By: Anthony Sedzro
Ghana is aiming at expanding broadband internet connectivity beyond the cities into the rural areas of the country. This is part of the Digitalisation agenda of the new government to ensure that the rural parts of the country also reap the benefits associated with internet connectivity.
The Minister for Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, outlined this policy direction while delivering her address at the first ever Broadband Ghana Forum, organised by the Broadband Communications Chamber (BBCC) in partnership with the Ministry of Communications. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful was speaking on the theme ‘Broadband: The Catalyst for Sustainable Socio-Economic Development’ at the Coconut Grove Hotel Regency on November 30.
For each increase of one percent in broadband penetration across OECD countries, productivity grows by 0.13 percent
The forum was meant to initiate a public dialogue on how to revamp the country’s five year old broadband policy and to give proper direction to its Digital Agenda as a means of economic growth. Indeed, a study by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) shows that, for each increase of one percent in broadband penetration across OECD countries, productivity grows by 0.13 percent. This research has been confirmed by other studies in the USA and India.
Taking broadband internet connectivity to the rural areas is the responsibility of a government agency called the Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC). However, under the new government’s Digital Ghana Agenda, Minister Owusu-Ekuful said a new urgency is needed.
“GIFEC has done an amazing job so far with reaching unserved and under-served communities. However, President Nana Akufo-Addo says we cannot continue to do this in a piecemeal manner,” she explained.
“We need to take a deliberate step and move the total connectivity of this country forward. Because we don’t want to leave any of our populations behind. All these wonderful things we are doing should not only be reserved for those who live in the urban areas or who have access to mobile telephony and data connectivity,” Owusu-Ekuful stated.
“From the information I have received, 20 percent of our population is unserved or under-served. Can we continue to work with just 80 percent [of the connected population]? What quality of internet service do the 80 percent also have?” she queried.
According to the Communications Minister, mobile telecom operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) need to co-share their infrastructure to reduce cost and boost rural connectivity.
“We also need to work on reducing the cost of accessing internet. I’ve also been told that the amount of fibre that we have in this country can cover this country end-to-end seven times but, because of the duplication and the multiple fibre networks laid side-by-side by all the various mobile network operators, we need to change that narrative,” Owusu-Ekuful, assured.
She went on: “…So we will actively encourage infrastructure sharing. If we have to do it by legislation, we will. We cannot continue like this. We want the network operators and the ISPs to use the Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operating Expenses (OPEX) to provide access to the people who need it most…”
The government will look for other means of infrastructure such as partnering with electricity distributors-GRIDCO and NEDCO- to open their networks. She also explained that the Ministry will review Ghana’s ICT policy as a matter of urgency, starting with a stakeholder’s conference early next year.
Government is also looking for partnerships as the communication industry is largely private sector-led, the Minister indicated. She mentioned that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank are particularly interested in assisting Ghana in expanding its broadband connectivity to rural populations.
As part of the Digital Ghana Agenda, the ministry in the future, will institutionalise computer coding in basic schools to prepare the next generation to take advantage of opportunities presented by the internet.
Dr. Thomas Mensah, a Ghanaian-American scientist and co-inventor of fibre-optics, who gave a presentation on Infrastructure Development in Telecommunications, advocated strongly for Ghana to build a high-speed train from Accra to the northern part of the country to reduce travel times. The high-speed train tracks could have simultaneous fibre-optic layout ensuring that travellers on the train will enjoy wireless internet connectivity on their journeys, Dr Mensah advised.
BBCC Board Chair
Ghana, he said, possessed the second highest mobile internet penetration rate in West Africa, according to figures from the GSM Association
Dr. Yaw Akoto, the Chairman of the Broadband Communications Chamber, who presided over the maiden Broadband Forum, said the benefits and opportunities presented by the availability of broadband internet for a growing economy like Ghana could not be over-emphasised.
Ghana, he said, possessed the second highest mobile internet penetration rate in West Africa, according to figures from the GSM Association and said the internet could accelerate the development of the country and called for policies to drive a thriving broadband industry.
Dr. Akoto said that going forward, the Broadband Chamber plans to present modalities on the adoption of fourth Generation (4G), 5th Generation (5G), the internet of Things (IOT), which are modern trends to policy makers and the benefits of these technology tools must be communicated to all and sundry.
The forum discussed topics such as challenges and barriers to creating a fully digitally enabled Ghana, advancing digital capacity and capability in unserved and underserved areas.
The forum which had panel discussions and networking sessions had other speakers including Gustav Tamakloe, the CEO of Broadband Communications Chamber; Henry Kantor from the National Communications Authority (NCA); Yahaya Osman of GIFEC.
The BBCC, which has a membership comprising ISPs, telecom infrastructure providers, and telecom service providers, is an industry advocacy and lobbying group dedicated to the development and expansion of the broadband industry in Ghana and in line with global trends.