Shuttleworth urges telecoms reform
Ubuntu Linux founder and entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth yesterday hit out at the African telecommunications sector saying the current “cartels” as they existed are not able to deliver effective and affordable bandwidth to the continent.
Shuttleworth, who was speaking during the opening of the Idlelo2 conference in Nairobi, Kenya yesterday, listed bandwidth as the number one item on his list for an effective ICT strategy for the continent.
Shuttleworth said he had recently spent five weeks travelling through Asia studying how the different countries used technology to boost their economies and was amazed to see how South Korea had grown their economy through “ruthlessly” driving down the cost of bandwidth. “South Korea now has the cheapest broadband in the world and the result has been an explosion in innovation. I urge all [telecommunications] regulators here to go there and learn.”
The anchor point of any effective ICT strategy on the continent had to be bandwidth, he said. “Bandwidth is the lifeblood of the digital economy.”
Competition, he said, is a key component of making bandwidth more affordable but simply licensing second and third operators in a country was not sufficient. Rather, he said, countries in Africa need to make better use of their existing wired infrastructure which is a national asset.”
He urged national telecoms regulator on the continent to unbundle their national infrastructure and develop specialised strategies to deal with the international, regional, metropolitan, last mile and rural legs of the communications network.
“We have more than 15 year’s global experience in bandwidth and it is now time to move quickly on these issues,” he said.
Shuttleworth said that one of the fundamental challenges still facing Africa was the continental access through the SAT-3 — and soon the EASy — undersea cables.
“SAT-3 is an inefficient cartel … and unfortunately it appears that EASSy (East African Submarine System) is going down the same road and it will not be able to deliver efficient bandwidth.”
“I urge telecommunications regulators to develop a commercial strategy for delivering effective access to the continent,” said Shuttleworth.
Shuttleworth said the other two legs of an effective ICT strategy would be free and open source software(FOSS) and skills development.
He said that while there would always be a place for proprietary it was important for people to be aware of the alternatives. Rather than seeing the promotion of free software as a battle against proprietary software — in particular Microsoft — it was important to understand that free software just represents a new way of operating. A model in which it is not so much about the “product” as it is about the “service”.