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One of the topics for this year’s IGF held in Istanbul, was Access, with a plenary session “Policies Enabling Access, Growth and Development on the Internet “. The main thread of the topic centered on Access policies as an engine for growth and development.
In 2005 when the Tunis Agenda was conceived, 1 billion people were connected to the Internet. In the next 9 years, there will be approximately 9 billion people accessing the Internet.
There are approximately 7 billion mobile subscriptions and approximately 3 billion Internet users. Of these 3 billion, 2.3 billion are mobile broadband subscriptions – half of which are in developing countries. Most of the access globally is household Internet whereas pervasive Internet access in Africa is through Mobile.
By end of 2014, 44% of the world’s households will be connected to the Internet, in contrast to Africa 1 out 10 households is connected to the Internet. In the South African context Statistics South Africa released the figures for 2014, the report states that currently there are 40.9% households with at least one member of the family having access to the Internet, but only 10% of households have Internet access at home which means 30% of those people go online at work, universities or at Internet cafes.
What exactly do we mean by access though, is it enough to only be able to access the Internet through your mobile phone, but not have access at home? Mobile access vs. desktop access? I think access, just like the Internet should be ubiquitous (everywhere) and not only enjoyed by those who have the funds to pay for the exorbitant prices which we currently do. One of the enabling milestones of the South African National Development Plan is to “Make high-speed broadband Internet universally available at competitive prices”.
So what is holding us back from achieving this goal?
For developing countries to realise this goal, all the ingredients need to be in place: leadership, infrastructure, sound regulation and policies, last mile connectivity, competition, the hunger for innovation, relevant content, education, skills, relevant private and public partnerships, etc.
The State of Broadband 2014 report released on 21 September 2014, emphasized “the need for policy leadership” from governments in delivering universal broadband to its citizens.”
I think in most cases leadership and lack of capacity or resources is the one of the crucial factors limiting universal access to citizen. Policies can be written, rewritten and written again, but if there is no leadership to drive the implementation of the policies and initiatives, we will forever be lamenting about the need for universal access….