Effective delivery of essential services in Africa lies with the deployment of broadband networks, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations agency for information and communication technology.
During the recently concluded African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, the agency appealed to African countries to focus on broadband networks as the transformational technology that will aid in the efficient use of energy, management of healthcare in poor, ageing and isolated population as well as the delivery of the best education to future generations.
ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure said broadband is the most powerful tool to drive global social and economic development as well as accelerate the realisation of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
He, however, noted that the cost of broadband must be made affordable and accessible in order to benefit Africa.
“While the technology exists, the benefits are yet to be realised in most countries. This is because broadband networks can never deliver on their full potential until they provide each citizen with fast, affordable access,” said Dr Toure.
The ITU boss told the AU meeting, whose theme was “Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Africa: Prospects and Challenges for Development,” that broadband networks must be regarded as basic national infrastructure, just like transport, energy and water networks.
Dr Toure added that Africa has to “act as one in its approach to formulating its Vision 2020,” during this decade — whose theme is premised on the idea of an integrated Africa through the utilisation of ICT.
Vision 2020 will address various strategies including common codes and spectrum management, harmonisation of policy and regulatory frameworks and low cost continental roaming.
It will also address affordable rural access and direct inter-continental links through fibre optics and satellite.
“In general, it will tackle key global issues related to ICT such as cyber security, cyber peace and emergency communications especially during natural disasters, content development through e-health, e-commerce, e-government, e-education and e-agriculture,” he said.
In order to encourage investment in the continent’s ICT sector, the ITU boss said there is “real opportunity to use all the potential of public-private partnerships (PPPs).”
The driver to new investments in the ICT sector, he added, would be a policy and regulatory framework conducive to competition and growth, as well as capacity building and training on policy issues in the continent.
On the levels of mobile tele-density (the number of telephone lines per 100 people), Toure said at the start of last year, the levels across Africa were at 38 per cent of the population but had improved to 42 per cent.
He, however, said the Internet user base, which by 2008 had grown to 48 per cent, was still low with only 8 per cent of the continent’s 840 million people having access.
Jean Ping, chairperson of the AU Commission highlighted different projects the body had launched in various fields including ICT, infrastructure, energy, agriculture and education.
“The Commission has also made progress in driving the science, technology and information society. An example is the tele-medicine facility opened at the AU clinic during the Summit through partnership with the Indian government,” said Ping.
The tele-medicine facility, financed by the Indian government, is part of the Pan African e-Network project, which is meant to enhance Africa’s capacity by imparting quality education to students and providing tele-medicine services, tele-education and video-conferencing as well as voice services for heads of state.