East Africa to embrace broadband for MDGs

By Omondi Julius Odera, Kampala, Uganda

The wave of technological innovation sweeping across the globe has to be embraced by Uganda and her east African community counterpart states in order to enable the realization of Millenium Development Goals (MDGS).

These have been the major points of emphasis by the various speakers at the ongoing East African ICT conference on broadband access in Kampala. The five day conference ending on 19th April is the first of its’ kind jointly organized by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the ministry of ICT and the East African Communications Organization (EACO) and it has attracted over 250 delegates across the region as well as other players in ICT from across the globe.

Uganda’s Prime Minister John-Patrick Amama Mbabazi whose message was read by the ICT Minister Ruhakana Rugunda reiterated that for broadband connectivity is no longer a wish but a demand and therefore a must for everyone in developing countries to adopt in order to realize the MDGs by the year 2015. He elaborated that Access to broadband internet and satellite services is an enabler for access to services such as e-health, distance learning, e-government, tele-marketing as well as for residential and community internet access. He also noted that ICTs are penetrating sub-Sahara Africa at a high rate and provide a backbone on which most businesses depend to provide goods and services.

Present was the Permanent secretary of Kenya’s ministry of communication, science and technology Dr. Floren Turuka, and Ambassador Bruce Madete from the ICT ministry of Kenya. Also worth noting was the attendance of the Burundian minister for ICT Leocadie Nihazi, the director general of the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) Maj. Francoise Regis Gatarayiha.

Similar sentiments were echoed by the director of Telecommunication Development Bureau (DBT) at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Brahima Sanou, who urged East African states to treat broadband connectivity not as something that is desirable, but a must-have. “I think Africa can develop a smart sustainable model of a limitless Information and Communication Technology market, thanks to the coming of tablets, smart phones and the cloud,” Sanou said. He also noted the important roles the private sector are playing to foster internet adoption and penetration in the region. “But to do this effectively, East African governments need to engage the private sector to strengthen broadband infrastructure and avail it to the last person down in the village,” he explained.

Although East Africa commissioned a 10,625-mile Seacom broadband cable at Mombasa in 2009, internet access prices have remained very high especially in Uganda, due to lack of state investment. One 2011 survey put Uganda’s lowest cost of monthly access to broadband at an average $120, compared to $40 in Kenya and $10 in China.

Sanou noted that this cost can be cut if regional states can develop neutralized broadband connectivity by bringing resources together   and putting up comprehensive infrastructure where all telecom providers can be subscribers.

UCC’s executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi, on his part urged the region’s governments to urgently review the existing ICT policies, strengthen incentives to the private sector and promote innovation. The Executive Director of the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) James Saaka said that Uganda has 4.8 million internet users by December 2011 with an internet penetration of 3.2%. He also highlighted that plans are underway for commencing of the third phase project of laying national ICT backbone infrastructure which will connect Mutukula and South Western Uganda.

Based in Kigali, Rwanda, EACO is the regional body which brings together regulatory, postal, telecommunications and broadcasting organisations in the East African Community.  The broad objective of EACO is to harmonise policies of the communications sector in East Africa which will promote further cooperation and integration of the five member states of the EAC. EACO Secretariat was formed during the 18th EACO Congress which was held at the Serena Kigali Hotel in Rwanda from May, 2011. Just recently in 2012, Mr Hodge Semakula the pioneer Commission Secretary of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), was appointed the first Executive Secretary (CEO) of EACO Secretariat.

Based in Washington D.C., ITSO is an intergovernmental organisation charged with overseeing the public service obligations of Intelsat, Ltd. The 150-member state organisation, to which Uganda is a member, works to ensure that Intelsat provides public telecommunications services, including voice, data and video on a global and non-discriminatory basis.

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