In the UK, we take speedy broadband internet access for granted. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of services puts even the most basic of information and communication technologies (ICTs) beyond the reach of most people. Only three years ago, 90% of the continent's communications infrastructure was limited to main cities and towns.
One remit of the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) is to alleviate poverty around the world. As part of its policy in Africa, it established a programme called Catalysing Access to ICTs in Africa (Catia), a £9m effort designed to help Africa benefit from a range of technologies, from the internet to community radio.
In June 2003, the DFID asked Atos Consulting to manage the entire Catia programme and also implement six of its nine projects. After taking a deep breath - this programme spanned 34 countries, with many languages, cultures and different technical and logistical challenges in each - Atos spent six months designing its plan of action.
The firm would facilitate a series of lively policy debates across Africa, bringing together governments, donors, regulators, companies, the media and educational institutions to shape policy in each country. Negotiations were often conducted in a volatile political context - in some countries, such as the Congo, there was huge instability.
Once a deal had been struck, Atos offered training, mentoring, research and technical support for policy-makers, educators, operators and others to make the policy happen. Because its team was 90% African, Atos staff had more credibility with local communities. In just three years, the consultancy and its African partners significantly increased the affordability, access and use of ICTs in Africa.
By growing the number of internet exchange points and ISP associations in Africa, Atos and its partners saw internet traffic grow by 78% in 2004-05 and 138% in 2005-06. After successful lobbying for market liberalisation in Kenya, internet 'backbone' prices have reduced by more than 60%. Internet costs in Ghana have fallen significantly after the negotiation of a 50% reduction in Sat-3 tariffs. The licensing for satellite terminals has become simpler and cheaper in more than 15 countries, boosting access to wireless technologies.
Consultancy: Trinity Horne
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By managing a Government programme spanning 34 African countries, Atos helped to bring internet access to local communities; web traffic leapt by 78% in '04-05 and 138% in '05-06.
- Devote time to design and planning.
- Hire local people to gain credibility and benefit from closer connections.
- Tailor communications and interventions to the needs of each country and stakeholders.
- Encourage collaboration between project teams to exchange learning.
- Co-ordinate activities to achieve efficiencies.
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