In a quest to making Broadband work for Socio-Economic Growth in Africa

The East African Communications Organisation (EACO) Congress and Exhibition took place in Nairobi, Kenya from 24th -28th June, 2013 at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC).The 20th EACO Congress and Exhibition dubbed “Making Broadband work for Socio-Economic Growth in Africa” was hosted by EACO and Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK). It brought together Regulators and Operators of Broadcasting, Postal and Telecommunications/ICT services from the East African Region. 

The congress creates a link between the decisions and resolutions that EACO members make behind closed doors and tangible in policy adoption and implementation. Such forums are crucial in identifying key areas of intervention in order to realize the dream on universal access to communications services.

This year marked EACO’s debut exhibition set to provide a platform for creating networks and sharing knowledge with the ICT fraternity in the East African region. Additionally, it presented the convergence of the ICT sector to showcase the socio-economic benefits that the sector provides to East Africans. 

This edition not only featured sector leaders from both the private and public entities but also, those from the non-profit making organizations. The exhibition took place in conjunction with the Congress which created an opportunity to network with key players from local and international technology companies, manufacturers, operators, government officials, content and applications providers, and major media players.

On the 27th, the Cabinet Minister in the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology Dr. Fred Matiang’i, opened the exhibition.  Speaking at the event, he accentuated on the need for the East African countries to enhance copyright registration to avoid patent innovations being stolen by other countries. 

Among the key things listed as critical for East Africa’s growth were investment in the development of relevant local content in local languages, transition to digital TV broadcasting and that of establishing cyber security mechanisms.

There were 37 exhibitors who participated in the event. Dr. Matiang’i visited different stands and lauded the Tanzanian Parliament computer tracking innovation. He also urged the EACO member states to share innovations to enable the region progress and develop broader networks. “This will help improve livelihoods within the region,” he said.

The Cabinet Secretary recommended that EACO and CCK strengthen the research component of ICT and share research findings by inviting research-based institutions to such forums. This he said will help in development of new ideas. Dr. Matiang’i noted that to impel innovation, funding is a requirement and asked sponsors amid other stakeholders to chip in.

To enable the East African region utilize broadband, Dr. Matiang’i said is necessary for the service providers to deliver their services in local languages. “The creation of local content, presents opportunities for our people to leverage on ICTs for efficient production in their various activities; thus participating in wealth creation and poverty alleviation,” said Dr. Matiang’i. 

Although the region is home to some remarkable innovative applications such as those, linking farmers to markets, sources of farm inputs and expertise; with additional ones being under production, the content needs to be available in local languages to enhance demand for ICT and boost penetration. 

“With the integration of ICT into everyday life, technology has since earned elevation to a basic human right status, becoming one of the key determinants of whether individuals and communities are information-rich or information-poor,” he said.

According to Dr. Matiang’i, a co-relation between information access and extreme poverty exists, evident by the poverty in Africa. “Bridging the digital divide, therefore, is crucial to our success in the fight against disease, ignorance and poverty in the region,” he asserted.

“We should also sensitize those in the lower ranks of leadership on the importance of investing in broadband and the knowledge as it will help transform their lives tremendously,” he said. “This will ensure that information reaches those at the grassroots,” he added.

The Minister for ICT in Uganda, Nyombi Thembo, asked telecommunication providers to review the regions roaming tariffs citing high cost which he described as a hindrance to communication. With reference to the conference theme Mr. Thembo said the subject was appropriate as the region is at a point where it is experiencing growth in broadband use and connectivity. In addition, he requested broadcasters and regulators in the region to work in unison to make the broadband connectivity affordable.

EACO has helped regional Governments develop enabling policy and regulatory interventions to spur ICT development owing to a strong partnership between the public and private sector. This is continually being looked upon to help deliver improved ICT services in a secure environment.

CCK’s Director General, Francis Wangusi said that the EACO partnership has led to the continuous growth of ICT in the regions member states as it is the key driver of the economies.

“Uptake in ICT has stimulated the uptake of services, as is evident in the Kenyan government adoption of e-government service delivery in various ministries like that of Education and the immigration & Registration of Persons. It is not done yet and we still have great potential of connecting all parts of the country on the backdrop of a devolved government,” added Mr.Wangusi. 

Currently, fiber subscribers stand at 54,400, while satellite services users’ stand at 684, with 99 percent of the total internet subscriptions being from mobile data subscription; leading to an unprecedented growth of internet in Kenya.

“To derive the benefits that come with being on-line, governments in the region also need to intensify efforts towards improving the overall security within the communications environment, including cyber-security, said Mr. Wangusi. “This will not only enhance e-commerce and mobile transactions but also create the confidence to grow inter-country transactions,” he added.

Already most governments, Kenya included, are at various stages of setting up their Computer Incidence Response Teams (CIRTs) with a number of them having implemented SIM card registration as a step to enhancing security and curbing mobile phone related fraud.

Mr. Wangusi emphasized the role that ICT plays in economic growth, saying, technological progress and innovations have taken centre-stage as long term drivers of economic growth especially in developing countries.“ICTs are now being deployed to facilitate better delivery of services in health, education and governance, among other areas,” he added.

As part of the Conference, there was a workshop held that featured presentations made by representatives from various firms and Regulatory bodies such as: Qualcomm, Ericsson, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), CCK, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA),Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Agency for Control and Regulation of Telecommunications (ARCT) of Burundi, Safaricom, Airtel, Smile- Tanzania, MTN and Burundi Backbone System (BBS).

The Marketing Director, Ericsson, Mr. David Ochanda making a presentation on Mobile Broadband Infrastructure Deployment,  asserted that sharing of infrastructure among EACO member states is a key pillar in improving broadband penetration. He added that a harmonized spectrum would ensure that the same user experienced is achieved.

Marcelino Tayob from ITU while making a presentation on, The Impact of Broadband on Economic Growth showed an analysis projecting that every 10% broadband penetration moves the GDP by 1%.

On the 28th, the Deputy President, Hon. William Ruto, opened the congress which marked the climax of the forum. He noted that with high innovation and new technologies taking root, mobile telephone users in East African region require such services hence the need to reduce tariffs to make them affordable to many.

“We need to address the infrastructure, cost of deployment and access so that more people can be able to access this service at lower cost. With high and multiplicity of innovation, mobile telephone users require these services at highly reduced tariffs,” he said. These sentiments echoed Mr. Ochanda’s input.

The Deputy President also underscored the need for a clear broadband framework both for Kenya and the region at large saying, “Broadband is recognized for its high correlation with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. It has high impact on productivity of nations,” he said. This shed more light to the statistics given by Mr. Tayob.

underscored the need for  clear policies that address the given the rise in data services as opposed to voice, given the scarcity and demand for frequencies.  He said the cost of deployment can be addressed by sharing of infrastructure among service providers thereby translating into lower tariffs for end users.

“With digital migration we will have more efficient use of frequencies. This therefore necessitates the adherence to the global deadline of 2015,” stated the Deputy President.

He expressed concern that it was expensive to access large volumes of data adding that it was prudent for service providers to find ways of lowering the cost; he shared the same sentiments with Mr. Tembo.

“The ICT industry should catalyze the development of other sectors given the explosion of internet use,” he said. He was of the opinion that, by vigorously embracing ICT, Africa will be able to enhance its capacity as well as secure a favourable share in the ever competitive global trade.

Spurred by the cause of the Congress and Exhibition, In July, the Kenyan Government launched the National Broadband Strategy (NBS) aimed at transforming Kenya into a knowledge-based economy. This makes Kenya the second nation in Africa after South Africa, to launch an elaborate broadband strategy.

The strategy proposes a Ksh250 billion budget to fund the development of the broadband infrastructure, supporting national capacity building and awareness and content and innovations.

The proposed finance sources include innovative financial instruments for instance: launching a Broadband Infrastructure Bond, a Broadband Venture Capital Fund as well as exploiting existing instruments such as the Growth Enterprise Market available within the Capital Markets plus increased government spending on ICT of up to 5 percent.

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