The African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and Mozilla have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a joint project that will promote rural Information and Communication Technology (ICT) connectivity in the African region.
According to a statement made available to the media by African Telecommunication Union Pragramme Coordinator Alice Koech, ATU Secretary General John OMO said the project is designed to ensure an affordable access to communication across the continent.
“Everyone needs affordable access to communication. Access strategies that are not inclusive can end up magnifying the digital divide. This MoU acknowledges the need to urgently address access to spectrum in rural areas as a policy and regulatory issue in order to unlock innovation and investment as part of the strategy towards actualizing affordable rural access to communication,” he said.
Mr Omo stated that for the African society, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided great momentum for the need of rural connectivity in the continent as it remains a challenge to date with some areas lacking even basic voice connectivity.
“This is despite the fact that more than 60% of Africa’s population is based in rural areas, a lot of which still lacks supportive infrastructures such as road access and energy. These factors render conventional service provisioning in these areas commercially unviable,” he added.
The Secretary General further added that connecting the unconnected areas requires applying special policies, regulations and practices that cut across the full breadth of regulatory elements, such as licensing, roaming, pricing, with spectrum being a critical element.
Mr OMO further indicated that spectrum remains dramatically under-utilized in rural areas as existing operators make limited investments in those areas.
And Mozilla Chief Executive Officer Mitchell Baker emphasized that those with affordable phone or internet services have the advantage of access to the ever-increasing education resources, opportunities, services, and social safety nets such that the unconnected fall further behind just by standing still.
She added that access strategies that do not target everyone can end up magnifying the digital divide.
“The Internet today is a global resource open and accessible to all, and while half of the world is connected to the Internet, existing policy, regulatory, financial, and technical models do not fully cater for the poorer and more sparsely populated regions,” she further added.
Ms Baker noted that the project is tailored in line with the strategic objectives of ATU and Mozilla’s Africa Programme.
She highlighted that the programme recognizes the fact that some of the approaches to spectrum regulation, like auctions may act as a firewall to competition, creating a financial barrier for innovative, smaller service providers who could bring new technology and business models to rural service.
“I believe access to spectrum in underserved regions cannot be treated purely as an economic decision. If citizens can’t take advantage of modern communications tools, an approach focused simply on auctions will amplify inequalities. Spectrum strategies need to reflect the urgency of making access to broadband both inclusive and affordable,” said Ms Baker.
The recommendations developed by the two parties will be presented at the 2021 Annual ATU Administrative Council meeting.