in 2010 and two places below Australia.

The second sub-index is termed Use and covers the percentage of individuals using the Internet, and those with fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions.  Here, New Zealand is ranked 15th (up two from 2010) compared to Australia at 23rd.  That makes us feel good – if we have broadband, then we do actually use it.

The third sub-index is termed Skills.  This covers adult literacy and education enrollments at secondary and tertiary level.  As we should expect, we perform very well against this measure, coming in at 7th compared to AustraliaΓÇÖs 10th.

So apart from feeling good about our ICT place in the world, one thing we can learn from these stats is that Access to ICT services is an issue for New Zealand.  The government’s urban and rural broadband initiatives are addressing this.

These measures cover the availability of Internet access.  What about its affordability?

In 2012, the ITU introduced another benchmark looking at the cost and affordability of ICT services.  The ICT Price Basket, or IPB, is a measure that New Zealand performs less well against.

The IPB looks at prices for fixed telephone, mobile cellular and fixed broadband services.  By normalising these against Gross National Income per capita, comparisons on affordability can be assessed.

On these measures, we rank a disappointing 48th (out of 161) compared to Australia at 29th.

Does this ranking reflect the significant and growing price difference of broadband services between rural and urban areas?  If so, the government need an SOS to be delivered by more modern means than the old telegraph.

Next week I shall explore this issue as it affects rural NZ’s broadband needs.