Singapore’s broadband penetration past 100 per cent

March 10th, 2009 | by Alfred Siew

It’s official. There are more broadband connections in Singapore than there are households.

In January 2009, the household broadband penetration rate here reached 102.1 per cent, according to the latest figures from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). The government regulator usually releases these figures two months after they are collected.

Already third in the world ranking of household broadband penetration in Q2 2008, Singapore looks likely to go up the rankings released regularly by research group Point Topic.

I’ve been a broadband advocate ever since I first got my hands on a trial cable modem back in the late-1990s, so I’m glad more people are getting on the bandwagon.

However, I’d say this watershed, now that we’ve reached it, should mark the start of even more efforts to bring broadband to those who don’t have it.

Why do we need broadband? It’s simple – if you don’t these days, you can’t do your school project, you can’t keep in touch with your work mates, and you miss out on all the knowledge and social activities online.

The current upswing in broadband is likely driven by the massive takeup of 3.5G services, whether this is used on a phone or via a USB dongle that you stick to the side of your laptop to surf at a cafe or at home.

The issue here, however, is that “household penetration” has become a bit of a misnomer. Though 102.1 per cent penetration means that, on average, there is one connection per home, in reality, there are are many homes still not connected. This could be due to cost or people failing to see the need for a high-speed link.

I’m sure IDA doesn’t know how many homes are yet to be hooked up, so it’s a good idea that the authorities ask that question when they interview homes, say, during the Department of Statistics’ regular surveys. That will give us an idea of the task at hand to hook up everyone on this island.

Having spent most of my journalist career following the takeup of broadband here, I hope IDA will not slow down its efforts to get broadband to poor families, despite achieving a nice score card with these numbers.

I’m thinking of IDA’s NeuPC Plus scheme, for example, which brings not just a PC but also a broadband connection to needy families. More families connected through such schemes will bring more real meaning to the idea of 100 per cent connectivity in Singapore.

Now that fixed line broadband costs have come down, the next thing that IDA might want to focus on is 3.5G mobile or personal broadband services.

They are actually a much easier way to drive broadband takeup – especially among poor families. Not everyone can afford a S$1,000 PC and pay S$30 a month for broadband. But people are more likely to have a cellphone, which they can use to surf the Net and get e-mail all the same. Think of the 3.5G phones now, some of which go for nothing when you sign up with a telco for two years.

Now, would the IDA take a look at the still-high 3.5G data charges and think of jumpstarting a little competition there?

Sure, the introduction of free Wireless@SG hotspots a few years back have forced telcos to lower these charges, but surely, going at S$48 to S$75 a month for an unlimited 7.2Mbps plan, 3.5G services are still too expensive (I don’t count the slower 3.5G plans as they are too slow to offer an alternative to fixed broadband).

So, IDA? Time again to stir up the market a little?

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