Interview: Hessa Sultan Al Jaber

Why did the government develop a nation-wide broadband plan, and why now?

AL JABER: We know that high-speed, high-quality, affordable broadband is the foundation of an innovative, secure ICT sector that can enrich the quality of life for individuals and propel our nation forward. Ten years ago, Qatar’s leadership made the decision to invest in building the infrastructure that would provide the capacity and speeds to set the country apart from others in the region. We have made great progress, but we need to accelerate our efforts. Demand for broadband has skyrocketed in Qatar and around the world. In fact, according to a recent International Telecommunication Union report, “Measuring the Information Society 2012”, mobile broadband is growing faster than any other ICT indicator on a global level, and this is also reflected in Qatar. While demand for broadband is expected to continue to boom, service providers in Qatar, and around the world for that matter, are struggling to respond to the burgeoning demand. In Qatar, speed and affordability of both fixed and mobile broadband remain major issues. The broadband plan is a blueprint for change and is meant to address these shortcomings.

How did Qatar develop this blueprint for change?

HESSA SULTAN AL JABER: The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MoICT) came together with numerous stakeholders, including service providers, cable operators, universities, real estate developers, ICT players, media, health care providers and others, to determine strategic objectives and action items needed by the public and private sectors. These stakeholders were not only crucial to the development of the plan but are equally important to the success of its implementation.

What are the longer-term broadband objectives?

AL JABER: We have laid out a 10-year broadband agenda with four ambitious targets for 2016 that will help ensure that the opportunities offered by broadband technology are realised and maximised. Specifically, all residents of Qatar shall have the ability to choose between a minimum of two broadband retail providers, regardless of where they live. Some 95% of households will have the ability to access affordable and high-quality broadband service of at least 100 Mbps for downloads and 50 Mbps for uploads, and all businesses, schools, hospitals and government institutions shall have high-quality access to at least 1 Gbps effective symmetrical speeds. Furthermore, digital literacy is to be extended among the population, in conjunction with guarantees of users’ digital privacy, protections of personal data, and freedom of opinion and expression.

What are the key policy areas where public and private stakeholders must concentrate their actions?

AL JABER: There are four key action areas outlined in the plan. These include: supporting healthy competition; ensuring the efficient management of resources to guarantee that fixed and mobile infrastructure are deployed in the most effective, rapid manner; maximising broadband benefits by focusing on the need for broadband content and services that will drive adoption; and ensuring broadband uptake by addressing digital literacy, affordability, quality of services, awareness and safety. In the last area, the plan explicitly targets 100% coverage with speeds of at least 8 Mbps in areas where transient workers live, reflecting Qatar’s ongoing commitment to diversity and workers’ rights.

What will the government do to ensure success?

AL JABER: While the government is committed to advancing this agenda, the public and private sectors must mobilise together. As a first step towards the plan’s implementation, the MoICT is forming a task force that will coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders. This multidisciplinary group, which will have representatives from government agencies as well as from the ICT industry, media, developers and other critical sectors, will monitor fulfillment of the initiative, measure progress and ensure that all targets are met.