SA: ICT can help improve services to people

Image: Wikimedia

Pretoria – Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can help governments across the continent improve services given to citizens, Communications Minister Dina Pule says.

Speaking at the opening of the ICT Indaba in Cape Town, Pule said governments could use technology to improve the quality of healthcare services as well as connect schools to the internet to improve the quality of education.

“Clearly, ICT infrastructure yields a greater developmental dividend from the investment made by our governments for our citizens,” she said.

The ICT Indaba is an African focused international ICT conference that will identify the challenges and seek solutions to capitalise on the potential of the ICT sector so as to bring about long term-socio-economic development. It will provide a platform for dialogue among the world’s ICT experts focusing on the developing and underdeveloped conditions.

Pule said through various regional ICT agreements on the continent, things were on track to overcome the challenges of connecting the continent’s cities, towns and villages.

The African continent was now connected to Europe, North America and Asia by nine undersea cables with the launch of the West Cable System representing the first connection to an undersea cable for Namibia, Togo, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Five more undersea cables are planned for the continent by 2014 with one connecting Africa to Brics partner countries. This will help improve connection to new trade partners as well as reduce communication costs and improve the quality of internet services.

“Deliberations in this conference have to lay the foundation for the harmonisation of continental policies such that these cable connections can create thousands of jobs and enable millions of people across the continent to communicate at cheaper rates,” she told the inaugural conference which is due to end on Wednesday.

She said that while the indaba aimed to show that ICT could contribute to the continent’s development, in order for the technology evolution to benefit citizens, governments’ needs to coordinate efforts to achieve improved development.

Additionally, government is considering coming up with an ICT indaba declaration that will be the final product that gives direction on what leaders in government, business, labour and individuals “can do to accelerate our discourse for ICT development”.

South Africa’s IT sector is a leader in the fields of electronic banking services, pre-payment and fraud prevention systems and the manufacturing of set-top boxes. These technologies were exported to Africa and the rest of the world.

“The local manufacturing of the Set Top Boxes, as part of the rollout of Digital Terrestrial Television, will enhance this leadership position through the greater investment in innovation. We expect that this strategy will result in the creation of many jobs across the continent as factories go up to manufacture the boxes,” explained Pule.

South Africa had taken a decision to overhaul its ICT policies with the aim that policies deliver progressive goals of achieving universal access to broadband much faster.

“To this end, we have invited nominees to serve on the ICT Policy Panel of Experts, a group that will work with the department to provide for policy recommendations,” said Pule.

According to research over six million South Africans have access to the internet. Mobile broadband grew by 31% in 2011 to reach 4.2 million people in the country.

The minister also expressed concern that broadband prices remain very high compared to some Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

“We are taking steps to address this challenge by introducing more competition in the data market. Through the licensing process which we have embarked upon, we expect to identify capable Internet Service Providers (ISP) who will make use of the radio frequency spectrum to push the prices lower,” added the minister.

The indaba will be addressed by President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday.

The conference is hosted by the South African government, in partnership with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which is a United Nations Agency looking after the ICT sector.

Source: SA Government Communication and Information System – Press Release – 5 June 2012