Meaningful Broadband-Indonesia

Jakarta: (September, 2020): Digital Divide Institute (DDI) today signed an agreement with the Republic of Indonesia’s National ICT Council (Wantiknas), chaired by the nation’s President. Fifteen years in the making, the pact activates the world’s first ethics-driven model for closing digital divide, based on a framework called “meaningful broadband.” A coalition has formed with the aim of creating a bottom-up alternative to the “winner takes-all” digital economy.

The pact, signed in September 2020, establishes a boundary-smashing structure: Meaningful Broadband Working Group (MBWG) to be co-chaired by Ilham A Habibie, director of Wantiknas and Professor Craig Warren Smith, chairman of DDI, and author of the Meaningful Broadband framework.

Why this coalition only happen now? COVID has put new urgency on the unfinished business of closing the digital divide in Indonesia. MBWG helps its members to formulate new transformational policies and practices that tap emerging technologies to bring full benefits of the internet to the low-income third of the Indonesian population.

Though, 2/3 of Indonesia’s population is mostly well served by “broadband ecosystems”, the bottom third is not adequately served. Yet the members of MBWG are fully prepared to work together in new transformation alliances for closing the digital divide. They aim to test these options in test-market regencies which may serve as prototypes for a bottoms-up reshaping of the nation’s digital economy so that it serves the disadvantage.

Food Security and E-agriculture

One example of this need that has emerged in the wake of the pandemic is food security and e-agriculture. In the wake of the pandemic, many locations in remote parts of the nation, food and agriculture supply chains have been broken, preventing immunity-boosting food to be available, at the right time and at the right price. The challenge of remaking agriculture with new technology is not confined to enhancing productivity of farming, but to rethink the interaction between production, marketing and distribution of foods. The approach puts a spotlight on the role of traditional markets. A new framework has emerged within members of MBWG to consider how these markets could serve as platforms for microcredit organizations, composed of village family members who process and redistribute fresh foods that arrive from farmlands.

In Indonesia, many farm families have welcomed youngsters with smart phones who returned home after being furloughed from their urban jobs because of the pandemic. MBWG envisions an explosion of microcredit businesses and jobs tied to traditional markets.

According to the World Bank-Indonesia, more than 6 million Indonesians will be pushed into poverty as a result of COVID-19. As Covid becomes a new normal, this figure may double in 2021, thereby wiping out all GDP gains affecting the bottom 1/3 of the nation.

Intellectual Origins at Harvard and MIT

The origins of Meaningful Broadband can be found in the intellectual atmosphere that followed the first international conference on Digital Divide, co-organized by Professor Craig and Bill Gates Sr, amid the infamous Battle of Seattle when protestors disrupted a big World Trade Organization conference. After that event, two prominent academic Thought Leaders, MIT’s Alex (Sandy) Pentland, and Harvard’s Jeff Sachs, invited Professor Craig to come to Cambridge Mass. The challenge was to combine the humanistic legacy of Harvard with the tech-innovation from MIT, to produce a framework for closing digital divide, which came to be named Meaningful Broadband. Seeking a prototype developing country to activate meaningful broadband, Prof Craig relocated from Cambridge to Asia, and eventually to Indonesia.

Since then, the Meaningful Broadband framework emerged from his collaboration with Ilham A Habibie, producing many seminars, reports and partnerships that adapted the concept to a wide spectrum of stakeholder organizations in Indonesia. In 2019, this framework resulted in the initial launch meeting informing stakeholders of the emergent coalition. The key event was held July 26, 2019 when 24 major stakeholder group institutions agreed in principle to join. Participation in that seminar formed the basis of the MBWG. Prospective members of MBWG, expanded slightly from the participants as the Borobudur Hotel meeting, are in seven distinct sectors, as follows:

  1. Intergrated ministries, including Office of the President (Istana Negara), Bappenas (Planning Ministry), Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Tourism.
  2. Line Ministries: Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Cooperatives, Ministry of Village.
  3. SOE Sector: Ministry of State Owned Enterprises, Telkom, BRI, BNI, PLN, etc.
  4. Telco Mobile Operators: Telkomsel, XL Axiata and Indosat Oodredo.
  5. Unicorns: Tokopedia, Bukalapak, Gojek, Grab Indonesia.
  6. Big Tech: Amazon Web Services, Huawei, Microsoft, Google, Facebook.
  7. Intergovernmental Agencies: World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Originally published at



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Craig Warren Smith

Craig Warren Smith

Former Harvard Professor of Kennedy School, Visiting Professor at Peking University, Department of Information Management, Chairman of Digital Divide Institute