Construction of an institutional digital infrastructure

9 Dec 2021 08:30h - 10:00h

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Mr Charlie Martial Ngounou initiated the session, addressing infrastructure issues affecting internet access on the African continent, especially among marginalised groups. Mr Peter Koch (DCCTOV and the German ISOC) echoed the call for meaningful access across nations. Ngounou mentioned many issues not directly related to internet governance or internet infrastructure; for example, access to consistent electricity and poverty, which prevent persons from engaging in internet usage. Ms Joanna Kulesza asked for stakeholders to bear in mind the challenges for basic access to power before looking at increased internet speeds.

Mr Gbenga Sesan added that across the African region, lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 deepened the digital divide. Some schools and students were able to utilise an online format, and some businesses offered remote work. However, many children could not keep learning and many adults could not work. Frequently, where internet access may have been available, no power was available.

Sesan presented one positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely, that it forced the prioritisation of digital infrastructure in countries that had previously been reluctant to advance the digital agenda. This allowed countries to expand beyond the limitation of physical schools or offices. A call was also made for resources for universal services phones and for support of community networks. Koch agreed that a new baseline for access beyond just Facebook and Twitter had been created due to COVID-19, due to the necessity for video conferencing platforms like Zoom to be available for students. Mr Rodrigue Saoungoumi Sourpele (Cameroon Network Operators Group) reviewed some of the technical work and infrastructure development done to increase capacity in 2020 to support e-learning during lock downs.

Mr Eric Sindeu expanded the discussion on critical infrastructure to include undersea cables. He advocated that every country should invest in having access to undersea cables. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the close link between access and economic growth, and he claimed that it is imperative to have sufficient infrastructure in place across countries to provide enough access. Mr Michel Tchonang Linze (CAPDA) shared some of the developments in the Cameroon Internet Exchange Point. In speaking about the investment in infrastructure, Kulesza highlighted some of the challenges with state funding and Koch suggested alternative business models, like cooperatives, to manage investment.

Related to education, Sindeu advocated a move away from traditional education towards developing digital skills for youth. Along with this emphasis, increased cybersecurity and data protection policies are needed. Koch pointed out that sometimes cybersecurity and privacy regulation can be used as a barrier or excuse for not implementing things because of data protection requirements. Kulesza compared the difference in approaches to data governance and privacy and other implementations where data may be viewed as a commodity.

By Andre Edwards

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