The Internet. The great equaliser. Or, the great UN-equaliser. Because, after all, not having access to the Internet – that great repository of information and the primary way most of the world communicates, works, and does basically everything – puts one at a severe disadvantage. And almost as much of a hindrance as not having the Internet at all is having it at such slow speeds (or at a cost that makes one have to literally decide between it and things such as food, heating, air conditioning or transportation) that large portions of the day are spent waiting for things to happen.
For many of the more than 1.2 billion (that’s billion, with a “B”) people in Africa, it’s a serious problem. Obviously, there are several reasons for why this is the case (not least of which is the legacy of colonialism and continued oppression/neglect), but the bottom line is, it’s an issue.
As usual, plans are afoot to promote digital equality. Last month, experts at the Africa Session of the International Telecoms Week conference in Chicago described terrestrial fibre constraints as the “mother of all bottlenecks hindering increased Internet penetration on the continent.”
That’s a bit of a mouthful. But it’s the truth. During his presentation on the theme “Enabling Content on the African Continent,” Guy Zibi, CEO of research firm Xalam Analytics, said that while most coastal countries in Africa are doing well in terms of the possibility of Internet connections thanks to a large number of undersea cables connecting the continent, interior penetration of such cables and connections was still a serious problem, exacerbating the so-called “digital divide.”
If that digital divide isn’t overcome, Zibi said, Africa will continue to be left behind when it comes to technological advancements. It goes without saying how disastrous that would be.
So, what can be done? Following Zibi’s talk, a panel was held discussing how regulatory constraints (read: laws) and economic challenges are impeding increased Internet access in Africa. By investing more in infrastructure, and promoting equitable access, the panel (which included people from companies including Orange, MTN GlobalConnect, MainOne and Kwese) agreed, improvements could be made. Because let’s be frank: the world needs Africa.