A ministerial summit in Botswana, under the auspices of the GSM Association (GSMA), has signed a communique focusing on what the region needs to do to achieve digital terrestrial television migration and begin moving towards widespread mobile broadband.
John Giusti, head of spectrum at the GSMA, says that one of the critical areas under discussion as the region moves toward universal broadband is the harmonisation of government and private sector agendas.
The meeting of the governments of Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia agreed on common priorities to accelerate the roll out of mobile broadband in the region.
Importantly, mobile broadband roll-out could potential result in the creation of an additional 3,2-million jobs for sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.
Although South Africa’s Minister of Communications was unable to attend the meeting, local stakeholders are keen to engage in the process, Giusta says.
The mobile ecosystem currently contributes 6,3% of GDP across sub-Saharan Africa and could grow to 8,2% by 2020 with the right policies to encourage investment. In addition, mobile penetration could increase to 93% of the region’s population by 2020, bringing mobile access to an additional 300-million citizens.
Signing the communique today, the ministers agreed to a series of measures including the creation of a joint task force strengthening regional co-operation to support investment in mobile.
Giusta points out that the GSMA has not traditionally had a presence in Africa. Having recently opened an office in Nairobi, the organisation is devoting more time and resource to the region, and to driving initiatives such as these that will see broadband become a reality.
“We have recognised the challenges and the opportunities in Africa,” he says. “We want to ensure that the mobile industry and governments understand each other: that they understand the challenges faced by the other.”
Among the concrete issues discussed in today’s meeting is the need for harmonisation. This, says Giusta, will result in lower prices as device manufacturers are able to streamline their supply chains to provide devices for the standardised environment.
Another step that needs to be taken, he says, is for countries to accelerate the migration from analogue to digital television as that spectrum can be used to provide mobile broadband.
He points out that lower prices have resulted in other regions where countries have taken a harmonised approach to the digital dividend spectrum.
An immediate benefit to the economy, Giusta says, will be in the creation of new jobs. This is borne out by numerous studies conducted around the world where similar projects have been successful.
“This is something that the industry has realised globally: that it has to work with governments and we will all benefit.”
The next step after today’s meeting, he adds, is for further engagements between governments and industry where concerns can be raised and the parties can come to a better understanding of one another.
“This is the beginning of the map,” Giusta says. “We are now committing more resources to the region and committing to work co-operatively in the SADC region on facilitating a programme of digital inclusion.”
Text of the Communique:
PROMOTING A VISION FOR A DIGITAL SOUTHERN AFRICA
COMMUNIQUE FROM THE SUMMIT OF MINISTERS HELD ON FRIDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2013, IN KASANE, BOTSWANA
We, the Ministers responsible for communications in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, met to consider the opportunities for further advancing our countries’ digital economies and for greater regional cooperation in the delivery of an effective and transparent regulatory environment, together with the GSMA, representing the global mobile industry. During this meeting, we:
HIGHLIGHTED the importance of the event as an opportunity to discuss experiences and knowledge to promote universal access to broadband and associated services with the common goal of encouraging digital inclusion in Southern Africa;
REVIEWED the socio economic contribution that mobile communications can make to the countries’ citizens, not least its positive impact on employment, wealth creation and competitiveness;
NOTED that only through a joint effort between the public and private sectors will it be possible to fully coordinate initiatives and advance the goal of bridging the digital divide;
RECOGNISED the importance of providing stable and predictable regulatory environments that enable long term private sector investment;
NOTED that public awareness and the widespread development of e-Government services are an important complement to the private sector’s development of commercial applications and the adoption of new services;
IN THIS CONTEXT, WE THE MINISTERS AGREED TO:
CO-ORDINATE the efforts of regulators, the GSMA and mobile network operators in the Southern Africa region, and within the framework of existing SADC structures, through the creation of a Joint Task Force;
IDENTIFY the conditions required to accelerate progress towards universal broadband access, through the development of a Roadmap for Digital Inclusion which will include an outline e-Government Plan;
HARMONISE regulations and frequency allocation plans to maximise economies of scale and meet increased future demand for broadband services;
UNDERTAKE a wide ranging review of policies, including but not limited to ICT, education, science, technology and innovation to maximise their alignment for building the knowledge economy;
ESTABLISH an on-going Capacity Building Programme, supported by the GSMA, whose aim will be to ensure that the region’s policy makers and regulators have access to, and benefit from, the latest global insights in market regulation;
WORK towards the inclusion of other SADC Member States in this initiative and meet on a regular basis to review progress against these commitments;
EXPRESS thanks from the visiting Ministers to the Government of Botswana for its hospitality and outstanding work in organising this session.
Signed on the Sixth day of September, 2013:
Hon. Mr Nonofo E. Molefhi, MP
Minister of Transport and Communications
Republic of Botswana
Hon. Prof. Makame M. Mbarawa, MP
Minister of Communications, Science and Technology
Republic of Tanzania
Hon. Minister Mr Yamfwa Mukanga, MP
Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications
Republic of Zambia
Hon. Minister Mr Moses Kunkuyu, MP
Minister of Information
Republic of Malawi
Hon. Minister Mr Tŝeliso Mokhosi, MP
Minister of Communications, Science and Technology
Kingdom of Lesotho
Hon. Mr Eusébio Saíde
Vice Minister of Transport and Communications
Republic of Mozambique