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Mobile Internet in Africa underutilised

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 26 – African governments should utilise unused digital frequencies to propel the growth of mobile Internet across the continent.

This was among the various keynote observations made at a High Level Ministerial Forum on information technology held in Nairobi on Monday that was convened by the Kenyan government in partnership with the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The gathering that was a preamble of the three-day Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that will run from Tuesday to Friday at United Nations Offices in Nairobi heard that the continent had the potential to be a global leader in economic empowerment via mobile Internet.

“Africa should take advantage of the availability of digital frequencies to make mobile Internet accessible to rural areas even before broadcasters making the digital migration,” Joseph Alhadeff, the vice-president of Global Public Policy said.

With the advent of smartphones and their wide use in the continent, the second session of the forum was told advancing mobile Internet was the next frontier in ensuring millions of Africans living in rural areas enjoyed the information technology boom.

The M-Pesa mobile money transfer that has 18 million users in Kenya that was pioneered by Safaricom was cited as a prime example of the enormous potential possessed in enhancing use of cell phone to drive advancements in information technology.

“We have seen such revolutionary ideas coming from Africa that set the pace for the world to follow,” Lawrence Strickling from America’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) told the meeting.

He explained NTIA was at the forefront of research to ensure mobile Internet accessibility and the wider availability of cheap broadband and wireless Internet penetration across the world was underway.

The slow roll-out of mobile Internet services and other related innovations in Africa were cited as one the impediments of the achievement of the desired penetration of information technology in the continent’s rural population.

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“African countries still insist on using newspapers to pass on information affecting their citizens in this age of mobile Internet and this is not the path we should be following,” industrialist, Chris Kirubi told the plenary.

Kirubi who is involved in establishing a virtual network for Ugandan hospitals urged governments to increase transmission of relevant data and provision of services electronically.

Earlier, the plenary saw participating countries acknowledge the greater need of enhancing cyber security to protect Internet users worldwide.

Dr Hamadoun Toure, the Secretary General of ITU called for round the clock Internet surveillance to prevent cyber-crime.

“There is need for governments and the private sector to enter into partnership to ensure measures to guard Internet users in order to realise the full benefits of information technology growth.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague is set to host a cyber security conference next month to explore a global plan to prevent what was described as a potential new front line for global terror.

During the plenary discussions, participants took stock of the widespread use of information technology in education and health sectors.

Kenya’s Information Minister, Samuel Poghisio, who opened the High Level Ministerial Meeting, noted the country had increased broadband access for use in schools while his counterparts from Rwanda and Uganda had already made similar strides to include health.

“We want to achieve greater penetration in broadband access and high speed internet in the rural areas. We want to make our teachers embrace information technology as a learning tool to ensure the growth in this sector is accelerated,” Poghisio stressed.

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Information ministers and players in the International Industry and Technical Community from various countries including France, Poland, Japan, Egypt and Nigeria among others were in attendance.

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