Africa Wired

From Africa Renewal: 
page 24

UN commission sets broadband targets
Ambitious plan to increase Internet access and speed throughout Africa

An electoral officer in a Lagos neighbourhood during the April 2011 elections in NigeriaComputer centre in Mathare, a poor settlement in Nairobi, Kenya: Only one in 10 Africans who access the Internet are able to do so through cheaper, high-speed broadband connections, a gap the UN hopes to significantly reduce in a few years.
Photograph: Alamy Images / dbimages

For most of the 100 million people who access the Internet in Africa, connections are often slow and expensive. Only one out of every 10 Internet users has access to faster and potentially cheaper broadband connections. Such a situation can and must change, affirms the UN’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development. At a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in October 2011, the commission set ambitious targets for all countries. In the 48 least developed countries (33 of which are in Africa) the percentage of broadband users should rise to 15 per cent of the population by 2015, the commission says. For developing countries as a whole, the goal is 50 per cent and for developed countries, 60 per cent.

According to the commission, “the benefits of broadband are profound – in opening up young minds to new horizons through educational technologies; in empowering women… and in helping family breadwinners find work, a better salary or return on their goods.” To improve broadband access, countries should have national broadband plans and adopt favourable regulations, the commission advises.

Although ambitious, the targets are close to some predictions for Africa. Informa Telecoms & Media, a consulting company, suggests that broadband subscriptions, currently standing at 12 million on the continent, will hit 265 million (more than 20 per cent of the population) by 2015.

Mobile e-mails get prompt action on sewage spill

Siboniso Hlela lives in Siphumelele Township near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. His house is near a small stream, a tributary of the Umgeni River. Since his house is at the lower end of Siphumelele, whenever there is a sewage breakdown, the sewage flows to his house. This was so bad towards the end of 2010 that for six months a pool ofsewage, caused by a breakdown in the municipal sewage supply, prevented him from opening the door of his tool shed. Some friends did not want to visit Siboniso because of the bad smell.

For many months Siboniso tried to ask the authorities for help, without success. But then by using social media and forging contacts with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local government officials, he hit on a way to get some action.

Siboniso had heard about the Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), an NGO concerned with South Africa’s rivers. The next time he had a bad sewage spill he took a video of the problem with his mobile phone. He then phoned Liz Taylor, a DUCT volunteer. Using SMS (text messaging) they made a plan to meet at his house. When Liz arrived she took some photos of the problem with her mobile phone. Unfortunately, video files are too large to transfer with SMS, so Siboniso taught her how to use Bluetooth (a short-range wireless connectivity standard) to transfer the video of the sewage spill from his mobile phone to hers.

Then on Saturday, 14 February, 2011, Siboniso phoned Liz again — a really bad sewage out-flow was again flooding past his house. Quickly Liz and a colleague from the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, another NGO, took photos of the spill. But it was the weekend and the municipal offices were closed. So at 11 am on Sunday, Liz forwarded an e-mail with the photos of the unhygienic conditions to Sbu Khuzwayo, the district municipal manager of uMgungundlovu Municipality. Just a few minutes later he responded that he would appoint a task team to deal with the matter. The team met on Monday, and developed a plan. Within a week or so the main broken pipes were repaired.

This article is adapted from a case study by Liz Taylor, Jim Taylor and Londi Msomi.

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