Efforts to improve telecommunications (Monday, April 12, 2010 pg 55)

Ghana is to host two major international Information Communication Technology (ICT) conferences this year.

They are aimed at improving ICT infrastructure in the rural areas in addition to the management of the country’s telephony number planning and number convergence.

The two conferences — the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Workshop on Numbering Planning and Convergence of Numbering scheduled for April 28-30, and the Fifth Annual Connecting Rural Communities Forum scheduled for August 17-19, this year — are under the auspices of the ITU, the Ministry of Communication and the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organisation.

A telephone numbering plan is a type of numbering scheme that makes use of a country code, national destination code and a subscriber number to allocate and route telephone numbers in a telephone network, while numbering convergence allows users to have one number that could ring in multiple locations and on multiple devices. It could also consolidate voicemail boxes and preserve the privacy of personal cell numbers.

The three-day (ITU) Workshop on Numbering Planning and Convergence of Numbering will look at issues, including policy and regulatory framework, management of numbering plan, number portability, Internet Protocol(IP) and misuse of numbering, naming and addressing.

The Fifth Annual Connecting Rural Communities Forum on the other hand would discuss avenues for bridging the rural-urban technological divide.

Participants in the two conferences would be drawn from the ITU, West Africa Telecommunication Regulators Assembly, National Regulatory Authorities in West Africa, Telecom Operators, Internet Society, the United Nations Development Programme, members of the CTO and Civil Society.

Speaking at the launch of the two conferences in Accra, the Deputy Minister of Communication, Mr Gideon K.B. Quarcoo, said telecommunication numbering was a scarce resource that must be managed carefully by every country.

Mr Quarcoo, who launched the conference on behalf of the Communication Minister, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, said a properly managed numbering system created business opportunities, adding that “the ministry has included numbering as part of Ghana’s Universal Access/Service Policy which is being implemented by the National Communication Authority”.

According to the ITU Information Society Statistical Profile on Africa in 2009, in spite of the rapid growth in ICT on the continent, Africa’s ICT penetration levels in 2009 still remained far behind the rest of the world as very few African countries reached ICT levels comparable to global averages.

Less than five per cent of Africans use the Internet, and fixed and mobile broadband penetration levels are negligible.

The report said African countries were facing a number of challenges in increasing ICT levels, which include the lack of full liberalisation of markets and the limited availability of infrastructure, such as shortage of international Internet bandwidth. In addition, prices for ICT services remain very high compared to income levels and broadband Internet services are out of the reach of most people on the continent.

Mr Quarcoo observed that “numbers have an important role in telecommunications and the importance of numbering as a regulatory instrument has increased significantly, with fair and transparent access to numbers being an essential part of ensuring a competitive telecommunication market”.

He noted that that the workshop was part of the implementation of the Doha Action plan adopted at the world Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in 2006.
Mr Quarcoo implored the NCA to introduce innovative schemes that would allow individuals to procure numbers to use for other services and share in the revenue derived from such ventures.

The Chief Executive Officer of the CTO, Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, for his part said allowing rural dwellers to be partners in the ICT infrastructure would go a long way towards sustaining such infrastructure in the rural setting.

He noted that one way to provide incentive for telecom operators to invest in the rural communities was to get the operators to commit a certain percentage of their profit to ICT infrastructure development in those areas.

He observed that the forum to be held in Ghana would provide the platform for Ghana to learn from the experiences of other African countries in their effort at bridging the ICT gap between the rural and urban areas of the country.

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