Call for improved ICT infrastructure in SADC region

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

With information and communication technologies transforming the way people live, work, learn and communicate, more infrastructure is still needed in the rural, peri-urban and township areas.

Improved infrastructure could help address the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region’s socio-economic issues, ensure better quality of life, boost regional economic integration and bridge the inequality gap and aid industrialization efforts.

“Through greater access to ICTs infrastructure, applications and services, more of our citizens can be integrated in social, political and economic activities,” said Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo on Wednesday.

She was speaking during a panel session on the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the SADC ICT Ministers’ Meeting underway in KwaZulu-Natal.

The overarching objective of the meeting is to establish communication systems that are accessible, affordable, efficient, reliable and fully integrated to ensure connectivity for the citizens of the SADC region.

The Minister said most SADC citizens are still denied access to information. Of SADC’s population of 300 million people, only 16.3% of the population are using the internet, compared to a penetration of 47% globally.

“We must establish communications systems that are accessible, affordable, efficient and reliable, that move at a pace faster than the evolution of technology and are of high quality. These systems must be fully integrated to meet the diverse requirements and ensure connectivity for the citizens of the SADC region,” Minister Dlodlo said.

The ICT infrastructure must also allow more people to access the huge variety of information, services and technologies offered by business, government and local communities.

Minister Dlodlo noted that despite the slow progress, there have been some inroads in the sector. These include ‘internet for all’ initiatives, which aim to connect all unconnected SADC citizen; broadcast digital migration, which is helping to free up additional bandwidth; the Smart Africa Initiative, which uses technology to address development challenges; the African Internet Exchange System (AXIS), which aims to build a strong internet connectivity in Africa, and ITU Connect 2020 to allow for affordable and universal broadband access in the SADC region.

High data costs

The challenge the Minister noted was the high cost of data, especially in South Africa, which she said drives up the cost of communication and restricts access, particularly for young people who use mobile applications to stay in touch, access services and information. 

“Data is the new currency. It opens the doors to communication, education and employment opportunities,” the Minister said.

As such, the Minister said, government is probing the high cost of mobile data through the competition authorities. 

“We are doing so because we see wireless communication as a critical factor in driving the economy forward. We also recognise that data will be a driver of many of the innovations that we have seen in the 21st century onwards.”

In addition to this investigation, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa is also working on mechanisms to regulate the expiry of data bundles.

Initial interventions will ensure provisions that data bundles do not automatically expire after 30 days but have a cascading scale.

“We must work to ensure that there [is] no digital divide in skills between disadvantaged and advantaged children and youth. Let us boost our efforts around drawing in all our people into the benefits of technology,” the Minister said. – SAnews.gov.za

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