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OPINION: Satellite Broadband to Unlock Economic Growth in Rural Uganda

By: Farhad Khan

The African Development Bank projects that Uganda’s GDP will grow from 5.1% in 2017 to 5.8% in 2018. Among other factors, the government has highlighted the role of information communications technology (ICT) as a key enabler for this trend toward growth.

As key stakeholders in the country continue to promote the use of ICT for economic and social growth, Uganda’s internet penetration has increased in the last two years from 31% in 2015 to 53.9% in the first quarter of 2017, according to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).

In East Africa, Uganda is second only to Kenya in terms of internet penetration. While this figure is significant, a section of Uganda’s population still lacks internet access. A critical issue is that many live in rural areas that are hard to reach through traditional methods.

Satellite broadband can break through both the cost and planning barriers to these remote areas. Since it is not subject to the same physical and infrastructure limitations of cable-based systems, satellite broadband offers an alternative that is less costly to connect and requiring less complicated infrastructural planning. This could significantly improve connectivity in rural areas for individuals and businesses.

In neighboring Kenya, many unserved and under-served rural areas are already enjoying the benefits of satellite connectivity. One of the main segments to benefit is the country’s public healthcare sector. In Kiambu County, for example, satellite connectivity is delivering quicker and more effective patient care through the sharing of knowledge and resources via the internet.

Through the provision of satellite broadband connectivity and the implementation of new software, local healthcare facilities are now able to share critical information and better manage patient inquiries since medical records are now available to all connected healthcare facilities within the county. Anyone can go to the nearest facility and receive the consultation and medicine they need within a matter of minutes.

Other sectors such as education facilities continue to reap similar benefits. Today, a student is able to access vast amounts of e-learning tools with a simple click of a button. Information that is essential to learn, grow and pursue his or her ambitions is now more readily available.

In addition to enabling students and medical professionals, satellite broadband has also enabled government organisations to streamline their processes and ensure that their services reach individuals, no matter where they reside.

In South Africa, approximately one in every ten pensioners was either unaware of the value of their pensions, or was unable to access them. Hence, the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) launched an outreach project aimed at engaging with pensioners.

An always-on broadband connectivity facilitated real-time access to pension data, no matter how remote the location of the pensioner. Through collaboration between public and private organisations, 1.2 million members of GEPF and their beneficiaries were able to gain access to valuable financial services.

These are just some of the examples of how satellite connectivity is driving social and economic change. Through satellite communication, communities can now access many services, and the way they educate their children, access local and global markets for their goods and maintain good health is also changing.

Until very recently, these kinds of scenarios would have seemed far-fetched.

According to the World Bank, the GDP of developing nations rises by 1.38% for every 10% increase in broadband connectivity. With such a direct correlation between investment in broadband connectivity and the growth in economic activity, connecting rural Uganda is central to the achievement of the 5.8% growth expected in 2018.

The collaboration between governments, technology partners and businesses is key to extending the benefits of connectivity.

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