Source: The Department of Communications
Title: SA: Pule: Address by the Deputy Minister of Communications, at the 12th Annual Arab International Telecom Development Summit, Lebanon
TOPIC: How can ICTs contribute to accelerating economic growth? What can governments do or not do to maximize economic growth from ICTs? What are the available countries investment opportunities?
I would like to extend my warm greetings to the Government of Lebanon, all Ministers present, the President of the ARABCOM Group, Ms Katia Tayar, the rest of its leadership and members, stakeholders in the ICT sector, other dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen.
ICT stakeholder meetings always have the potential to generate new ideas, new synergies, new potentialities, and thereby bringing innovative solutions to the sector which will unlock economic opportunities. I am sure that this Telecom Development Summit would do the same.
Although the economic downturn has put a damper on investments and economic activities, including ICTs, I believe that the ICT sector has the potential to contribute to a global economic recovery. ICT and innovation have the potential to bring new markets, full broadband services, new multi-channel broadcasting markets, and Voice over Internet Protocol based services.
2. ICTS contribution to economic development
For instance, if we look at the aspect of broadband and how it could impact on our economies there is reason to believe that ICTs have so many dimensions of value adding.
A World Bank report reveals the impact of broadband on economic growth in 120 countries from 1980 to 2006. Its analysis pointed out that each 10 percentage points of broadband penetration results in 1.21% increase in per capita Gross Domestic Growth (GDP) in developed countries, and 1.38% increase in developing countries.
It is said that if we build broadband networks in our countries, the following will follow:
• The ability to control and use ENERGY more efficiently.
• The ability to connect our health care facilities thereby managing our HEALTHCARE systems.
• The ability to connect our schools and to build e-Labs for the improvement of our EDUCATION system for our future generations.
• As well as the possibility to streamline our TRANSPORT networks using advanced technologies including road and traffic information management systems.
• And crucially, the ability to help meet the MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS (MDGS).
3. The political will of governments and willingness of the private sector to invest in ICTs
Governments have an important role to play in the growth and the development of our ICT markets. Governments have the policy instruments to make ICT policies, and to regulate the ICT markets.
Governments have the duty to regulate and protect the erosion of broadcasting as a cultural service available to inform, educate and to entertain humanity as the world leaps towards the convergence of ICT services, whilst embracing the multi-dimensional possibilities of new technologies.
As governments, we have to create conducive environments for our people to benefit from information and communication technologies. The ICT markets must service the needs of citizens. Our policies must ensure that telecommunications and broadcasting services are accessible to all our people.
We must ensure that our people are empowered to participate fully in the ownership and control of ICT businesses.
Our ICT market regulations must ensure that we build partnerships with the private sector in order to connect Africa to Africa, Africa to the Middle East, Africa to the rest of the world, and above all to connect our citizens to the Internet.
There is indeed a gathering momentum in Africa driven by governments who have the political will, passion and clarity of the importance of ICTs that more must be done to make ICTs more accessible to all our citizens.
The undersea fibre optic cables and inland broadband infrastructure network constructions driven both by private enterprises and government initiatives are clear evidence of such commitment to work for the development of Africa.
In South Africa, we have already seen the impact of the new SEACOM undersea cable whose fibre-optic network connects the Southern and Eastern part of Africa to the rest of the world via Europe. Apart from the increased bandwidth availability for connectivity, we are also beginning to witness a decrease in the price of telecommunications services.
As other undersea fibre optic cables come on stream like the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), The East African Marine System (TEAMS), the West African Cable System (WACS), and others, the momentum could only accelerate into full scale ICT connectivity on the African continent.
4. Economic opportunities merging with social investment
Whilst broadband penetration in Africa is still very low, mobile telecommunications penetration on the other hand is the fastest growing comparative to other continents. This highlights both the potential for the economic growth and development in the ICT sector. We have to encourage greater investment in ICT infrastructure to expand networks, in order to bridge the digital divide between those who are digitally connected and those who are not.
The South African government has since the establishment of a non-racial and non-sexist society in 1994, put in place policies to create a good investment climate, and balanced this with universal service obligations placed on operators to achieve greater access and uptake. Our broader policy objective is to make ICTs accessible and affordable to the majority of our population. In the case of South Africa, the ICT contribution to GDP has exceeded the seven percent mark as early as 2005.
In fact, the government's broadband policy which is driven by the Department of Communications demonstrates a clear intent to grow the sector more aggressively and expand the market to areas where access is limited or not prevalent at all.
5. Cellular penetration, clearly shows the extent to which ICTs have been embraced by Africans
As I have indicated earlier, it was unprecedented the extent to which cellular penetration has taken place in Africa generally. According to the 2007 Siteatlas report South Africa has 966.1 per 1000 mobile phone subscribers, and is ranked 42nd out of 222 countries of the world.
In the rest of Africa the story is more or less the same.
It is anticipated that as the mobile telecommunication costs drops substantially in the medium term and smart phone handsets fall in price, more people would access internet via their cellular handsets.
6. 2010 FIFA World Cup helped to change the ICT landscape in South Africa
South Africa's commitment to the 2010 FIFA World Cup has contributed to further investments in ICTs. As part of our country's guarantees to FIFA, we have budgeted as government the sum of R1.5 billion to ICTs over the past three years leading up to the World Cup.
This investment is apart from what the private sector companies have contributed to deliver the World Cup.
7. The way ahead
Undoubtedly, Africa is a good destination for continued ICT investment. It remains a potential and investment destination for this sector.
It is my view that ICTs have become an essential service delivery like housing, water, electricity, and so forth.
Our government is mindful that ICTs are an imperative for development and that it is an enabler for growth and development across all sectors.
As we move forward in making ICTs a part of the lives of all our people, greater partnerships between governments and the private sector companies would be forged to make this possible.
On the road ahead to a more ICT connected society, watch the following spaces:
• Greater e-government where citizens would interact with their government more interactively and access services speedily and efficiently and more readily. This obviously would mean greater government investment in ICTs.
• Development of policies that speaks to convergence of the ICT sector and a more conducive and productive business climate.
• Reduction in the cost to communicate and greater uptake of ICTs in the broader society.
• Acceleration of the provision of broadband.
• Proliferation of more ICT small to medium enterprises to broaden the wealth creation opportunities in the sector.
• Creating a more inventive and innovative climate for the emergence of new industries.
• Empowering the local population to develop creative local content for both local and global consumption.
Having pointed out the above, I would like to invite you to continue to put Africa on your investment radar screen, because Africa has the growth potential for the ICT sector.
As a Deputy Minister of Communications, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to send your investment delegations to South Africa to explore the opportunities, particularly in the ICT sector.
We are a non-racial, non-sexist democracy, with a conducive, business climate protected by the rule of law and our constitution.
We are a young and vibrant democracy and would welcome your partnership to help us grow not only our country but yourselves as well as business partners.
I would like to thank the President of this Telecom Summit for inviting us to share in your destiny. Your journey is ours too.
I am sure that this Summit would further make its contribution to the ICT sector growth and development possibilities and help to achieve a more connected citizenry and globalized world of peace, security, harmony, and a shared development mutually beneficial to all stakeholders.
Once again, I wish you well and pray for your success.