|Africa and the Middle East 2006
|Broadband in Egypt
|Minister of Communications and Information Technology
Dr Tarek Mohamed Kamel is Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology. He is also the Chairman of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority, and Chairman of the Information Technology Industry Development. As a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology for five years before himself being appointed Minister, Dr Kamel spearheaded a number of national initiatives to spread the use of ICT tools amongst the segments of Egyptian society. Previously, Dr Kamel served as the manager of the Communications and Networking Department, the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC/RITSEC), as the Secretary of the Egyptian Internet Society, as Professor of Computer Networks at the Electronics Research Institute, and as a VP and, later, a Trustee of the Internet Society (ISOC), Virginia. Dr Kamel was also a member of the Board of Telecom Egypt. The Minister began his career as a networks support engineer for the Academy of Technology and Scientific Research, and swiftly moved on to becoming an assistant researcher at the ERI, winning a fellowship for his PhD studies from the German Academic Exchange (DAAD).
To develop Egypt’s economy and improve its citizens’ standard of living, Egypt is working to educate its citizen’s and provide affordable Internet access. Initially, the Egyptian Educational Initiative, a joint effort with the World Economic Forum and nine of the world’s leading ICT companies, will provide ICT training for 820 thousand students in more than 2,000 schools and universities. The government is encouraging the development of local content in Arabic and, together with ISPs, has worked to cut broadband access prices.
Egypt is embarking on a new technology-driven campaign to support its socio-economic development strategy. This strategy is addressing a vision to create a vibrant ICT industry and information-literate society; and the Government of Egypt collectively with the business sector is joining forces to materialize it. Widespread and affordable broadband access is fundamental in realizing the potential and development of our Information Society. A nationwide secure broadband infrastructure is essential for the development and delivery of services and applications that complement and contribute to the advance of sectors that the Government of Egypt is focusing upon including education and learning, medical and healthcare, government and public services, industry development, trade and exports. Egypt just launched its national educational initiative on May 20, in an attempt to reform the educational sector by heavily injecting ICTs in the academic experience. This initiative increasingly utilizes broadband and high-speed accessibility. It embraces projects such as ‘Smart Schools’, high-speed Internet for middle schools (7000 schools), illiteracy eradication as well as life-long learning and professional training programs via unique e-learning schemes in a variety of sectors. Initiatives such as these make broadband crucial to growth and quality of life for the generations ahead. The Egyptian Educational Initiative, EEI, is a joint effort in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and nine leading information and communication technology companies namely: CISCO, Computer Associates, HP, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Oracle, and Siemens. The initiative’s core activities include ICT training in schools and the development of suitable curricula in an online format designed to radically improve the quality of the educational process and enhance efficiency of the system. More than 820,000 students in 2,000 preparatory schools and over 300 faculties in 15 universities will be beneficiaries of the first phase of the EEI. The government is working concurrently to create a reliable high speed network to connect the country’s research and development institutes to the Internet. This will enable efficient interaction between Egyptian students and their peers globally, thus creating opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship. Internet use in Egypt has enormous growth potential according to current statistics. The Egyptian Broadband Initiative, launched in 2004 as part the Egypt’s Information Society Initiative e-access program, added a new dimension to the successful ‘home-grown’ free-Internet model, which had been launched back in 2002. This new broadband model was structured, at first, to attract small businesses, but the demand then spread to individuals, to residential users. The model basically called for the unbundling of the last mile local loops for the provision of broadband wire-line and cleared the spectrum needed for wireless broadband services. The initiative was launched on the first day of Telecom Africa, the ITU’s regional event. It brought Egypt’s citizens a much needed alternative to the dial-up connection. The new service was accompanied by a promotional campaign to highlight the direct benefits for the user such as the ‘always on’ feature, the linking of multiple computers, and the ability to simultaneously use the telephone line and the Internet. This month, taking the Egypt Information Society Initiative a step further, broadband prices were reduced even more and special packages for higher speeds were introduced. Built upon a strong partnership between the government and the private sector, this major restructuring of the broadband initiative aims not only at widening the user base, but also at attracting new segments of the society and providing the users with a high-speed access platform that can support converged and next generation data services. Today, at a cost of only US$16 per month, citizens can subscribe to 256 kb/s broadband services. As a result, there are now more than five million dial-up Internet users and one million broadband Internet users serviced by the country’s seven Internet service providers (ISPs). The number of users is expected to increase by 150 per cent by the end of 2007. Broadband will fundamentally change the way Egyptians use the Internet. Availability of content, and new communications platforms for delivery, will play a key role in the future of the new wave of broadband in Egypt; this will pave the way for the growth of services in the region as well. Egypt’s increasingly mature infrastructure will soon be ready to introduce a new set of services aimed at addressing the growing needs of users. The new services will include applications that facilitate conducting business online, and other services will enhance participation in academic learning experiences, or simply provide entertainment via electronic means. The encouraging progress of the sector has given the government the conditions needed to work on the next phase of broadband in Egypt. The government, through its National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA), in cooperation with the ISPs came up with a next generation model based upon private sector investments and competition to drive increased bandwidth, quality, innovation, and the nationwide spread of the service. The availability of Internet access and broadband is helping Egypt achieve its objective of decentralization by establishing affordable and reliable channels for free interaction between stakeholders. The growth of broadband access is also very much coupled to the availability of suitable content. Operators or ISPs tend increasingly to invest in broadband infrastructure in response to the emergence of new cultural and business content delivery models. It is worth noting that introducing innovative local applications and services to the market has encouraged usage, and many content service providers are now devoting serious efforts to develop content in Arabic to encourage new segments of society to get online. Accordingly, Egypt launched its E-Content Initiative in 2005 aimed at boosting Arabic content on the Web and, more specifically, to address the needs of the local and regional markets. Egypt’s population is a young one, with a developing economy, and the next phase of broadband development will look into mechanisms that are more aggressive and offer attractive new packages to users. Furthermore, Egypt, already a telecommunication infrastructure and connectivity leader in the region and a hub for traditional and digital cultural content, is currently considering a new framework for delivery of audio-visual services. The rapid development of Internet usage has encouraged the establishment of new means for interaction between the government and its citizens. Services such as online publishing of high-schools grades, and acceptance in universities of increased awareness about the ability of the Internet to provide information throughout the many segments of the community. Accessing the website of the Ministry of Education to view the results of the high school certificate before it is published in newspapers or on school bulletin boards has become a routine for many anxious parents. The unique benefit provided by the Internet, which by nature is a toll for public communications, is to affordably connect people across the globe. Extending Internet access to all citizens will further the understanding between peoples and cultures. Making the Internet reliable, secure and affordable for all, though, will require international collaboration. To encourage greater international connectivity with the world, during 2006 and 2007 Egypt will put into practice a program to deregulate international services. The introduction of an alternative infrastructure in 2007/ 2008 will give customers a choice and encourage the development of the local content needed to attract Egyptians to get online and help non-Egyptians to understand the country’s culture and civilization. The NTRA, which oversees the utilization of the basic telecom facilities and services nationwide, has created a Universal Service Fund dedicated to building an information society for all by encouraging the growth of broadband access. Moreover, a Consumer Rights Committee, formed by the NTRA, keeps an eye on the quality of telecom services offered to Egypt’s citizens and creates public awareness about topics of interest and concern to the population.