The communication and information technology (ICT) sector has been one of the fastest developing industries in Egypt in recent years, but continues to face systemic challenges.
The industry has been bolstered by government support, growing interest in mobile internet, the introduction of 3G services and booming interest in internet use following the social media-catalyzed January 25th 2011 revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
One of the most serious limitations to growth is substandard infrastructure outside of major urban areas, which has created geographical gaps in internet access.
The government hopes to address this issue and use ICT as a developmental tool through the e-Misr National Broadband plan, which was announced by the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) in November of 2011.
As Egypt looks to develop its economy and improve governance in the aftermath of the revolution, ICT will be an essential tool. The industry also has vested interests in many of the concerned issues, such as education, literacy levels, efficient governance and a democratic system that promotes the free flow of information.
“There is a momentum now in the country thinking that ICT is not just making a phone call or sending an SMS or checking your email or playing on Facebook,” says Khaled Rabie, Vice President of Public & Economic Affairs at Ericsson Egypt & North East Africa and member of the ICT Industry Committee, a consultative body operating under the NTRA. “That’s only part of it. The bigger part goes to the whole country’s development, and much statistical information says that on average globally a 10% increase in broadband penetration earns 1% growth in GDP.”
The government has made the plan’s development an inclusive process, says Rabie. Drafting and implementation of the e-Misr plan includes all telecom operators, and an array of leading information technology companies and hardware suppliers.
“A feedback mechanism will provide a living spirit to that plan, making it possible to be executed, and they provided the targeted outcomes through steps, medium term 2013 and long term 2021,” he explains.
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Industry participants say they hope to move from the initial strategic planning to specific geographical, economic and financial plans by the end of Q2/2012.
The initiative is hoped to increase job opportunities, stimulate economic growth, improve the role of IT in governance and close the digital divide within Egypt.
The initiative, to be effectively completed by 2021, will focus on increasing the geographical coverage of broadband infrastructure and to create the broadband subscriber base required to lead to a sustainable growth cycle. The subscriber base in Egypt is currently less than 2% of the population. The e-Misr initiative aims to increase this to 40%.
The initiative will provide citizens in rural and non-economically viable areas with means to access broadband services.
According to the e-Misr launch report, the plan is expected to result in the creation of an average of 11,000 jobs a year for the next four years. The figure includes indirect job creation.
The investments related to the e-Misr initiative are expected to reach about EGP 14.4 billion in 2015, including both private investment and government subsidization, according to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.
Industry analysts and participants say the plan’s success will require many elements to come together: political willingness, active private sector participation and legislation facilitating the acquisition of licenses and permits.
It will also be a test for governance in post-revolution Egypt, requiring all stakeholders to work together to achieve a common vision.
“The initial planning phase, putting a strategy and consulting with all stakeholders was a job well done,” says Rabie. “The implementation phase shall be all stakeholders’ responsibility.”