ZIMBABWE needs more affordable information communication technology to bridge the yawning digital divide, Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Webster Shamu has said. Minister Shamu made the remarks yesterday while addressing delegates to the Southern Africa Telecommunications Association’s three-day workshop which started yesterday and ends tomorrow in Victoria Falls.
The regional workshop was attended by regional telecommunications stakeholders from TelOne in Zimbabwe, Zamtel Zambia, BTC Botswana, Swazi Telecom, Econet Lesotho, Tanzania Telecommunications Company, Telkom South Africa, Telecom Mauritius, Angola Telecom, Malawi Telecommunications Limited, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Closing the digital divide means we need more affordable technology, which means we need to keep the costs of development and manufacturing as low as possible,” Minister Shamu said.
He said Government has invested in national internet backbone through TelOne, which brings low-cost and high-speed internet to ordinary Zimbabweans and other telecommunication operators while duty on all ICT gadgets was waived to make them affordable.
Minister Shamu noted that in today’s challenging economic climate, broadband was more essential than ever in stimulating economic recovery, growth development and creating jobs. The sentiments were echoed by TelOne managing director Mrs Chipo Mtasa, who said the Internet was now integral to socio-economic development, adding that every sector of the economy is migrating to broadband for growth; from healthcare to small and medium enterprises.
“The Internet is the ‘digital oxygen’ that is boosting economic growth in most countries. A 10 percent extra penetration in broadband means 1 percent to 1,5 percent more GDP growth,” she said.
She said businesses and the economy should have access to broadband solutions at a time many people in the region are without this basic right; in particular in the rural areas.
Minister Shamu said deployment of broadband infrastructure therefore carries important public benefits for the global good, including accelerating progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the International Telecommunications Union’s Connect Africa Summit Goals
To that end, the ITU Broadband Commission asked Zimbabwe to take note and implement the four broadband targets on making broadband policy universal, affordable (5 percent of monthly income), connecting (40 percent) homes and getting (65 percent) people online by 2015.
As part of Government’s commitment to the World Summit on the Information Society, Zimbabwe accepted the task to connect villages with ICTs in established community access points and to also ensure access to ICTs by secondary and primary schools, scientific and research centres as well as public libraries, cultural centres, museums, post offices and archives.
Broadband improves the lives of people through the facilitation of distance education and advances the lives of women, promoting innovation and encouraging the acquisition of new skills.
Minister Shamu said the Government recognises the important role that the private sector has played in various extensive broadband infrastructure and service delivery initiatives. “However, we still feel that there is need for a comprehensive strategy (on broadband) that defines the outcomes sought has realistic and achievable objectives with medium-term and long-term priorities and the recognition that these may need to change,” Minister Shamu said.
Minister Shamu said since broadband was a necessity for economic growth, social and economic upliftment of people, especially rural communities and those in remote areas of our countries, it was important that we appreciate the need for prioritisation, taking into account the poor.
Mrs Mtasa said that the digital divide could be closed across the world if the cost of broadband rollout was made significantly cheaper through infrastructure sharing within each nation.
She suggested that countries could achieve this by using existing infrastructure better, co-ordinating civil works professionally, streamlining administration and making buildings broadband-ready.