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The Digital Divide in Japan June 28, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Internet, Japan.
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The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communiations has announced statistics for broadband penetration in Japan (as of March 2006). (via Yahoo! Japan)

The top 5 prefectures with the highest percentages of households without access to broadband services (ie they cannot get broadband even if they wanted to because there is no broadband infrastructure in their neighbourhood) are as follows:

Kagoshima (23.8%)

Iwate (22.2%)

Kochi (19.5%)

Akita (17.3%)

Niigata (15.3%)

There are a total of 39 local authorities defined as “Zero Broadband Areas”, where there is no broadband access for even a single household within the municipality.

On the other side of the divide, the top 5 prefectures with regards to broadband service coverage are:

Osaka (0.1%)

Toyama (0.2%)

Tokyo (0.3%)

Mie (0.4%)

Kanagawa (1.0%)

The MIC is aiming to improve broadband penetration in remote areas, but businesses aren’t exactly queing up to provide expensive infrastructure to hook up remote islands and mountain villages. Japan has more than 4000 islands, 260 of which are inhabited. Japan’s land is also 73% mountainous or hilly, and whilst the population is concentrated mainly in the alluvial plains and coastal areas, there are significant populations living in remote valleys deep in the mountains mainly engaged in agriculture or forestry (as an aside, these rural populations are seeing a major shift in age distribution, in many such communities a person in their 60’s is young).

The prefectures topping the list of low penetration rates have geography against them, Kagoshima’s remote islands are dispersed (compared to Nagasaki for example, which has even more populated islands but most are fairly close to the mainland), the other prefectures are very mountainous which accounts for the low penetration rates.

It is difficult to justify building out a fiber based infrastructure to a remote island, or to a dead end mountain ravine community miles from anywhere. Wireless communications technology is probably the way forward, but can a business case be made for such infrastructure deployment?

The best option seems to be a geostationary satellite based infrastructure (with terrestrial wire/wireless infrastructure for the last mile as appropriate), this could also be used for ship based communications as well.

[Addendum] I guess high power PLC (power line communications) may be an option for mountainous regions where the problem is the “last mile” (or more realistically, even last 10 or 20 miles), it does not solve the long distance communication problems for remote islands.  In any case, I am not a fan of polluting the mains electricity with high frequency “noise”.

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