Internet, mobile phones take off in Africa

Internet and mobile phone usage is taking off in Africa even as information technology falters in much of the rest of the world, a UN task force aiming to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor nations reported on Monday.

The number of dial-up Internet subscribers in Africa rose 20% over the past 18 months, and cell phone activations are soaring, according to the report by the UN Information and Communication Technologies Task Force.

More mobile phones were turned on over the past five years than landline connections installed over the last century, the task force said.

Internet access via corporate or shared networks is growing even faster than dial-up usage, expanding at a rate just slightly below the world average, it said. Cybercafes and other public access centres are popping up rapidly in urban areas across Africa.

However, the continent is starting from an extremely low base, the report cautioned.

While on average about one out of every two people in North America and Europe use the Internet, only about one in 250 Africans are Web surfers when more highly developed South Africa and northern Africa are excluded, it found.

The UN staff report was issued as the task force opened its third meeting at UN headquarters in search of strategies for promoting wireless telephone and Internet usage in the developing world.

Information and communication technologies are “a chance for Africa,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said as the two-day session got underway.

“It is not, of course, a magic formula that is going to solve all the problems. But it is a powerful tool for economic growth and poverty eradication, which can facilitate the integration of African countries into the global economy,” he said.

He suggested the conference concentrate on a few key programs and projects that could be tried out and then replicated if they succeed.
- Reuters

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