Cape Town - Government ministers and the GSMA have signed an agreement to expand mobile access and accelerate broadband penetration across Sub-Saharan Africa.
On Saturday, the GSMA met Ministers from countries including Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia to agree to a set of common priorities to expand broadband access across the region.
"The provision of universal broadband access is vital in driving economic growth and improving the quality of life in Botswana and across Southern Africa," said Nonofo E Molefhi, Minister of Transport and Communication for Botswana.
Expansion of cable broadband is limited in Africa despite the number of high-speed broadband services available on the continent.
Most of the infrastructure remains unaffordable or unavailable for home users, mainly because of a lack of so-called "last mile" infrastructure.
It is expected that the future growth in mobile broadband penetration will primarily be centred on mobile users, particularly in developing countries.
"With greater co-ordination between regional governments and between the public and private sectors, mobile broadband can play a critical role in closing the digital divide," said Molefhi.
The GSMA said that the mobile ecosystem currently contributes 6.3% of GDP across Sub-Saharan Africa and could grow to 8.2% by 2020 with the right policies to encourage investment.
"Today's meeting has created a solid foundation for further co-operation between the public and private sectors. The meeting demonstrated the close alignment of all parties regarding the goal of providing universal access to broadband services," said Tom Phillips, chief officer of Government and Regulatory Affairs at the GSMA.
The National Broadband Policy for South Africa proposed by former communication minister Dina Pule calls for "universal service and access to reliable, affordable and secure broadband services by all citizens prioritising rural and under-serviced areas".
Broadband access can potentially accelerate economic growth but the allocation of spectrum with regard to mobile broadband has become controversial as policymakers dither over the allocation.
The agreement specifies that countries will commit themselves to Joint Task Force that will co-ordinate the efforts of stakeholders in the rollout of mobile broadband, a manifesto for digital inclusion, and a review of all regulations and policies that may be adapted to accelerating digital rollout.
The GSMA wants the rollout of broadband to be free of political interference so that people could have increased access to services.
"Get the politics out of mobile, this is about creating jobs; this is about growing your economies; this is about helping the bottom of the pyramid. Fixed line connectivity is not going to achieve that," Peter Lyons GSMA director for spectrum policy in Africa and the Middle East told News24 recently.
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