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UN official says optical fiber is dangerous for road safety, dumps AP-IS

A senior UN official has blamed the telecoms networks for threatening the road safety across Asia and the United States of America. Mr. Yuwei Li, Director of Transport Division at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has also stunned the audience on December 13 while opposing the proposed deployment of optical fiber along the Asian Highway to interlink 32 countries. As a result, Mr. Li has stalled, if not abandoned, the five years of hard work by his own organization that facilitates the building of a seamless pan-Asian terrestrial telecoms network.

Prompted by LIRNEasia’s comprehensive research, the ICT Division of ESCAP has extensively studied the state of broadband in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia followed by consulting with the member states and a wide range of stakeholders. Most importantly, it has closely worked with the Transport Division to build the synergy of ICT and transport infrastructure. Finally the Asia-Pacific Information Super Highway (AP-IS) was adopted to ensure affordable broadband across Asia. But it requires the amendment of inter-governmental agreements pertaining to the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway. Bangladesh has tabled the required amendment to implement AP-IS in the simplest form:

There is an opportunity to leverage synergies between the concomitant deployment of optical-fibre cables during the construction and maintenance of the Asian Highway network. Such co-deployment would create additional cross-country Internet transmission routes which would contribute to the reduction of the digital divide in the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific region. In this regard, Parties shall endeavour to utilize the right of way of the Asian Highway network for the co-deployment of optical-fibre cables across and within countries.

I have outlined the background and explained the proposed amendment’s outcome in the December 12 Joint Session of AP-IS and Asian Highway. Dr Baharul Islam of Indian Institute of Advanced Study has also presented the case studies of Co-deployment Initiatives in Bangladesh and India. Rest of the presentations can be downloaded from here.

On the next day Mr. Yuwei Li quoting anonymous “national transport experts” and using various pictures without attributing to sources have narrated a series of road and rail mishaps being allegedly caused by the telecoms networks. Here are few examples:

• Originally codeployed fibre optic cables along a road in a city was installed hundres cables by 200 companies, which hooked a bus and hit people on the road

• A loose fibre optic cable stood in the middle of road and broke car windows and hurt people in cars

• Fire from fibre optic cables burned high voltage electricity cables and caused fire around the road junction

• A fibre optic cable with low vertical clearance hooked a standard truck, which caused falling of ten poles on road and traffic accident

• Road repair broke a fibre optic cable due to changed topography, caused halt of services including digital banking, resulted in a large amount of payment by road

• China Tietong Telecom, established in 2000, separated from railway in 2004 due to mixed public/commercial functions, merged to China Mobile in 2008 due to market pressure (2% share), safety and security issues

• China expressway, built duct for ICT cables at request, no use after construction, now has to run ICT service to avoid waste of investment

As a result, the proposed amendment of Bangladesh has been shelved until being jointly reviewed by 2018. Meanwhile, the broadband-divide within Asia will keep widening disproportionately amidst the hubris of SDG achievements.

AP-IS a is the world’s largest telecoms backbone project, which is composed of nearly 145,000-km of terrestrial and submarine cable networks to seamlessly interlink 32 countries. This mammoth engineering initiative is subject to careful planning, design, implementation and operation by all the countries under the Asian Highway network. AP-IS doesn’t, under any circumstances, compromise any country’s sovereignty. The amendment being proposed by Bangladesh merely offers its counterparts the opportunity to sit around the table and discuss. It shouldn’t be hindered by any bureaucratic whim.

Download the Presentation of Mr. Yuwei Li

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