SA has fallen behind the world, and even some other African countries, in fostering the technology and telecommunications sectors as a way of boosting economic growth.
This is according to SA Communications Forum (SACF) executive director Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha, who was speaking at multi-stakeholder forum called by the department of communications in Midrand on Thursday.
Braithwaite-Kabosha says the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has been used worldwide as an engine to increase growth and create jobs. “ICT is SA’s best bet for economic growth,” she says.
Braithwaite-Kabosha points to research conducted by the International Telecommunication Union, which ranks cities in terms of the severity of socioeconomic inequality. Of the top 10 cities, SA holds nine of the spots. “Changing this is vital for the country, and can be done through a concerted focus on ICT development,” she says.
The SACF’s own research shows that many African countries, including places like Nigeria, have started growing their economies through improvements in access to communications technologies.
“SA’s competitiveness is declining, and if you look just at Internet access, even Zimbabwe is growing its access faster than SA,” says Braithwaite-Kabosha.
The forum has also benchmarked SA against Brazil, Russia, China and India (the Bric countries), a grouping that the country will soon join. “Only India’s Internet penetration is smaller than SA’s, but they have a far higher population.”
Braithwaite-Kabosha says the best way of addressing SA’s stagnating growth is to ramp up access to the Internet and to focus on expanding communications technology more generally.
She says the Universal Service & Access Agency of SA had been collecting money from operators for 15 years, money meant for improving access to technology. “The agency needs to be revamped and the money made available for the development of access in rural areas,” she says.
She says local-loop unbundling — providing access to Telkom’s “last mile” of copper cables — will also help create jobs and grow the economy. — Candice Jones, TechCentral