Ghana’s Communications Minister Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has charged African leaders to provide the needed incentives to private sectors in their respective countries to woo them into investing in bridging the continent’s widening digital divide.
Africa is leapfrogging information and communication technology development, which is also, fuelled by mobile broadband, as well, the growing digital divide between urban and rural areas and that according to Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful is unacceptable thus the need for concerted efforts by leaders on the continent to give the private sector the needed backing and incentives to bridge the gap.
Addressing the Ministerial Roundtable at ITU Telecom World Panel discussion on the theme: Stimulating public-private collaboration on connectivity and adoption Tuesday, Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful said putting in place the basic infrastructure geared towards bridging the digital divide on the continent is indispensable and that the private sector is key to achieving that.
“Our industry is also private sector-led but the private sector is motivated by profit,” she said. “They will need some incentives to be given to them before they invest in.”
The Ghana example
Sharing with the forum what Ghana has been doing to bridge the yawning digital divide under the Akufo-Addo administration, Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful said the government employed the usage of legislations and regulations to “promote or facilitate public-private corporation and collaboration to extend the infrastructure to the various parts of our country that we deemed critical.”
“…we have used our Universal Service Line and like many others, which is also created by law, the network operators provide a percentage, I think one percent to the Universal Service Line to finance rural telephony projects and for extending facilities to unserved and underserved communities,” she said.
“…it is not just the provision of the money, but we need to work with them to get the technical expertise as well” and as a result government of Ghana empowered the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) to work with the private sector, mobile network operators and equipment manufacturers to manage the government’s digitisation agenda.
She said GIFEC would secure and identify the site where connectivity is need per the partnership with the aforementioned entities, provide all the permits necessary for them to utilize their resources to install the infrastructure needed for bridging the digital divide between women and men and rural and urban Ghana.
“I think we have some with Ericsson and I think we have some with Huawei as well and it is working beautifully. It takes the stress out of providing the lands and infrastructure for that,” Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful said.
“And once GIFEC facilitates that every other network operator can communicate onto those sites, so they decide where they want to provide their services and they share the profit in a determined ratio.”
Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful further noted that government of Ghana had also decided working with the regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA) to make it easier to provide data even on the 2G as part of efforts to bridge the digital divide, providing the mobile operators with the UMTS technology for that purpose.
“They get voice telephony and they get data as well. For us, it is working well and it is managed on a profit-sharing basis,” she said.
Again, she said government of Ghana Government decided that instead of using just the Universal Service Line, “since it is so critical to narrow the digital divide and the longer we wait for it to be done the more the gap widens between those who have the access and those who don’t, government is taking upon itself the cost of financing a complete roll out to cover the unserved and underserved areas by the end of next year and it working with the equipment manufacturer and the Universal Service plan to enable that to be done.”