|Africa and the Middle East 2006
|Africa and the Middle East – broadband access for growth
|Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA)
Paul Bell is Dell’s Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) responsible for all business operations and manufacturing activities across the region. Prior to his current role, Mr Bell served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Worldwide Home and Small Business Group. Prior to joining Dell, Mr. Bell was a consultant with Bain and Company. Mr. Bell has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and business administration from Pennsylvania State University, and an MBA from the Yale School of Organisation and Management.
Broadband access will not solve all the of the region’s problems, but broadband can make a huge difference in local economies and affordably bring much needed services to local communities. Even in developed nations, more than 25 per cent of GDP growth results from information technology. Investment in computer literacy skills, at all levels, is important. The cooperation of global ITC companies in local literacy, health and technology programs is essential to improve the quality of life and digital access.
There is no doubt that the Internet has revolutionised the world, from the way a business operates, to how it connects, informs and entertains consumers. The Internet has become such an integral part of society that many of us agree that we would not be able to live without it. So what of those countries and regions that does not have the technical infrastructure for Internet access, let alone the convenience of the services, such as buying groceries online, that it brings? It is important to acknowledge that broadband access may not be an immediate priority for some countries, especially those that do not have widespread access to computers. Governments hold the responsibility for long-term infrastructure implementation and planning, and it is important that experienced technology practitioners and organisations make themselves available to offer advice and consultation. Global and local businesses have an important part to play in broadening exposure both to technology and new methods of communication. Digital access has the power to make huge differences on a community and country level. Broadband will further enhance local technology markets and in turn encourage foreign investment, which will quicken the cycle of development. Whilst it is difficult to make generalisations about a region that is so diverse and with such varying economic and political challenges, our view is that broadband access in the Middle East and Africa, MEA, should be universally available to those that want it. The challenge of regional differences The regions within the MEA vary widely in their cultures, geography, economies and politics. Between them, there are more than 50 countries, ranging from the African islands of the Seychelles to the small but wealthy federate state of United Arab Emirates, UAE. Politically there are monarchies, military and civilian republics and constitutional democracies. There are countries recovering from civil war and those that face problems of political unrest, famine and drought. The diversity of community and culture is also reflected in the adoption of technology and access to communication networks. In general, the Middle East has progressed further than Africa in making widespread access to technology available. Taking these differences into consideration, it is clear that the introduction of broadband across MEA will not be a ‘one size solution fits all’ situation. Broadband access vs. Internet access vs. computer access Narrowing the divide between those that are more fortunate than others by improving access to information technology is one of the greatest challenges facing governments and the private sector in the region. The current reality for many MEA countries is that, before even beginning to consider broadband access, providing access to computers is the priority. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa fewer than two in 100 people have direct access to a computer. Internet usage figures vary greatly, not only between Africa and the Middle East but also within each region. Only eight of the 57 countries that make up Africa have Internet penetration of more than seven per cent. Among those with the highest penetrations are Morocco at 11.6 per cent and South Africa at 7.4 per cent. In the Middle East, as expected, Internet penetration is higher. In fact, in only a quarter of the 14 countries that make up the Middle East is Internet access less than 10 per cent. These Internet penetration figures from internetworldstats give a fair representation of the potential for broadband adoption across MEA. It is likely that countries with established technology markets such as the UAE, or an advanced telecommunications market like Israel, will lead the way for widespread broadband adoption and be among the first to benefit from its potential. Digital access improves the quality of life Prior to the introduction of broadband, investment in education, including the teaching of basic computer literacy skills at all levels, is important. Personal computer technology has progressed, it is now more user-friendly and therefore digital access for everyone – independent of IT literacy – is more easily achievable. Governments and businesses have a vital role to play to ensure that everyone has a good education and an opportunity to learn IT skills. In recognition of this, Dell South Africa commits a defined percentage of its sales revenue to the Dell Foundation that focuses on literacy, health and technology to improve the quality of life and digital access. The foundation has made a considerable impact on the basic education needs in parts of rural South Africa by providing computers and training teachers, enabling them to pass on basic IT skills to the next generation of South Africans. Since January 2005, the foundation has donated more than 1000 desktops to 374 schools in mainly rural areas and provided IT training to more than 268 teachers. On a business level, the foundation runs an Enterprise Development programme. The foundation, for example, trained a young man called Moffat Sebolelo in small-business skills, and donated a computer and vehicle to him. Previously he was collecting rubbish for tips, now he runs a successful cleaning services company and employs up to 20 staff. Digital access impacts on the economy Investment in technology has proven to influence economic growth. A study by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, the ITU, recently found that 27 per cent of the GDP growth in the G-7 nations from 1995-2003 was a result of investments in information technology. Consider the impact, therefore, of introducing broadband to MEA and its potential to translate into real economic opportunity, greater productivity and employment opportunities. Boosting the domestic technology industry has wider implications. Businesses should view technology as a vehicle to aid business performance. For example, better sales and marketing contributes to increased revenues, which in turn influences the wider economic environment. In a developing domestic IT market the more access there is, the greater demand there will be for related technology services. This is also the case with broadband – as demand increases, the market grows, outside investment increases and competition becomes more prevalent. This leads to lower costs, making access to computer technology and broadband access more affordable for businesses and consumers alike. Working with business leaders and trend-setters to improve the future of technology access within different geographical locations will help create access to broadband for everyone. There are numerous examples of multinationals working with local companies to improve their ability to deal with the expected Middle Eastern growth in technology related activity. Government contribution Global companies have a responsibility to work with government policymakers on technology related issues that benefit the social and economic environment. Governments that have encouraged the implementation and use of technology quickly see the benefits. The UAE opened its Dubai Internet City (DIC) in 2000, specifically aimed at encouraging the development of both large and small information and communications technology (ICT) businesses in Dubai. DIC offers 100 per cent tax exemption to DIC companies plus a multitude of managed services such as an advanced Ethernet network and the world’s largest IP telephony network. Many of the world’s leading technology companies now have offices in DIC, as do many small to medium businesses and ICT start-ups. This proactive encouragement of a local IT market with a global outlook means there is already a market of potential broadband customers. In some countries, governments have taken proactive measures to further the introduction of broadband. For example, in South Africa, in May this year, the communications minister committed to ensuring that the country’s broadband infrastructure is able to meet the socio-economic, business and scientific developments. There is no doubt that communication networks are crucial to broadband development. In many ways, developing countries that are starting from scratch have an advantage, as they have the opportunity to bypass older, less efficient, systems and go to straight to broadband strength communication networks. This is more cost effective than building a traditional telecommunications network and then having to upgrade it to a higher bandwidth within a very short timeframe. Choosing to take this path brings great benefits, as it fast tracks those that follow it into the broadband-ready world. Hardware and related technology providers must be ready to help consumers and businesses realise the rewards, and a return on investment, of these new technologies. Information technology has contributed enormously to the world we live in. The Internet is an accepted and integrated part of every day life in most of Europe. It has also been proven that investment in IT is directly related to economic growth. Broadband will bring further technological and business opportunities. Despite the differences in population density, cultures and wealth across the Middle East and Africa, we believe that broadband access is a basic necessity throughout the region. It would be good if everyone had the opportunity to take advantage of this new technological revolution. It is important, though, to view this in perspective, as many MEA countries face greater, more basic survival challenges than this. The aim is to increase access to broadband and technology, but also – in preparation for this – encourage domestic IT markets and quality education incorporating IT skills. It is the responsibility of global companies to work with MEA businesses and governments to further technological development and broadband adoption, for the benefit of the global integration and development of regional economies.