The African continent must focus on skills and relevant content in order to increase internet penetration, says Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele.

Speaking at the National Internet Governance Forum, in Johannesburg, the Minister said that it is estimated that by the end of 2016, 3.5 billion people will be online as compared to 2.7 billion in 2013.

However, the bulk of those who are offline are in developing countries including those on the African continent.

“As a continent, we can make a business case for investment in the ICT infrastructure if we pool our efforts through regional/continental integration. In order to increase internet penetration we must also focus on skills, relevant content, affordable devices and measures to improve trust in the use of the Internet,” he said on Thursday.

The Minister cited the Broadband Commission 2016 report that showed a disturbing trend of growing gender divide gap from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016.

The gap is bigger in developing countries.

“We must put measures to reduce this gap. We cannot be passive participants in this digital age and allow the internet to discriminate against women.”

The debate, he said, has to be about developing a position that ensures that the internet is used to contribute to the creation of an inclusive society.

“These positions also need to take into account the need to ensure that the internet is universally accessible to all South Africans. The internet has to play its role as a powerful public resource that can be used for socio-economic development.”

Cwele told the forum that government acknowledges the importance of the internet and has set aside funds for the initial rollout of broadband.

He added that government believes that the internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic with equal participation by all government.

“Internet governance is not just a political matter but it is rather an economic matter. If these issues of governance are not resolved, we will continue being disadvantaged.”

Internet and human rights

The Minister also spoke of the issue of the internet and human rights, saying the role of the internet in redefining the concept of freedom of expression cannot be ignored.

While South Africa supports human rights, these rights are not absolute.

“There needs to be a balance that is sought to ensure that the dignity of individuals is not infringed upon.”

On open data, the Minister said this was an area of the internet that can lead to the creation of new industries that can contribute to job creation as South Africa has a highly developed infrastructure which can be used to establish big data related industries.

“If we collaborate as government and the private sector, this country can be positioned to be the data hub in the continent.”

Trust in internet economy

There is also a need to build trust in the internet economy, he noted.

“Citizens have to trust that they are transacting with authentic people or institutions and that the information they share online is protected. It is only when citizens increasingly trust the internet that we can derive the full benefits brought by the internet and our government can improve service delivery.”

He added that government is taking decisive action to combat cybersecurity, in partnership with the private sector and other social partners.

Meanwhile, the Minister also launched the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Internet Exchange Point supported by the African Union.

“Consumers will benefit because the regional internet exchange means that citizens will have better user experiences. It should lead to faster downloading times because the information will be circulating within the region.

This should ultimately contribute in lowering the cost of connecting to the internet.”


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