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Shuttleworth urges telecoms reform

By   |  February 24, 2006

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”.


2 Responses to “Shuttleworth urges telecoms reform”

  1. Doug
    February 25th, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    Hallelujah Brother!

    I thought that the story could have done without the obligatory FOSS vs proprietory comment, which was largely irrelevant and confusing in terms of the overall message of the story, but an excellent story and message nonetheless.

    I hope that the methods that South Korea used to achieve it\’s amazing success in providing cheap bandwidth are codified, published and made compulsory reading for politicians – even the lazy ones.

    Lets urge our politicians to remember that politics is not meant to be \’for the rich elite\’, \’for the cartels\’ or \’for the ruthless and greedy\’. It is \’for the people\’.

  2. thomasp
    March 2nd, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    I think the comment about governments treating bandwidth as a national asset is one of the central issues. It almost seems that for telecomms to be affordably priced, it either needs to be 100% open to competition (S. Korean example) or 100% centrally controlled, where no-one has any profit motive (I hear BT does a good job these days).

    As \”the people\”, we should own the bandwidth, and it should be used for OUR benefit, not as a method to send dividends to foreign investors! Some may argue that the foreign investors deserve something back for their investment, bandwidth is capital expensive after all, but a lot os South Africa\’s bandwidth was paid for by my parent\’s taxes!

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