MDG-Broadband
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First, the UN commission — which met recently at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World, 2011, summit in Geneva — expects countries to have a national broadband plan or strategy or to include broadband in their universal access.

The second target deals with connecting broadband to homes, with 40 per cent of households in developing countries having Internet access by 2015.

There is yet another target for affordable broadband. By 2015, broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces.

The final target set by the UN commission is getting people on-line, with an expected Internet penetration of 50 per cent in developing countries and 60 per cent worldwide.

Before the arrival of submarine cables at the East African coastline, the region relied solely on satellite connectivity for Internet access.

This had various demerits stemming from bandwidth availability, speed, cost and subsequent uptake.

This technically eclipsed the region from the digital world. Arrival of the three major submarine cables has opened up the region to the Web, but challenges still abound. Key among these are bottlenecks in the last mile infrastructure and pricing.

This notwithstanding, Dr Hamadoun Toure, ITU secretary general, said: ‘The targets are ambitious but achievable, given political will and commitment by governments, working in partnership with the private sector.

In a press release, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said: “By working together to apply technology to real-world issues, you will enable information and communication technologies to be a catalyst for social, economic and sustainable development. You will help us accelerate towards the Millennium Development Goals.” For broadband penetration to rise to substantial figures, countries in East Africa should deploy proper infrastructure, adopt affordable pricing and enhance uptake through educating the masses on its potential, benefits and importance.

Notably, Internet service providers in the region still decry the high costs that come with international connectivity and final links to the customer.

Internet users in the region are also yet to reap the full potential of broadband. In some places, especially rural areas, there is lack of last mile access networks.

According to Kenya’s ICT regulator, the Communication Commission of Kenya, the country has 12.53 million Internet users.

As at June 30, there were 121,126 broadband subscriptions, which represented only 2.8 per cent of the total Internet subscriptions. Mobile data accounts for almost 98 per cent of subscriptions.

East African countries are scaling the super-fast broadband highway slowly and painstakingly. The figures for broadband are yet to close the digital divide gap when compared with those of some countries in Asia and Europe.

This is despite the availability of submarine cables and the setting up of ICT infrastructure by telecoms and governments in the region.

The ITU considers broadband as a vital ingredient for development. Access to information is key to growth, innovation and productivity. ICT is a powerful tool in achieving millennium development goals.