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Africa not delivering ICT

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As the African Union (AU) summit ends with a recommitment by governments to improve ICT infrastructure and services, the continent has failed to move beyond declarations and act on decisions, says an analyst.

The 14th AU summit, which was held in Addis Ababa, ended with political leaders agreeing to prioritise ICT development, harmonise telecommunications, ICT policies and regulations, and to boost integration on the continent through technology.

While countries looked at ways to attract investment and create sustainable development from competitive ICT markets on the continent, there were some sharp criticisms from politicians and an analyst on the progress made from previous resolutions.

While the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) noted the continent's telecom sector can expect increased investment as the regulatory environment improves, some members of the 53-member organisation say more action is needed.

The ITU says more than $70 billion in investments can be expected by 2012 from private investors, exceeding the $55 million pledged in 2007.

Newly-elected AU president Bingu wa Mutharika appealed for action from countries, saying that, while decisions had already been taken, implementation continued to lag.

“What we need now is action, action and more action. Africa should go beyond decisions, resolutions and declarations at this time, and begin to act and implement our decisions,” he stated.

ICT analyst David Railo says SA is no exception. While the continent has become aware of the benefits of ICT in development, the South African government is yet to make concrete decisions, which will benefit the country.

Looking at legislation

At the summit, countries agreed to strengthen cooperation for the development and interconnection of broadband structures, the deployment of regional Internet exchange points and the advancement of Internet access in rural areas.

Governments also agreed to work on creating favourable regulatory environments, which are conducive to the sector's growth. The implementation of ICT-based distance education projects and provision of extensive Internet access to citizens would also be a key project.

But, Railo notes, not much has changed in the local landscape. While the telecommunications sector had seen growth, regulatory environments are still not encouraging ICT growth and access to broadband and the wholesale market is still not encouraging new entrants, he explains.

“SA has to re-look its policies and, in particular, the role of ICASA. The main problems are the bottlenecks, which still exist... Local loop unbundling, interconnect, fixed-line penetration and the allocation of spectrum,” says Railo.

Fixed broadband prices for most African countries represent more than 100% of their monthly gross national income per capita, while fixed-line penetration climbed from 1% to 1.4%, over a 10-year period.

Between 2003 and 2008, Africa recorded an annual growth of 47% in mobile cellular subscriptions and 30.6% in Internet users, but continues to lag behind international standards. The continent has only one fixed broadband subscriber for every 1 000 inhabitants, compared to Europe which has 200 subscribers per 1 000 people.

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