Access to the Internet is no longer a luxury, but a pre-requisite for anyone wishing to participate in a connected, interdependent, globalized economy. Nowhere is this need for access more acute than in Africa, where the Internet represents not just the path to jobs, education and business opportunity but to the very future of the continent itself.
Next week I will be immersed in conversations about this imperative when I attend the 3rd African Internet Summit (AIS) taking place in Tunis. I will join ISOC’s Africa team who are deeply involved with the technical community gathered at AIS. I am looking forward to meeting the tech leaders who are working to expand and develop the Internet for the ever-growing number of African users.
There are a number of pressing issues that I expect will be discussed:
Access to the Internet through broadband connections remain expensive, slow and, in many cases, unavailable due to a lack of reliable electricity and the high operation and maintenance costs of infrastructure.
While new undersea cables have been deployed in recent years connecting all parts of the African coasts with the world, cross-continental connectivity remains a challenge.
Additionally, much of Africa’s regional Internet traffic is still routed through IXPs external to the African continent – creating a costly and an inefficient way to handle the inter-country exchange of Internet traffic.
These barriers to infrastructure investment raise the cost of increasing availability.
Content by Africa, for Africa
Content that is created in Africa and matters to the people of Africa is also a pressing concern. Hosting content abroad not only makes it more expensive and slower to access, but it also discourages the creation of new content. Africa needs locally created and hosted content that’s relevant to the people who live there.
Much of Africa’s future lies with its entrepreneurs who are leading ICT initiatives. Many of them are at AIS to explore new ways to develop businesses. These efforts need to be nurtured. From Somalia to Ghana, Cape Town to Cairo, Africa’s young digital innovators understand the power of ICT to drive growth, build businesses and shape their futures. These entrepreneurs hold the keys to the African economic revolution through their critical bottom-up entrepreneurial spirit.
Opportunity for All
I note that on Africa’s flourishing technology scene, women remain largely underrepresented. Yet, there are prominent women leaders and entrepreneurs who are paving the way forward by entering the field as coders, IT managers, policymakers, policy experts, and launching and building successful technology companies. New entrepreneurs, men and women alike, are crucial to Africa’s digital future. They have the creative ideas about how to build the Internet, how to use it and how to make it their own in order to maximize the possibilities for innovation, communication, commerce and economic growth. The Internet enables an environment where there is opportunity for all.
I am grateful for the opportunity to join the conversation at AIS and to listen, learn and share our collective vision of a fully connected society — moving ever so confidently toward innovative economic growth and prosperity.
Photo: “I’m a customer and a salesman” © 2011 by Carsten ten Brink CC BY-NC-ND 2.0