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Internet for all goal eludes Africa

Africa , 21 Oct 2015

Internet for all goal eludes Africa

Africa has a long way to go to bridge the gap between those who have internet and those who don't. This divide is denying many the chance to develop economically, according to experts in the industry.

"Connectivity is elusive for many people in Africa," said Peter Ngunyi, the president of BRCK, a device that works to provide internet connectivity and power in unconnected regions."Generally cost is the biggest factor."

According to an Internet Society report in May this year, titled Internet development and Internet governance in Africa, the continent is not doing too well.

"The Internet in Africa is growing fast. Internet penetration levels are about 20% and rising. Mobile subscriptions are just shy of 70%, and mobile broadband access accounts for more than 90% of Internet subscriptions," the report said.

"But the aggregate indicators mask glaring disparities. At the high end of the spectrum, countries such as Morocco enjoy penetration rates above 50%, but at the other end are countries with penetration rates below 2%, and the majority of countries have Internet penetration of less than 10 percent," it added.

The report suggested that for African countries to see the economic benefits of broadband, the coverage should be at least the minimum 20% threshold.

"When prices are high you have a very low demand for that connectivity," Ngunyi said at the ongoing Transform Africa conference underway in Kigali, Rwanda.

Ngunyi blamed high costs for the fact that Africans are not utilising the internet beyond social media platforms.

"Everywhere you have voice there must be data and you must make it available across the country. We need to look at affordability of the service and device," said Mortimer Hope, GSMA Director, Spectrum and Public Policy for Africa.

"We need to look at literacy levels. There needs to be a partnership with the education ministries to ensure people are literate; that they can read and write," he said.

Mortimer also added that the internet should be relevant to the people and have content they can relate to.

This is supported by The State of Broadband 2015, an annual report produced by the Broadband Commission and released in August. The report highlighted the issue of local languages as a major hurdle in spreading the use of internet in some parts of the world including Africa.

"Among several major demand-side challenges in expanding the Internet and web to accommodate the next four billion people, one major barrier that must be overcome is the representation and use of the world's languages online," stated the report.

"In order to connect everyone, it is also vital to increase the online representation of many of the world's languages, especially for regions and countries with high linguistic diversity (such as Africa, India and South-East Asia)."

It was also suggested that one way to ensure people use the internet and tap into its relevance is to have government services online.

Ngunyi argued that access to connectivity can unleash the great potential in Africa's population, sprouting great innovations and companies from the continent.

But for now, only a few privileged people can access fast and reliable internet services in Africa.

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