By Ambassador Omar Arouna
The digital divide in Africa is real: Three-quarters of the people on the continent do not have sufficient access to the internet – or have no access at all. This has an impact on everyone and in every component of society, from health to economic well-being to education. The priority solution requires a combination of continent-wide high-speed access combined with low prices, available through the surety of satellite connectivity.
On June 3rd, 4th and 5th, 2019 the East African Communications Organizations* (EACO) is gathering in Dar Es Salaam. Regional experts, national ICT regulators, operators, services providers (in the telecommunication, broadcasting and postal sub-sectors) ICT training institutions, and other stakeholders in the communication sector from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda will iron out a common agenda in preparation of the 2019 World Radio Communication Conference. Necessary revisions to Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the geostationary-satellite and non-geostationary-satellite orbits, will be examined for the region. Basically, these experts are major players, and the regulations they promote will have a critical impact in bridging the digital divide on the Continent.
It is now well understood and accepted that bridging the digital divide in Africa is paramount to the continent’s development and it underpins many, if not all of the UN sustainable development goals. Speaking plainly, if we don’t overcome the challenges posed by restricted internet connectivity in Africa, we might never appropriately address the poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, peace, and justice issues on the continent.
If African lawmakers and regulators are serious about tackling the issue of digital inclusion and effective promotion of digital equity on the continent; there must be an unprecedented push in the direction of affordable high-speed satellite broadband access everywhere on the continent. Because satellite broadband can connect anyone to everything — and do it anywhere — regional experts at the East Africa Communication Organization must address and protect use of satellite services to continue and expand using critical 28 GHz and its paired 18 GHz spectrum.
Affordable high-speed satellite broadband is the most transformative technology of our time, and it is not only an opportunity equalizer, but also an economic imperative.
According to leading global experts on the question, a single 28/18 GHz band satellite can serve 1/3 of the Earth. The wide coverage provides all communities within a satellite’s footprint access to service. Coupled with easy to deploy user terminals, this means that consumers and businesses have near-instant access to fast, affordable broadband anywhere. 28/18 GHz satellite-powered Wi-Fi can connect people living in urban and rural centers and villages all over Africa — 100% coverage.
What does that mean?
- 92% increase in the rate of GDP growth
- 44 million additional jobs
- 30% decrease in extreme poverty
Preserving the 28 GHz and 18 GHz spectrum bands for satellite connectivity has many beneficial implications across the continent:
Health: Millions of lives will be saved — and many more millions impacted positively — through improvements to general health through access to telehealth resources if there is available and affordable high-speed satellite broadband access. Satellite broadband is the most effective and efficient way to use connectivity to overcome rural health shortages — extending expertise to where it is most needed and delivering critical care wherever the doctor and patient are physically located.
Economic development: The unemployed can search for and apply for jobs once unknown to them. Workers can develop new skills for better paying jobs. Local shops can reach global markets. For every percent increase in the number of internet users in Africa, there is a boost in exports of 4.3 percentage points. The impact on sustainable agriculture is substantial — farmers can use satellite broadband access to plan for short-term weather and market changes, along with applying new techniques, helping boost yields by 67%.
Education: When satellite broadband connects underserved and rural communities in Africa, students can use the same educational resources as a child in the most affluent community. In total, 240 million more children can get access to resources through remote learning. 37 million young people require technical or vocational training – facilitated through broadband access – to find employment. E-learning will dramatically increase the availability of college-level courses beyond the 10% of students currently enrolled.
Financial inclusion: 57% of adult sub-Saharan Africans don’t have access to financial tools that allow for banking, small-business growth, investments and the ability to deal with unexpected emergencies. Local businesses can have more access to digital banking tools like the Mpesa and more.
This week, policymakers have to play their part in extending broadband access and take a decisive step forward in bridging the digital divide on the continent during the WRC-19 preparatory meeting. These leaders must support the continued deployment and development of satellite services in the 28 GHz and 18 GHz spectrum.
Satellites’ access to critical spectrum required to deliver on its enormous potential in Africa is in jeopardy, unless policymakers preserve the 28 GHz and 18 GHz spectrum used by satellite broadband to have its impact. The 5G industry has more than 33 GHz of other spectrum where it can operate, but the satellite industry can deliver its new affordable services only within 3.5GHz of spectrum comprised of the 28 GHz and 18 GHz spectrum. So, there is enough spectrum for both 5G and satellite to fulfill their different missions in separate and different spectrum.
The hope is that beyond the forum in Dar Es Salaam, the rest of Africa will equally see merit in the myriad of benefits that will eventually accrue from sustained satellite connectivity in the 28 GHz and 18 GHz spectrum.
*Omar Arouna is the former Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the United States of America and the Managing Partner of the US-Africa Cybersecurity Group, an effective Catalyst for the harmonization of cybersecurity policies and the implementation of practical solutions in Africa. Technologist, Diplomat and International Relations Expert Ambassador Arouna earned an MBA from the George Washington University of Washington DC. A strong advocate for Africa’s digitalization, Ambassador Arouna is a recognized expert on private sector investment in Africa, government relations, and U.S. Africa relations. He served in the Washington, D.C., Mayor’s Commission on African Affairs. Ambassador Arouna speaks and lectures regularly on African development, corporate investment, and U.S.- Africa relations and has appeared as an expert source in top media outlets, He has worked in and traveled throughout Africa and has served on the board and advisory committees of several national and international organizations.