Connecting rural populations in Africa


Ghana’s search for effective and sustainable connectivity solutions for its rural populations gathered momentum on Monday, in Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo region, during a workshop of key stakeholders which included the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Ghana’s Ministry of Communications, the National Communications Authority (NCA), the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), members of parliament from the region, as well as operators, ISPs, CSOs, academia, traditional and community leaders.

In his opening address, the Honourable Haruna Iddrisu, Minister of Communications, said that while Ghana’s telecoms sector had improved significantly, the distribution of fixed and mobile infrastructure “was still concentrated in the major economic centres of the country whereas the rural areas lack access to a reliable telecommunications infrastructure’.

Except for mobile penetration, which is currently around 65%, Ghana’s ICT indicators remain low. Fixed line penetration and PC ownership are both low, at less than 4% each. Furthermore, overall access and usage gaps are more pronounced in rural areas where the unavailability of power in deprived communities is a key barrier to providing connectivity.

However, significant investments are being made to expand the national communication infrastructure and reach underserved areas in the country. Vodafone, through its subsidiary NCBC, expects to complete three new fibre rings connecting Ghana’s ten administrative regions by 2012, providing much needed redundancy and bandwidth. Other operators, such as VSAT operator K-Net, are planning to expand their network.  Several solutions were discussed, with collocation and infrastructure sharing promoted as essential requirements to further reducing infrastructure costs. Moreover, with at least three new submarine cables to land in Ghana, Internet access prices are also expected to fall considerably in the coming months.

Separately, GIFEC, Ghana’s universal access fund, is supporting infrastructure projects as well as providing seed funding and equipment for over 100 community information centres across the country, as part of an effort to increase ICT literacy and facilitate the planned introduction of e-government services.

Also speaking at the event, CTO’s CEO Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah said that “these consultations should help Ghana identify Public-Private-Peoples Partnerships (4Ps) to accelerate rural access, and that Ghanaian rural communities should not simply be perceived as beneficiaries of various projects, but also initiators, investors and project managers wherever possible’.

The Sunyani event, the first of a nationwide series of consultations in Ghana, was organised as part of the Commonwealth African Rural Connectivity Initiative (COMARCI), a CTO programme promoting improved rural access to voice and data connectivity in African Commonwealth countries. A second meeting will take place later this week in Ho in the Volta region. These national consultations aim to identify and understand technological, infrastructural, economic, social and environmental challenges and solutions to bringing improved ICTaccess to specific rural communities

Since February, similar consultations have taken place in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as part of Phase Two of CTO’s COMARCI programme. CTO is also preparing to facilitate similar nationwide programmes with other African countries such as the Gambia, Zambia and Tanzania.


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