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Access 4 August 2014

Internet Access, Security Top Policy Concerns for South Asia

By Noelle Francesca De Guzman Regional Programmes Coordinator for Asia-Pacific

Policies on Internet connectivity and cybersecurity have emerged as issues of immediate concern in a survey of 855 Internet Society members across South Asia, topping other topical Internet-related themes in the sub-region. The study, part of a wider Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Survey conducted by the Internet Society’s Asia Pacific Bureau, yielded key insights on user attitudes towards local Internet policy issues just as several countries in South Asia mull provisions to increase Internet connection speeds and strengthen domestic cyberdefense strategies.

The survey report shows that close to two-thirds of respondents have been closely monitoring discussions around Internet connectivity in their own countries. Of particular concern was the availability and affordability of high-speed broadband access, which respondents viewed as crucial to increasing the economic and social benefits of the Internet for South Asia. Indeed, several respondents referred to quality of service assurances, amidst the sluggishness of Internet speed in the sub-region, as a possible focus area for regulators. More recently, Akamai’s latest “State of the Internet” quarterly report ranked India, the biggest economy in South Asia, as having the slowest average Internet connection speed, at 1.7Mbps, in Asia-Pacific, less than half the global average of 3.9Mbps.

Survey participants considered the persisting urban-rural digital divide, as well as the lack of multi-lingual, localised content as critical issues that must be addressed to further increase Internet uptake in South Asia.  Measures to help expand connectivity to more remote villages are crucial as 69% of the sub-region’s 1.64 billion people reside in rural areas.  Internet penetration in South Asia has likewise lagged behind the rest of Asia-Pacific—only 12% of its population currently have access to the Internet, almost three times lower than the global average of 35%.

Respondents likewise regarded cybersecurity, particularly in the realms of privacy, data protection and cybercrime, as an equally important policy theme for the sub-region. Amidst efforts by several South Asian countries to beef up their surveillance programmes, the survey found that many respondents strongly oppose pervasive monitoring by government. But while they disapproved of Internet censorship, survey participants also called for culturally sensitive content, voicing reservations about the spread of hate or extremist speech, as well as the proliferation of violent or sexually explicit images online.

There was a broad recognition of the need to raise user awareness of the risks associated with online activities, and of ways by which users can protect themselves from cyber threats. Rather than blanket institutional controls, however, respondents advocated for consumer rights policies that would prompt service providers to make available clear and simplified information on safe Internet usage and responsible online behaviour.

View the full Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Survey Report.

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