ICTs are the only tools that can advance broad-based development and poverty reduction in the SADC region. Deploying reliable and affordable infrastructure and cheaper bandwidth will ensure universal access.
This is one of the findings of ForgeAhead's new annually-published SADC ICT report.
"Broadening the reach and affordability of these technologies and services is a complex and difficult challenge for many developing countries requiring substantial investments that are often unaffordable for the public sector and not as appealing to the private sector," says Jane Mosebi, ForgeAhead MD.
"The growth and development of African telecoms and ICT market has long been the focus of African leaders, policy makers and regulators.
"The quest for quality and reasonably priced connectivity and bandwidth is at the very centre of this and is such a priority that it is now a continental wide political imperative encapsulated in the NEPAD E Commission's ICT infrastructure program."
The 2008 report carries ICT trends that present opportunities for the sector to enhance regional integration, spur e-governance, bridge the digital divide and ensure that the region is a full participant in the knowledge economy.
ICTs are essential drivers for delivering work in a number of important areas, including health, education, and e-government. ICTs have the capacity to enable information sharing and service delivery to the broader communities, thus improving the lives of the poorest in society.
In order for ICTs to be deployed and utilized successfully, cost of infrastructure and bandwidth need to be decreased. ICT as an enabler to economic growth is high on the SADC's agenda. One of the inhibitors in deploying ICT is the unfriendly policy and regulatory environment as well as the return on investment, especially in rural areas.
Mosebi says that the report shows that while large numbers of the people continue to be excluded from access to services, others are excluded from usage due to high cost and the absence of the necessary skills.
"The latest Research ICT Africa (RIA) network 2008 survey reveals that increased competition leads to increased access.
"This means that there are 'multiple access and service options' available to SADC citizens, corporates and government users," says Mosebi.
"Affordable bandwidth and open access will see new players such as mobile operators, education networks and other players having access to wholesale bandwidth.
"This will also spur new demands from a myriad of customers and user bases and see bandwidth prices drop dramatically in SADC region," she adds.
The open access and open source software concepts seek to encourage interoperability and ensure cheaper connectivity and increase access. Through adoption of Open Access and Open Source Software, ICTs can become accessible to a wider group of people.