Katoori Mbazi Rose of Uganda has a good job working in the ICT department of Engen Uganda, a petroleum company in Kampala – a significant accomplishment in this developing economy where the annual household income averages US$ 490 a year. Katoori’s success would not have been possible, however, without affordable access to a broadband connection.
Broadband connectivity can be a powerful catalyst as well as an anchor for economic and social advancement in developing countries. It creates jobs and business opportunities that lead to greater economic development.
This is highlighted in the recently published World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2013, which focuses on growth and jobs in a hyperconnected world and illustrates the economic and social power of connecting the unconnected. It also reveals that some developing economies, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, have additional strides to make in order to reap the full rewards of broadband and ICT.
Despite Katoori’s achievements in the workforce, Uganda ranks 110th out of 144 countries on the report’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) rankings because of connectivity gaps, low levels of ICT-related skills, and a business and innovation environment that lacks the conditions to leverage the benefits of ICT. The NRI measures the ability of countries to leverage information and communication technologies to improve their competitiveness.
So how do we close the connectivity gap and enable more success stories such as Katoori’s?
In the report, my colleagues, Robert Pepper and John Garrity, outline objectives and strategies for broadband and ICT planning around the world, including offering affordable products, enlisting government leadership, making ICT skills development opportunities available, focusing on local content, and guaranteeing consumer protection and empowerment online. While each country’s strategy will be different, our framework of supply- and demand-side policy options can guide government leaders through the development of their own national broadband plan, as well as offer a useful lens through which to review gaps in a current broadband policy environment.
Many emerging and developing countries, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, are already leading in ICT development and growth. However, according to Inveneo, a non-profit that delivers sustainable computing and broadband to the developing world, less than 10% of the population in developing countries has access to affordable, reliable broadband Internet.
Connectivity growth is hampered by existing market conditions, regulatory hurdles and government prioritization. In addition to the insufficient broadband infrastructure, connections that do exist are often too expensive and unreliable to encourage universal access. According to the news outlet All Africa, the cost of broadband Internet access across Africa is extremely high – almost three times the monthly average per capita income. Considering the great benefits broadband connectivity can bring to individuals and businesses alike, it is crucial for developing countries – and underserved communities in developed countries – to help build out broadband infrastructure in an affordable manner.
Access to broadband has allowed Katoori to change her life, contribute to the economic advancement of her community and inspired her to work towards one day becoming an ICT systems engineer. With greater broadband deployment, more individuals like Katoori will have the opportunity to significantly change their future for the better. As we enter the next wave of Internet development, we hope to further advance the beneficial growth effects of the global network.
Author: Tae Yoo is Senior Vice-President of Cisco – a sponsor of the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology 2013 Report
Image: Internet Lan cables are picture in Sydney, Australia REUTERS/Tim Wimborne