High costs blamed for low Internet uptake in Africa


Africa has only one fixed broadband subscriber for every 1,000 people. Photo/FILE

The high cost of ICT services and limited access to high-speed Internet in Africa has been blamed for the sector’s sluggish growth.

The continent has only one fixed broadband subscriber for every 1,000 people compared with Europe, which has 200 providers for every 1,000, according to a new report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“The relative price for ICT services (especially broadband) is highest in Africa, the region with the lowest income levels,” says The World in 2009: ICT fact and figures released yesterday. It adds that the cost of the ICT price basket represents 41 per cent of Africa’s monthly average income.

The director of Telecommunication Development Bureau, Mr Sami Al Basheer, said heads of State and industry leaders would team up at the ITU Telecom World meeting next month to identify the right policies and regulations to support and encourage ICT growth worldwide.

“We are encouraged to see so much growth across developed and developing regions, but there is still a large digital divide and an impending broadband divide, which needs to be addressed urgently” said Mr Al Basheer.

The report says China has the world’s largest fixed broadband market, overtaking its closest rival, the US, at the end of 2008.

The latest statistics reveal rapid ICT growth in many world regions in everything from mobile cellular subscriptions to fixed and mobile broadband, and from TV to computer penetration – with mobile technology acting as a key driver.

The forecasts and analysis on the global ICT market shows that mobile growth is continuing unabated, with global subscriptions expected to reach 4.6 billion by the end of the year, while broadband ones would top 600 million, having overtaken fixed broadband subscribers in 2008.

Mobile technologies are making major inroads in expanding ICTs in developing countries, with countries offering IMT2000/3G networks and services.

But ITU’s statistics also highlight important regional discrepancies, with mobile broadband penetration rates low in many African countries and other developing nations.

The report says more than a quarter of the world’s population uses the Internet while increasing numbers are opting for high-speed access, with fixed broadband subscriber numbers more than tripling from 150 million in 2004 to an estimated 500 million by the end of 2009.

ITU estimates show that three quarters of homes now own a television set and over a quarter of the global population – about 1.9 billion – have access to a computer at home — demonstrating the huge market potential in developing countries, where TV penetration is already high.

“ICTs are vital within developing countries to ensure that ordinary people can fully participate in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. We have seen a positive impact on services such as health and education in markets where ICT growth has been strong, ” says Dr Hamadoun Touré, the ITU Secretary-General.