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SAs broadband and ICT environment worsen


A report released yesterday by the World Economic Forum shows that South Africa has fallen ten positions in the Networked Readiness Index.

While many will be tempted to say that our broadband access has increased, costs have come down, and regulation is improving, this definitive study shows that SA is simply not keeping up with the rest of the world.

The report, officially titled "The Global Information Technology Report 2006-2007" (GITR) compares 122 economies worldwide in the following areas:

* The regulatory/infrastructure environment for ICT;
* The readiness of individuals, businesses and governments to use and benefit from ICT;
* The actual usage of the last technology available.

Soumitra Dutta, one of the co-editors, explained that the report basically "provides a snapshot of countries' weaknesses and strengths with regard to ICT development".

The CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, is quoted as saying "its no longer debatable whether... the global economy will become networked... the discussion now focuses not on if but how we get connected".

While the use of complicated terminology and measurement categories would be expected in this type of report, the overall prognosis for the ICT landscape in SA is not a good one.

Africa a particular focus

The report itself highlights developments - or lack thereof - in sub-Saharan Africa as "less positive" than the rest of the world: "traditional ICT champions in the region are all losing ground".

It says that while "this region has increased its ICT penetration rates" of late, "it has not moved fast enough compared with the rest of the world".

This year's report highlights four case studies, most importantly sub-Saharan Africa (the others are: Estonia, Japan and China).

The report acknowledges that "there is a perception that sub-Saharan Africa may have missed the boat" when compared to other regions (especially Asia).

Yet, IMF economist Markus Haacker emphasises that ICT is making a real contribution to this region. The unique strength of this area is the penetration of cellphones.

In conclusion, Haacker says that while it is true that sub-Saharan Africa has "not benefited to the same extent as some countries", from a "microeconomic standpoint" Africa "disproportionally" benefits for advances in ICT. He argues that advances have made doing business "substantially"easier.

South Africa compared

South Africa is positioned at number 47 now (out of 122 measured,'), but how do we compare?

Although we scored a mark of four, compared to Denmark's 5,71 rating, we rank behind many other countries we should be ahead of. The hotbed of ICT action that is Barbados is a new entry at position 40! Jamaica also beats us (at 45,'), with Mediterranean island nations Malta and Cyprus both one-upping SA.

Conversely, countries you'd hope are way ahead of us, are only marginally better than SA. India, for example, scores a 4,06, only three positions higher than ours!

Key measurements for South Africa:

* Internet users per 100 inhabitants: 10,8
* Internet bandwidth: 0,2 Mbps/10 000 inhabitants

One could argue that our internet users figure compares quite favourably with first-ranked Denmark (52,6 per 100 people). However, South Africa's bandwidth situation is dismal. Denmark has 348,3 Mbps per 10 000 people, a 1 700% difference!

Ethopia's success story

The report, however, does highlight one glowing success in Africa - on the first page of the executive summary no less! The co-authors state that "despite being one of the [African] continent's poorest countries, [Ethopia] is spending nearly one tenth of its GDP on information technology every year".

The country provides examples of how hundreds of government offices and schools now have broadband, "with more to come".

Ethiopia has "committed huge resources to seeing that by 2007 all of its 74m people live no more than a few kilometres from a broadband connection". At the same time, the authors also draw attention to the progress made in Mozambique.

Some would say while nations like Latvia and Croatia have leapfrogged us in the global rating, our position is not that bad. We have seen renewed emphasis on ICT growth and development from both Thabo Mbeki and his deputy. Regulatory hurdles remain, but the new ECA act offers some major pluses.

Any bets on where we'll be ranked next year?

Source: My Broadband
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