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[BEIJING] The Asia-Pacific region is the world's leading broadband market, yet telecommunication services remain limited in poor areas, according to the UN's agency for information and communication technologies.  

According to a report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), by the end of 2007 the Asia-Pacific region was the world's largest broadband market accounting for 39 per cent of the globe's total broadband users.

The region hosts almost half of the world's fixed telephone subscribers, and 42 per cent of the world's Internet users.

But the report, published this month (1 September), says most high-speed broadband services are only available in rich parts of Asia. And even the lowest broadband speeds available to affluent countries, such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea, are faster than the maximum broadband speeds in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos and Tonga.

In low- and middle-income countries, high-speed Internet access is at best limited to urban areas and typically expensive, but is often not available at all, the authors say.

According to a senior information and communications technology expert and former official at the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), who wished to remain anonymous, the key to successful communications is not the technology itself but surrounding infrastructure and effective policies to provide it.

Without a well-organised market and governance, it makes no sense to introduce new technology to a chaotic society, he says.

The report emphasises the key role of policymakers in encouraging the development of telecommunications. Introducing more business operators could be an efficient way to reduce the service prices, the authors suggest.

The former MOST official agrees. "To expand the broadband service in China, the most important thing is to build a good business environment, letting aspirant enterprises have their own opportunities to serve the people," he says.

The report urges broadband service providers to play a more important role in government, education and health areas. ITU believes the use of broadband can help overcome many of the basic development challenges faced by poor countries. It cites distance learning initiatives in the Solomon Islands and communication services for disaster management in Myanmar.