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WALUBENGO: Why a national broadband strategy?

Tuesday July 30 2013

By JOHN WALUBENGO, [email protected], twitter: @jwalu

Last week, Deputy President William Ruto launched the National Broadband Strategy during an event in Nairobi. 

But what exactly is a broadband strategy, why is it important and what does it entail?

The rationale can be traced back to the middle ages, where the countries that held the technology (ships) to move between continents controlled he political power and wealth of the world. 

Spain and Portugal, used the ship technology to discover and exploit the Americas to their advantage  - building what was later to be known as the Spanish Empire that spanned across the five continents.

However, after four centuries, other nations had caught up with the ship technology and it was no longer an advantage but common knowledge. Something else needed to be discovered to give nations an advantage over each other.  With the discovery of the motor-engine, the ship technology that had ushered in the exploration age, gave way to the industrial age where the British empire excelled.

The industrial age was characterised by the massive investments in railway lines, motorways and airways as the British empire leveraged on the engine power to reach deeper into the hinterlands to conquer new territories.  The end objective being to extract and plunder resources for the King and Queen of England.

However, towards the middle of the last century, the motor-engine was no longer an advantage since it had became common knowledge. Indeed, the German World War II machinery was the ultimate manifestation of the industrial age when it built and fought the ware using motorised equipment on land, in air and in the seas.

By the time the World War II was over, Europe lay devastated, broke and in dire need of help.  The US mobilised the Marshall plan to rebuilt Europe and through this process, it pushed the Industrial age to its limits while simultaneously ushering in the American empire.

Within 10 years after the second world war, Europe had risen out of the ashes and was beginning to compete with the US on equal footing. But something else was waiting to be discovered to give nations-yet again - an advantage over each other.  That something was the Internet. The US created the Internet in 1960s and moved the world into the Information Age. Since then it has continued to hold an advantage over the other nations.

However, the balance of power in terms of the Information or Knowledge economy is beginning to change. South Korea, Singapore, Hong-Kong and other Asian Tigers have already overtaken the US and most European countries as the most digitised economies.  Their governments have provided fibre and Internet Broadband connectivity to their social fabric - at home, at work and at play. Their citizens enjoy access to highest quality but still affordable broadband internet.

In layman terms, the average home in South Korea has an internet connection that is ten times bigger that what we provide to our largest universities in Kenya.  This  means a citizen in South Korea can work, learn, shop, play or access government services  without ever leaving their sitting room. In Kenya, we struggle to do any of these things-  wasting time and billions of shillings trying to get to work, school or to access government services. 

Put differently a South Korean citizen is perhaps ten times more efficient and productive than her Kenyan counterpart.  And it is not because they are smarter than us, it is simply because broadband internet makes it so much easier for them to do more with less.

In the 21st Century, the vision is therefore not about industrialisation but it should be about digitisation given that industrialisation no longer gives nations any competitive advantage. The country that lays the foundation for a digital economy will command the global wealth and eventually the political power on the international stage. 

This is what the National Broadband Strategy is all about. The challenge as usual, is whether we shall implement it or we shall let other other nations to copy-paste and implement it before us.