African universities need access to communication and information technologies to compete internationally. But they are constrained by the speed at which data can travel to their computers — a measure known as bandwidth.
In this article, Steve Song of the Canadian International Development Research Centre argues that wider, cheaper bandwidth could transform the way these universities function. Several initiatives provide African academics with free access to scientific articles to boost their research and development capabilities, but making use of these initiatives requires fast Internet access.
Increasingly, electronic communication is at the core of international collaboration. With limited access to activities such as videoconferencing or online peer review, African researchers are in danger of being left behind, says Song.
To improve the situation, he says, the high cost of obtaining bandwidth must be reduced. Telecom policy reform would lower prices, he adds, and could ensure that African universities are offered a preferential rate.
Finally, he says, universities could negotiate better prices for bandwidth by forming a collective — as is starting to happen in Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.