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Four African Countries to Bridge the Digital Divide Within Five Years

27 May, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Kihara Kimachia

The term "digital divide" first came into use in the late 1990s. It describes the economic and social inequality in a population in their access to, and use of information and communication technology. In the past it was seen as a measure of the different rates of adoption of technology and related services. These days, however, the main measure of the digital divide is Internet access.

There are several reasons people are hindered in their access to the Internet, some of these include:
1. High costs of Internet access
2. Lack of broadband infrastructure
3. Low quality of connections and related services

Shocking Statistics
If you have a reliable and affordable Internet connection, it may seem to you that the Internet is ubiquitous but in reality, there are more than 5 billion people in the world who still do not have access to the Internet. This is according to a recent report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In Africa, this is mainly attributable to the high cost of Internet access. According to the ITU, the cost of access to fixed bandwidth in most developing countries equals 30% of the average monthly wage.

Importance of Crossing the Divide
It has been argued, and compelling evidence adduced, that crossing the digital divide actually benefits the economy of a country. Research by Dr. Pantelis Koutroumpis in 2009, concluded that growth in Internet use to least 50% of the population improves the GDP per capita of a country over time. When you compare the statistics of Internet users per country from the 2014 ITU Facts and Figures report with the GDP per capita income figures from the World Bank, there is a clear direct relationship.

When you think about it, it makes sense; access to the Internet comes with rich possibilities and opportunities that turn nations around. These include:
*Contributions to the economy through e-commerce and International trade.
*Improved quality of life as a result of access to free information online, for example; health, education, sanitation and other useful content online.
*Better governance as a result of global interaction, leading to greater awareness on democracy and good governance.
*Greater access to employment opportunities through telecommuting made possible by the Internet. Labor is no longer confined to national boundaries and can be exported to countries where particular skills are in short supply.
*Greater access to educational opportunities.

Bridging the Gap
Only four countries in Africa are projected to bridge the digital divide within five years; South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco. Several other countries such as; Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Tunisia and Angola are on the verge of crossing the digital split.
There are several private initiatives that aim to bridge the gap. One of these is the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), founded by Internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It was launched in 2013 and brings together tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Intel. These companies are currently encouraging policies that promote innovative spectrum allocation, infrastructure sharing, transparent decision making and public participation. However, while initiatives such as A4A are good and encouraged, governments in Africa need to appreciate the potential of the Internet to significantly boost GDP. They need to double their efforts to ensure citizens have access to affordable and good quality Internet connections.

See also an article from High Speed Internet.


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