Today, December 7, 2014,the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), and Uganda in general, join the rest of the world to commemorate this year's Africa Telecommunications Day under the theme: "Interconnectivity within Africa: Towards ICT for All". This theme underscores the importance of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a tool for human development and empowerment.
ICT is a vehicle for communication and as a means of processing information. It facilitates speedy, transparent, accountable, efficient and effective interaction between the public, citizens, business and other stakeholders.
ICT, such as the World Wide Web, e-mail, telephone, fibre optics and satellite - boosted by the Internet - also enables round-the-clock usefulness, transparency and accountability, as well as networked structures of public and administration, information management and knowledge creation. In addition, it can help equip people to participate in an inclusive political process that can produce well-informed public consent, which is increasingly the basis of legitimate governments.
As the regulatory authority of the communications sector in Uganda, UCC has been at the forefront of spearheading the ICT revolution in Uganda. Suffice it to say, Uganda's communications sector is one of the fastest growing in the country and elsewhere in Africa.
To-date, the sector contributes about 7% to the national GDP. Currently, at least 85% of land area (geographical coverage) while 95% of Ugandans (population coverage) has access to telecommunications services, using a wide range of new technology. Uganda has achieved 100% GSM coverage at sub-county level – the lowest administrative unit. All sub-counties in Uganda have a point of presence of telecommunications services.
Currently there is no place in Uganda where one is more than 3km from a telecommunications signal or any communication service. The number of users of telephony services (fixed and mobile) is close to 19.5 million (out of a total population of 35 million), which is close to 53.3% tele-penetration as of June 2014.
In addition, Uganda has achieved 100% radio signal coverage with over 250 operational FM stations. Every district in Uganda has more than two (2) stations broadcasting in local languages. Internet-wise, Uganda is among the 10 leading internet markets in Africa. The number of internet users now stands at over 8.5million users representing about 30% internet penetration in Uganda.
Telecommunications firms, among other sector service providers, employ over two (2) million people, both directly and indirectly, including in the creative industry. And, we are making headway In implementing digital broadcasting in the country.
Furthermore, Uganda is among Africa's top ten internet markets. According to ITU, as of February 2014, the top ten African countries with the biggest number of internet users were Nigeria (48.4 million), Egypt (29.8 million), Morocco (16.5 million), Kenya (12 million). Others were South Africa (8.5 million), Sudan (6.5 million), Tanzania (5.6 million), Algeria (5.2 million), Uganda (4.4 million) and Tunisia (4.2 million).
Suffice to say, Internet access and usage in Uganda has been growing exponentially. In the last decade, the Commission has licensed seven major telecom operators, who provide Internet among other services. As of now, there are 8.5 million internet users in Uganda.
In addition, the establishment of the National Optic Fibre Backbone, being undertaken by NITA (U), is expected to enhance backbone connectivity to most of Uganda's borders. Operators have established Public Land Mobile Networks across most of the country using 2G technology and upgrades to 3G and 4G (LTE) are ongoing and currently mainly restricted to urban areas, specifically Kampala.
The postal sub-sector, which comprises letter post, parcel and express delivery services, has adopted ICTs in their operations. This modern postal system helps to provide logistical solutions to integrate data and information flows, physical movement of mails and financial transactions in Uganda. In addition, the sub-sector facilitates the delivery of such services as electronic commerce (e-commerce) and use of postal retail outlets as access points to the Internet via public terminals.
The country is also making headway to ensure digital broadcasting in Uganda. Through its Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF), UCC has implemented the First Phase of Digital Migration project that targets Greater Kampala.
This region comprises Kampala City and such surrounding peri-urban districts of Bombo, Entebbe, Mityana and Mukono - an areas where an estimated 70% of TV viewers in Uganda lives. Effective December 31, 2012, there will be a high presence of digital signals in this region.
The project will be rolled out to the rest of the country in the next six (6) months. During the transition (2012-2015), the two types of broadcasting (analogue and digital) shall continue to exist but come June 2015, only digital broadcasting shall continue to exist.
Hopefully, by June 17, 2015 - the international switch off date - all parts of Uganda will have access to digital broadcasting. It's UCC vision to ensure that all Ugandans have access to affordable, high-quality broadcasting – and generally communications – services. In the meantime, our national public awareness campaign is underway.
Despite the above achievements, there are still a number of challenges. These includeexpensive ICT equipment and services, lengthy policy development process, vandalisation of ICT infrastructure, ignorance of ICT benefits, cybercrime and resistance to change. However, these challenges are not insurmountable.
As we celebrate this year's ATU Day, UCC is keen to ensure that Ugandans enjoy high-quality, affordable and easily accessible ICT services to Ugandans.
Happy AFRICA TELECOMMUNICATIONS DAY 2014!