Why Africa Needs To Improve Internet Connectivity

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Africa could gain $300 billion by 2025 if it embraces the Internet as it did mobile phones, a McKinsey study found, according to WorldPolicyBlog.

Fiber optic cables have dramatically increased Internet availability in Africa in recent years, but mobile cellphone networks still have greater reach, the report said.

The global community is just beginning to see the power of telecommunications in improving everyday lives, WorldPolicyBlog reports. In fact, the U.N. recently labeled it a post-2015 Millennial Development Goal. World leaders and foreign investors should embrace telecommunications—a key factor in driving economic and infrastructural progress.

In a 2013 TED talk, Nairobi-based tech entrepreneur Juliana Rotich described the everyday challenges millions of Africans face trying to access the Internet. An unreliable power grid compromises Internet access. Blackouts are the norm. Without warning, business and communication can shut down for indefinite periods. In trying to solve this core issue, she encouraged investors to support more reliable electrical systems.

The possibilities for technological growth are lucrative.

The payoffs, however, are deeper than the pockets of foreign tech companies, WorldPolicyBlog reports. For African businesses, entrepreneurs, and aspiring students – access to the Internet and mobile connectivity could mean a new lifestyle.

The McKinsey Report said the Internet is likely to improve six industries: financial services, education, health, retail, agriculture, and government.

Mobile banking is the only access many rural citizens have to savings and investing. “To Westerners, ‘mobile banking’ is a new way of doing something old. To many Africans, it is the obvious way of doing something new,” a Business Insider report said.

Social impacts of connectivity may be the most important aspects. Health workers in sub-Saharan Africa are using cellphones to access resources, collect and analyze data, consult with other professionals, and talk with patients. Cell phones are increasing remote learning and helping teachers improve students’ learning experience.

Citizens now have access via mobile phones to crucial information regarding elections, public health, weather and security.

“Small-scale technology can make all the difference to (poor women) lives,” said Henrietta Miers, senior associate of WISE Development. “It may also give them the time and space to demand their political rights.”

Rotich suggests citizens look to Africa’s 3G networks to strengthen Internet connections. “Most towns in Africa have 3G connection, why don’t we leverage that?”

While the private sector plays a major role in African telecommunications, many Africans see their governments as primarily responsible for telecommunications and technological growth. This is especially true in education. A survey of 413 African teachers who use online resources in their classrooms showed that respondents were more than three times more likely to identify the role of national government (29 percent) in accelerating the integration of learning technology than the private sector (8 percent).