Skills, affordability hinder Internet-for-all programme, says report

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Nsengimana contributes to the topic on Internet penetration at WEF yesterday. (T. Kisambira)

Universal access to Internet in Africa will continue to be a fantasy unless stakeholders make it affordable and equip citizens with necessary skills, a new report says.

The World Economic Forum report titled, “Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet access and adoption,” says affordability remains a major constraint for the almost 13 per cent of people worldwide who live below the poverty line.

It also remains a constraint to those who find gadgets and access too expensive or do not perceive sufficient value for money from internet use.

The report, launched yesterday at the World Economic Forum on Africa, which concludes today in Kigali, further indicates that about 75 per cent of the population of East Africa has no access to Internet.

In addition to affordability and lack of skills, infrastructure is another big hurdle for many countries, especially those that are poor or with large rural or remote populations.

“Many developing markets require massive investment to move up to advanced mobile technologies,” the report says.

Elaine Weidman Grunewald, the vice-president of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson Group, said “the barriers to greater Internet use fall into four categories; infrastructure; affordability, skills, awareness and cultural acceptance; and local adoption and use.

“This calls for public private partnership; in checking into the prices of handsets, and governments to consider convenient taxation policies on smart devices besides facilitating and encouraging smart infrastructure investment,” said Grunewald.

The report is the product of “like-minded partners” working with WEF to connect everyone to the Internet, according to Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the minister for youth and ICT.

Nsengimana said Rwanda, alongside other members of the East Africa’s Northern Corridor, seeks to have more people online by 2020, adding that this would be made possible through addressing challenges that are indicated in the report.

“Access to infrastructure, affordability, developing skills and awareness as well as developing appropriate content for internet from the Northern Corridor is our target as we bid to ensure Internet for all,” Nsengimana said. “Coming together as a region will increase resources to double the growth of Internet penetration in the region and on the continent as a whole.

“As for Rwanda, we have a much higher ambition; we are talking about doubling the growth of Internet penetration by 2020, from the current 26 per cent.”

According to the WEF report, the barriers to Internet penetration are real, and the costs are high, but policy-makers and other stakeholders should ask themselves the costs of inaction.

The report shows that the cost of not extending access and use are potentially much higher in terms of fewer jobs and less economic development, a bigger digital divide, poor education, expanded inequality and worse healthcare, among many other factors.”

The survey says innovative and fact-based approaches that lead to tangible socio-economic outcomes are required to mobilise the necessary political and financial resources to bring Internet for all.

Fostering digital literacy as a basic skill

In a related discussion dubbed, “How can we foster digital literacy as a basic skill for African youth?”, experts noted that Africa needs digital natives for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Figures from WEF indicate that about 11 million young people are joining the African labour market each year but only one per cent of school leavers have basic coding skills.

Despite the continent’s potential as the world’s fastest growing digital consumer market, companies struggle to find employees with the right digital skills.

Projects such as Africa Code Week, a continent-wide initiative by SAP and partners, are expected to spark interest in coding and shape a skilled workforce.

In Rwanda, the Africa Code Week was launched in October 2015 by KLab in partnership with the government, and it has since seen over 8,000 young Rwandan between the ages of 7 to 14 trained in computer skills of coding.

Andrew Waititu, the Managing Director of East Africa Systems Applications Products, said “Rwanda is a rising star in digital connectivity and so the rest of Africa should borrow a leaf if its to increase Internet connectivity and penetration.”

editorial@newtimes.co.rw