‘Knowledge-based economy key to SADC integration’
For Southern African Development Community (SADC) economic integration to be realised, the region will need to be transformed into an information and knowledge-based economy, SA Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo said this week.
The minister was addressing delegates from 15 SADC countries including Swaziland who have been meeting in Durban since Monday to discuss the region's ICT infrastructure.
The meeting is being attended by government ministers, implementing agencies and ICT industry players. It has, among others, discussed the status of the implementation of the SADC ICT policy, standards and regulations, ICT infrastructure development, SADC regional postal services development and coordination.
"An accessible, affordable and reliable telecommunications is essential for us to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution which has the potential to leapfrog the SADC region economically and socially as it brings new opportunities to our citizens," Minister Dlodlo said.
Over the past few days, data and roaming costs within the region have come under the spotlight with ministers of communication and ICT from countries such as Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland calling for the scraping of roaming charges within the SADC region. An official from the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) revealed this week that cell phone operators were charging as high as E5 a minute for cross border calls.
This week, Minister Dlodlo said pricing remained the key indicator of the competitiveness of markets.
"Yet in many instances, there is very little pricing transparency to allow for any meaningful assessment by consumers or even the regulators of mobile communication prices. The affordability of ICT services is also key in bringing more people into the information age."
Minister Dlodlo called on her SADC counterparts to act swiftly to facilitate the spread of broadband services that are fast, reliable and affordable. This would ensure the information society is truly global and inclusive, and benefits the poorest in societies.
She added that despite the good progress the SADC region has made in many areas, communications infrastructure and services, particularly in rural, peri-urban and township areas, is still not where it should be.
"Unfortunately even today we live in a society where too many of our citizens are still denied access to information and the life changing benefits it brings. Of SADC's population of 300 million people, only 16.3 per cent of the population is using the internet compared to a penetration of 47 per cent globally," she said.
The successful development of ecommerce and e-government require that business and government have efficient telecom links with consumers and citizens.
If the majority of the population is either not connected, or cannot afford to use services, e-commerce and egovernment initiatives will falter, economic growth will be restricted, and SADC's information society will be confined to an elite minority.
"Because service outputs feed into other industries, economies with highly priced and inefficient service sectors will find their competitiveness in extractive and manufacturing industries affected as well.
"A key performance indicator for the ICT sector is the relative price structure of services. Relative prices affect the competitiveness of the industry in export markets. High telecommunications prices have a negative effect on economic activity," said Minister Dlodlo.
As the meeting ended on Thursday, delegates were expected to produce a strategy that will lay the foundation for the region's plan to facilitate regional integration through the use of ICTs, as well as define a position for the region to participate in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
GOOD NEWS: SA Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo.