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SA 'not leveraging ICT'

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SA's lack of ICT readiness means the economy is not benefiting as much as it should from technology, and social impacts are “disappointing”.

SA ranks behind 71 other countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum on network readiness, and its digitisation has been found to be “constrained”.

The World Economic Forum's recently-released Global Information Technology Report 2012 has found SA ranks second in sub-Saharan Africa behind Mauritius, which comes in at 53, while SA ranks at 72 out of 142 countries based on network readiness.

SA “is not yet leveraging the potential benefits associated with ICT”, notes the report. It cites important shortcomings in terms of basic skills availability in large segments of the population. It also states that the high costs of accessing “insufficiently developed” ICT infrastructure have led to poor rates of ICT use.

“As a result, the economic impacts accruing from ICT are patchy and the social impacts disappointing,” says the report. It argues that upgrading overall skills at all layers of society and increasing efforts to build affordable infrastructure for all would allow SA to increase its ICT readiness and uptake, which would spread ICT impacts across society.

Falling behind

In terms of digitisation, SA is seen as a constrained economy, ranking among other countries such as Algeria, Vietnam, Madagascar and Burkina Faso. Emerging economies include Georgia, China and Botswana.

The report notes that countries in the transitional phase, moving towards advanced, include Iran, Serbia and Argentina, while advanced economies include New Zealand, Greece, Poland and other European states.

According to the report, which cites other studies, a 10% increase in mobile broadband would aid SA's economy to grow by between 1% and 1.8%. About 28 000 new jobs and an additional 1.8% in gross domestic product could be generated by 2015 if enough spectrum is allocated.

The report does not specify what would be sufficient spectrum; however, mobile operators have been clamouring for access to high-demand frequency in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz ranges.

Towards the end of last year, the Independent Communications Authority of SA issued draft invitations to apply for high-demand spectrum in the bands, as well as a draft frequency plan.

In March, the regulator said it was postponing licensing until “further notice” to ensure that communications minister Dina Pule's policy direction on high-demand spectrum is “taken into consideration”.

More needed

Be~nat Bilbao, associate director at the World Economic Forum, says SA needs to make a strong effort to leverage ICT. It needs to improve ICT infrastructure and increase the level of ICT education so that more people can participate in the Internet economy.

Bilbao says SA's ICT readiness is not as high as it should be and there are infrastructure weaknesses when it comes to broadband access.

In addition, says Bilbao, broadband access is still too expensive and there are not enough ICT skills within the education system, which drags down Internet readiness among SA's citizens.

Internet penetration, at 12.3%, is low, says Bilbao. He says businesses are using ICT well, which enables them to integrate into the broader economic system.

Ovum's senior analyst of emerging markets, Richard Hurst, says the report shows SA has failed to realise any of the positive impacts of ICT on both the socio-economic and skills front. “We have been aware of the skills issue for a long time now, and still we are failing to give this the right attention.”

Bilbao explains that, because the methodology has changed from the previous report, comparisons cannot be drawn as to whether SA's rank has slipped.

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