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The strong growth of Internet in Africa raises new issues for the regulation of telecommunications

Over the past ten years, internet use in Africa has experienced a growth of 2000%, far beyond the global average of 480%. For the regulators of the telecommunications sector, it is in many respects an improvement, which however raises new issues in terms of regulation, due to the development of next-generation networks and the increasing presence of Internet content and services providers on African markets.

To what extent will the rapid penetration of Internet in Africa benefit local operators, who have invested a lot in the infrastructures, thus making such a penetration possible? How can one ensure that the new revenue will be shared more equitably? How can it be audited? Which portion of this revenue will the State collect taxes on? How can the consumers be protected more effectively against all types of Internet-related fraud? How can local operators be helped to prevent losses of international traffic brought about by illegal operators who use Internet to terminate calls illegally on their territory? These questions are already relevant for African regulators.

According to Sarah Sheffer, author of the article « Africa’s Internet Use Sees 2000% Growth », this fast growth of Internet in Africa has its origin in the developments that have taken place in the IT domain over the past few years. “The significant growth represents the increased capacity of IT infrastructure on the continent in the last few years, including improved fiber-optic connectivity, and increased accessibility to computers and mobile phones”, she writes.

However, ICT leader Birgitta Cederstrom points out that internet penetration in Africa is still lower than in developed countries and that it did not benefit all African countries equally, with the most growth occurring in South Africa, Ghana and Egypt.

Nevertheless, she anticipates that recent technological advances, such as undersea optic fiber cables, the terrestrial fiber roll-out and the satellite influx across Africa will cause internet penetration to experience its own substantial growth on the continent over the next two to three years.

Other similar increases are expected within the same timeframe concerning the use of data services, which is set to increase by 60% in the more mature markets, as well as connectivity in West Africa. Only the price of data services has been anticipated to decrease.

The future indeed looks bright for internet use in Africa. And African regulators, once again, will play a key role in ensuring that this future be bright for the citizens, the governments and the actors of the local telecommunications industry alike.