Affordable broadband tops CTO 2013 agenda
By MARTIN EKPEKE
Accelerating universal access to affordable broadband Internet connectivity for all topped the agenda of this year’s Commonwealth Telecommunication Organization (CTO) event in Abuja, Nigeria. The event organized in collaboration with Nigeria’s Ministry of Communication Technology and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was attended by over 200 participants from Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, North America and the Caribbean.
To push home the message, the Nigerian Communication Technology Minister Mrs. Omolola Johnson stated in her opening speech that “although we represent countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds, at this Forum, we regard each other as equal in status. We have come with a learning attitude and a willingness to co-operate in achieving the goals that we all agreed are important. These goals relate to the ability of our populations to communicate freely and affordable with each other, an ability that is fundamental to our success in building a more tolerant and peaceful World”.
Affordable broadband internet connectivity is considered an enabler where other facets of economic activities spring forth. The affordability of internet broadband is one of the six cardinal objectives of CTO. The event itself with the theme: ‘Innovation through Broadband’ is a call to strengthen broadband internet access to everyone irrespective of status, race or tribe. Connectivity remains a challenge especially in developing countries where less than 25% of the population has access to affordable broadband.
It is worst in many of the CTO’s member countries where some have less than 5% of their population connected to the Internet. In countries like UK where the secretary General of CTO Prof Tim Unwin hailed from, about 17% of the households are still not connected. Little wonder, he challenged delegate that the theme of the three days event ‘Innovation through Broadband’ cannot be discussed unless there is truly broadband access. His word: “For those of you from the corporate sector, this is indeed a great market opportunity! However, the case I want to put before you is that, more importantly than merely the economic agenda, is a moral agenda. These technologies are so important, so powerful, so life-changing, that we fail our brothers and sisters if we do not ensure that they too have access to broadband.”
To drive growth and economic development, broadband internet connectivity is important, not only via its penetration to the majority of the populace but its affordability and reliability. There is a need to develop new models through which such access can be provided at an affordable price to those who do not currently have access. This is an immense challenge to providers and regulators. Right regulatory environments that will enable the broadband market to deliver for the greatest number of people especially to the rural and semi urban communities must be created. This also leaves them with a challenge; they must work together in an environment of trust to ensure that this happens.
The global Internet penetration rates have continued to increase as about 40% of the world’s populations are now online. However, the numbers of people connected to the Internet are fewer in developing countries than in more industrialized ones. It is on this note that Dr. Eugene Juwah, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission said that most African countries are under studying Nigeria USPF in a bid to expand their telecoms and internet penetration. Conceived in the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 as a mechanism for providing Information and Communications Technologies access to unserved and underserved communities, the USPF is an attempt to bridge digital divide among communities in the country.
Access to telecoms services in the cities and urban centres is at an appreciable level but there is a huge gap in the rural areas of the country. “As a country, we have the capability to subsidies deployment of ICT access in the rural areas and this is an incentive to potential investors that want to play in this area,” Juwah assured investors.
Nigeria can be said to have addressed some of the challenges of access as a result of the existence of several submarine cables with landings at the country’s shores. Stakeholders are battling with how to spread access, deepen penetration and create affordability. But in some other Africa countries affordability and broadband connectivity is relatively not there, this is as a result of lack of main and support infrastructure. Most of internet traffic passes through Dubai to Kenya, for instance to serve Kenya and other Africa countries in the east coast. This factor mitigates and hampers affordability of broadband. On the positive side, government agencies are encouraged to share infrastructures in Kenya. This has reduced the duplicity and overhead cost, said Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s representative to this year’s CTO event.
Another notable challenge of broadband access in Africa is double taxation by government agencies. This challenge has been seemingly addressed in Botswana where a new government authority merged Broadcasting, postal and telecoms to reduce cost of internet in the country. A new state company was formed to help ameliorate the telecoms challenges and this has reduced the overhead cost to 59% according to some delegates from that country.
For many delegates at this year’s CTO forum, it is imperative to develop, adopt and implement policies, and establish regulatory environments that encourage investments in affordable, safe and equitable broadband; and also promote local initiatives and innovation to advance entrepreneurship. Once this done, it will ensure continued harmonization of national regulatory frameworks. Among other things, it was unanimously agreed that affordability of internet connectivity is important and subsidies should be put in place to reduce the cost of rollouts in various member countries; shared infrastructure was encouraged between telecoms firms.