Egypt has announced plans to provide more than 60 million people in rural areas with high-speed internet as part of a nationwide effort to develop the digital economy and drive job creation.
“We want to improve internet connectivity for 60 million Egyptians living in around 4,500 villages by upgrading broadband infrastructure,” said Dr. Amr Talaat, Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, speaking at the Egypt – International Cooperation Forum (Egypt-ICF) in Cairo on Thursday.
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“We plan to invest more than US$360 million to connect one million households with fiber-optic cables that will ensure youth can access the internet and thus the knowledge, training and career opportunities offered by the digital world.”
Egypt has already invested more than $2 billion to increase average internet speed in major cities from 6.5 to 42.5 megabytes per second – a sevenfold increase in two years. The country will continue to upgrade its metropolitan internet infrastructure to level up its economy.
The forum, which aims to trigger a global conversation about how the COVID-19 pandemic can be a catalyst for renewed action to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; a 17-point action plan that targets ending poverty, protecting the planet, and improving the lives and prospects of people around the world, also addressed the digital divide in poor nations in the Middle East and Africa region.
Dr. Rania A. Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation, said: “Africa is considered the youngest continent on the planet, with around 60 percent of its population under the age of 25. There is no more urgent or important topic than youth empowerment, entrepreneurship and digital innovation. Creating a framework to support the young is vital; Africa’s future depends on it.”
In a pre-recorded message to the Egypt-ICF workshop, Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google, called on Africa to turn “digital technology into digital opportunity” by upskilling youth in order to drive GDP growth that raises living standards.
He added: “This is a time of unprecedented challenge – a pandemic, climate change and a host of other issues lie before us. But there is also opportunity.
“However, the technologies that offer the most potential will deliver little value if we do not have trained, skilled, thoughtful and creative people driving applications and new business models to take advantage of the digital infrastructure. The internet will not work well if it is not surrounded by talented people and a cooperative environment of like-minded countries.”
Examining ways to help Africa achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Frederika Meijer, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Egypt, said: “If you want balanced economic and population growth, you need to invest in women and ensure they stay in education for as long as possible. There is a huge gender divide in internet access.
“There’s also a rural-urban divide as well as a divide between the rich and the poor. We need to close these gaps and ensure everyone has equitable access to the internet. Financial institutions need to provide innovative financing solutions to young people, especially women. If we address these issues, then we can ensure a bright future for Africa.”