The African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and Mozilla have signed an MoU for a joint project that will promote rural ICT connectivity in the African region. According to ATU Secretary General Mr. John OMO, the project, pegged on the usage of spectrum policy, regulations and practices is designed to ensure 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.
For the African society, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided great momentum for this need given that rural connectivity in the continent 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.
The CEO Mozilla Ms. Mitchell Baker emphasized that those with affordable phone/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. “Access strategies that do not target everyone can end up magnifying the digital divide,” she said.
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.
“Connecting the unconnected 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,” said ATU Secretary General Mr. John OMO who further indicated that spectrum remains dramatically under-utilized in rural areas as existing operators make limited investments in those areas.
This project tailored in line with the strategic objectives of ATU and Mozilla’s Africa Programme, further 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. Mitchell Baker, CEO, Mozilla.
The recommendations developed by the two parties will be presented at the 2021 Annual ATU Administrative Council meeting.