Even though several undersea cables now serve Africa, broadband services still cost on average three times the monthly per capita income in the region, according to a new report.
The 2012 edition of the International Telecommunications Union's regulatory report calls for national plans to speed up broadband roll out and stimulate the development of new digital services.
The report, "Trends in Telecommunication Reforms," also calls for national policies to counter emerging legal complexities in the sector.
Africa is serviced by more than four international undersea cables including Seacom, EASSY, WACS and Sat-3, with connectivity costs coming down as a result of competition. But affordable Internet services will only be realized once clear-cut broadband policies create an environment that encourages the private sector to deliver access to homes, corporate organizations and rural areas, according to the ITU.
Broadband penetration in most African countries including Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo is still very low compared to most parts of the world. According to the ITU, the huge volume of data generated by fixed and mobile broadband applications means that most countries are now facing a critical ICT infrastructure deficit.
"Given the importance of broadband to each country's ongoing development, this deficit is fast becoming a major public policy issue requiring the formation of a new cross-sectoral broadband policy framework," according to the report.
"Fixed broadband penetration of 26 percent in industrialized countries contrasts dramatically with penetration of just of just 4.8 percent in developing nations."
Mark Simpson, CEO of the Seacom cable, seems to agree with the report by the ITU. "There is a lot of work to be done before internet services are accessible and affordable to every person on the continent," Simpson said recently.
The Seacom cable alone is responsible for more than a 10-fold increase in bandwidth penetration in several under-served countries in Africa. Simpson added, however, that African regulators and operators must focus as much on access networks as they are on submarine cables and back haul connectivity to drive growth.