communication in rural areas is the subject of the latest report by the
Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization. It asks governments to back
projects to bring information technologies to rural areas, including cell
phones and the Internet. From
Blantyre, Malawi, VOA's reporter Lameck Masina has the story.
report is called the Commonwealth African Rural Connectivity Initiatives. It analyses
the capacity of 18 African countries to strengthen information and
communication technologies, or ICT.
The study says in recent years many African countries have seen
dramatic growth in the number of mobile phone networks. But it says more needs
to be done. For one thing, it notes that only five percent of African households
are connected to the Internet.
The report says some Commonwealth countries, like Malaysia and India,
have made significant progress in rural connectivity. On the other hand, Sierra
Leone and Zambia do not have advanced communications technologies – one reason
for their slow economic growth.
Stakeholders in the ITC industry have commented on the
report's findings and recommendations.
Bashir Patel is the director of programs and business
development at the London headquarters of the Commonwealth Telecommunications
"Clearly," he says, "there are lessons that can be learned [from the
research's findings, including best practices] deployed in other countries.
There are examples of projects that are being done in countries such as Canada,
Malaysia, Australia, and India. These are [successful examples of] connecting
rural communities and how it can be done."
The report encourages local ownership of
telecommunications projects financed by partnerships between the public and
private sectors. That model has worked well in industrialized countries like
Canada, the United States and Australia.
In Malawi, the government says it is taking steps to implement some of
the study's recommendations.
Patricia Kaliati is Malawi's minister of information. She
says the government is encouraging private-public partnerships, especially in
the effort to extend the Internet into rural areas.
"What we are looking to do," says Kaliati, "is to [boost] ICT to rural
areas by [building] telecenters. The target date for having ICT in our cities
is 2012, and 2015 in our villages."
She says the telecenters fall under a government
initiative called Universal
Access Policy, which is designed to get information technologies to
rural and other under-served communities.
Kaliati notes that Malawi is already implementing another
of the report's recommendations on the best way to promote the growth of ICT in
Africa. She says Malawi has privatized the telecommunications sector.