As key infrastructure, broadband networks can be seen in a similar way to the development of roads, railways, electricity and the way that these networks have transformed economic activities for individuals, companies and governments. However, like many developing countries of the world, fixed-network infrastructure in Africa is much less widely deployed than in most developed countries. While fixed (wired)-broadband is growing continuously over the past three years due to significant investments made in optical-fibre infrastructure in Africa, the penetration rate remains below 1 per cent, compared with 27 per cent in Europe. This provided opportunity for mobile broadband to fill this gap where mobile-broadband penetration in Africa reaches close to 20 percent by 2014 which is a ten-fold growth from 2 percent penetration in 2010.
This is due to the exponential growth of the mobile-cellular penetration which will reach 69 percent by end of 2014, while almost 20 percent of the population in Africa will only be connected by end of 2014, up from 10 percent in 2010. While 40 percent of households have Internet access globally, in Africa only one out of ten households is connected i.e. 11 percent of households have Internet access in Africa which is the lowest compared to 78 percent in developed and 31 percent in developing countries.
While nominal access has expanded in most countries on the continent, effective access has not due to the challenges of affordability and digital literacy which are critical factors for widespread adoption of broadband. According to data from ITU, the average fixed broadband price in Africa is about 64.3% of GNI per capita. which is almost three-fold the world average of 22.1%. Although the price for fixed-broadband subscribers is below 5 per cent of GNI per capita in four countries of the region (Seychelles, Mauritius, Gabon and South Africa), prices in more than half of the African countries range over 40 percent of GNI per capita. This limits the size of the market and has a knock-on effect on the roll out of broadband which needs appropriat regulatory frameworks and clear strategies and targets for a substantial investment in order to expand broadband penetration including mechanisms for expanding public access points in Africa.
There are several challenges to expanding access and exploiting the potential of broadband, particularly among the most marginalized populations. These can be addressed through adequate policies and strategies – such as a broadband strategy and plan closely linked to national development agendas – and by establishing an environment that can foster private sector investment (with a competitive regulatory regime) and is facilitated by public-private partnerships. In this context, strategies for promoting public ICT access points are of paramount importance. The questions for the continent in expanding access to broadband range from financing the necessary infrastructure to pricing, policies and strategies including regulatory frameworks for enabling access and use for ensuring its potential for economic growth in the 21st century knowledge and innovation-based economy.
To explore these important policy issues, ECA undertook an empirical assessment of broadband services in a subset of its member States in the context of its regular review of innovation and knowledge trends in national development policies and implementation on the continent. . The purpose of the report is to deepen our understanding of broadband as an important enabler of economic growth and development and to surface any additional issues that may be constraining the effective roll out of broadband on the continent.
Pursuant to this, ECA is convening a meeting of experts and policy makers to review the draft policy report. The meeting will be held from 18 to 19 December 2014 at the United Nations Conference Centre, UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The main objective of the EGM is to rigorously review the draft analytical policy research report and to make recommendations for improvement, if necessary. The EGM will also offer participants an opportunity to brainstorm on some of the key issues relating to the trends in Africa of innovation and knowledge generation with a focus on the role of improved access to broadband and solicit views and inputs that will enrich the Repor.
The expected outcomes include:
i) Recommendations and inputs to improve the Report in three main dimensions, - overall quality and rigour, policy relevance and policy recommendations for the consideration and adoption by African governments and regional institutions;
ii) A set of recommendations to guide ECA’s future research and analytical work on the subject matter.
DATE, VENUE AND PARTICIPANTS
The Expert Group Meeting (EGM) will take place at the United Nations Conference Centre, UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 18 to 19 December 2014. The Meeting will be attended by decision makers, ICT and STI experts, RECs and other regional and international organizations including representatives from telecom operators, private sector, civil society, academic and research institutions.
The working language of the EGM will be English
For any further information, you may contact: Kasirim Nwuke, Chief, New Technologies and Innovation Section, Special Initiatives Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by email at email@example.com and by telephone at +251.11.544.3375.
 “Information and Communications for Development 2009: Extending Reach and Increasing Impact” Chapter 3 – Economic Impacts of Broadband. Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, Carlo M. Rossotto, Kaoru Kimura, The World Bank.