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[February 12, 2014]
Technology Leaders Converge in Accra - to Drive Down the Cost of Internet Access [opinion]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The world's broadest technology sector coalition, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), will today host an interactive forum focused on driving down the cost of internet access in Ghana and Africa at large.
The interactive forum is the first of its kind, and has been arranged in conjunction with the Government of Ghana, with whom A4AI recently signed a memorandum of understanding.
By uniting a diverse range of technology innovators to share insights and debate solutions openly, it is hoped that steps can be identified to tackle a number of challenges, which include; lack of terrestrial fibre and policies and taxes which limit the best use of telecommunications infrastructure; the high costs of telecommunications equipment, often fuelled by taxation policies, and exacerbated by recent increases in value-added tax (VAT) due to government fiscal pressures; and low citizen awareness about possible benefits of the internet and how to use it.
The meeting - A4AI's first in-country engagement - will unite diverse players such as policy makers, technology pioneers, civil society groups, campaigners and researchers. Participants will share insights and hammer out a new, long-term national plan designed to empower Ghana to slash broadband costs via lasting policy change and technological innovation.
Speakers include Ghana's Minister of Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, Country Manager of Google Ghana, Estelle Akofio-Sowah and Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Telecom Chamber, Kweku Sakyi-Addo.
Despite the recent landing of four new fibre optic submarine cables in Ghana, broadband remains too expensive for most Ghanaians and is largely an urban phenomenon.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that only 17% of Ghanians currently use the internet.
By drawing on the expertise of A4AI's 54 members, including Omidyar Network, Google, the UK DFID and USAID - and the input of key actors in Ghana, this initiative hopes to build on recent progressive policies by the Government of Ghana and ensure that affordable broadband and universal access become a reality.
However, Minister of Communications, Dr Edward Omane Boamah noted, "Ghana was amongst the first countries in Africa to connect to the Internet and in the last few years we have seen a surge in Internet usage and mobile broadband connections.
However, we know we need to build on these successes so that all Ghanaians have access to affordable broadband. Our New Broadband policy, which has just been finalised, is evidence of our focus, commitment and plans for achieving this goal by 2020.
Our work with A4AI improves our links with other countries in Africa and further afield that have similar aims. It also provides another platform for collaboration with them, as well as national and international private sector and civil society stakeholders." The Executive Director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, Sonia Jorge, said: "Today, we hope to plant the seeds of further policy change in Ghana, unlocking the benefits of technological advances and innovation, and driving down the cost of access.
"There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach that can make universal access a reality, so our work here will be grounded upon the principles of consultation and open dialogue.
"In Ghana, we are particularly concerned with affordable access for those living below the poverty line and those who are most excluded, including women, rural populations and minority groups." The Country Manager of Google Ghana, Estelle Akofio-Sowah, added: "To bring more of Ghana online, we need partners--from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors--to work together.
By launching its engagement in Ghana and bringing these partners together, the Alliance for Affordable Internet can help build the strong policy foundation needed to drive affordable, accessible Internet across the country.
It's a big step towards laying the groundwork that can ultimately connect Ghana's current and future leaders and innovators." The Director of Mobile Solutions for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Priya Jaisinghani, said:"Ghana is a highly dynamic country that is aligning its regulations and policies so that it can capitalize on its robust telecommunications sector.
This forum is a critical beginning for A4AI's coalition, including USAID, to begin work that we hope will drive down the costs of Internet access and serve as a model for the region. This approach will enable Ghanaians and others to take full advantage of the digital opportunity and to help build a more inclusive future." Instructively, A4AI has grown rapidly as a coalition since its launch in October 2013, achieving a membership of over 50 organisations in just four months. Global sponsors Google, Omidyar Network, the UK's Department for International Development and the US Agency for International Development have been joined by a host of governments, technology companies and civil society organisations from developed and developing countries.
Copyright Ghanaian Chronicle. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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