Poor Quality, Pricey: Ethiopia’s ICT Sector Slated by UN Report




The latest ITU report released in Ethiopia claims that information and communications technology is among the least developed and most expensive in the world. This came in a ranking system, which canvassed 169 countries.

The United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released its report, which has displeased Ethiopia’s official, at a ceremony held at the Sheraton Addis on Wednesday, November 6, 2013. It showed a one rank drop from the previous year. The report placed Ethiopia 151st in ICT development, out of 157 countries, and 152nd out 169 countries in the price of fixed broadband connection.

The event was attended by Getachew Negash, state minister for Communication & Information Technology (MoCIT), and Balcha Reba, Standard & Regulatory Director at the Ministry, as well as several African ambassadors and UN representatives..

One of the benchmarking tools for the measurements is the ICT Development Index (IDI), which measures the level of ICT advancement in 157 countries by combining 11 indicators that focus on three areas – ICT access, ICT use and ICT skills.

The ICT Price Basket (IPB), the second tool, combines and measures the consumer price for fixed and mobile telephone along with internet broadband services in 161 countries.

The report is based on data from Digital TV Research, Eurostat, the International Monetary fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and three United Nations (UN) organisations – the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Population Division. The MoCIT, however, has reservations on the methodology used to compile the data.

Getachew Negash declined to comment at the event. On Thursday, Debretsion Gebremichael, deputy prime minister and minister of Communication & Information Technology, said that he had not seen the latest report, released a day earlier, but added that his Ministry was unhappy with the manner similar reports had been compiled in earlier years.

“We absolutely do not agree with these rankings. They are based solely on individual subscriptions,” he said.

Public infrastructure schemes, such as Schoolnet, Woredanet and Agrinet, are not taken into account, he said, but these are covering almost the entire country and have increased access to ICT. Those three programmes aim to increase nationwide connectivity through broadband connections for the delivery of video-based distance and standardised education, enhancing local administration and for health workers to access information services relevant to health care, respectively.

ITU, however, has recognised growth in internet coverage. It announced during its presentation that Ethiopia ranks second in Africa, next to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in this respect, registering a 36.6pc increase in coverage, compared to 41.6pc by the latter.  The minister added that he expressed his objections to the ITU over last year’s ranking.

In spite of that increase, much is still to be done. In 2012, the internet penetration rate in Ethiopia was a mere 1.1pc, or 960,331 users. Neighbouring Kenya, however, reached a 41pc penetration rate, with 16.2 million users.

Most of the low level ranks are held by African countries, although ITU claimed at the event that African countries were making immense progress. Even Kenya, whose ICT sector has received positive publicity in recent years, is only ranked 116, and the bottom 22 countries are all African. Only three out of the bottom 30 are non-African.

“A lot of African countries’ ICT sector officials complain that they are not getting sufficient budget for ICT projects,” said Andrew Rugege, the ITU’s regional director for Africa. “Private investors in the sector must be encouraged and this can help to prompt the African countries’ status into a better position.”

Ethiopia should open up to private operators in the sector, he said, because these bring benefits, such as money, knowledge and job opportunities.

Between 2008 and 2012, fixed broadband prices dropped by 82pc worldwide, according to the report. The biggest drop was registered in developing countries and, due to this increased affordability, 250 million people worldwide came online during 2012.

In developing countries, mobile broadband internet is now more affordable than the fixed alternative, but still costly compared to developed nations. According to the report, it costs 23.70 dollars to get fixed broadband internet in Ethiopia, or 71pc of the country’s GNI per capita. In comparison, it costs 1.8pc of GNI per capita, or 16.3 dollars, in The Seychelles – the highest ranked country in Africa.

Despite Ethiopia’s low rankings, Rugege hailed the country’s ICT moves as ‘progressive’, although he declined to elaborate on this statement.

South Korea took the top spot in terms of IDI for the third year running, followed by Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland. For the African region, Seychelles at 64, Mauritius at 72, South Africa at 84, Egypt at 86 and Cape Verde at 96, held the top five ranks.

The ITU gathered the data for the 2013 report in late 2012, which has been its practice over the past five years.



By YOSEPH MEKONNEN
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER

Published on November 10, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 706]


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