The session was moderated by Prof Francois Grey (Geneva Tsinghua Initiative, University of Geneva, Switzerland).
Mr Rossen Jeliazkov (Minister of Transport, Information Technology and Communications, Bulgaria) highlighted how older adults, the aging population has challenges regarding the increasing reliance on ICT, leading to a digital divide. He also spoke of digital divides between regions and social groups, divides of ICT opportunities and engagements. He stated that ICT opportunities and engagement have to come together. Jeliazkov also stressed the role of young generations in reducing the digital divide.
Mr Elijus Čivilis (Vice-Minister, Ministry of the Economy and Innovation, Lithuania) opined that digital divides arise due to several reasons including lack of confidence and trust. The digital divide should be demystified. He spoke about digital transformation and how the Internet has helped transform our society. Speaking on the digital divide between the private and public sector, he emphasised the key role of the government to demonstrate their own model. He shared the example of Lithuania in transforming the public sector with the Digital Lituania initiative.
Mr Stanley M. Simataa (Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Namibia) spoke on the role of regulations to accelerate the bridging of the digital divide. He mentioned that regulatory and policy frameworks should be dynamic, relying on empirical data to address the challenges of digital divides. He shared that in Namibia, the focus is to improve connectivity in rural areas, enhance digital skills and content, address the digital disparities among people including people with disabilities and special needs.
Dr Abeer Shakweer (ICT Minister’s Advisor for Social Responsibility and Services, Egypt) shared the efforts in Egypt for digital transformation. He highlighted the focus on building infrastructure to ensure access to the Internet, providing connectivity in educational institutes, working with different entities, building capacity in the community, coming up with regulations to protect citizens from digital crimes, and regulating data privacy. She also highlighted the focus of the government to empower the youth through various initiatives, encouraging start-ups for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Mr Abdi Sheikh Ahmed (General Manager, National Communications Authority, Somalia) highlighted how Somalia was working to rebuild their telecom infrastructure to provide connectivity. The focus of the government was also to make Internet affordable, increase digital literacy, and encourage user friendly devices. For bridging the digital divide, he emphasised the need for better policies, both on national and international levels. In Somalia, he shared the government is investing in schools and colleges to provide Internet access, build infrastructure for ensuring equitable access to the Internet.
Mr Alex Jones (Head of Emerging Futures and Technology, Department for International Development [DFID], UK) spoke of DFID programmes that harness digital technologies to address development challenges across sectors. He shared that the DFID was looking beyond a sector-based approach to focus on digital access as a cross-cutting enabler. He shared the four components of DFID’s work: connectivity, trust and security, analog enablers, and engagement with local ecosystems. He also highlighted that to bridging the digital divide, all stakeholders need to be brought together.
Mr Robert Pepper (Head of Global Connectivity Policy and Planning, Facebook) spoke about the Facebook commissioned inclusive Internet survey, which highlights how lowest income countries need the most support in terms of economic benefit, livelihood, jobs, and job training. He expressed concern that 25% of countries with very low income have stalled improvement on Internet connectivity which could result in their falling behind and widen the gap for these countries. He stressed the need to increase connectivity in these countries.
Prof Alison Gillwald (Executive Director, Research ICT Africa) shared that while connectivity was considered the biggest challenge along with regulatory effectiveness, capacity building, and institutional development, another concern is to understand the connectivity figures to discern the increase or decrease in digital inequality. She explained that apart from the digital divide between Internet users and non-users, there is a bigger digital gap between early adopters and new users since they do not use the Internet in the same way. For bridging the digital divide, she opined the need for effective regulation of prices, skills development, addressing the existing licensing regimes, adopting innovative approach to connect people; and better spectrum management, allowing dynamic spectrum, releasing high demand spectrum, and valuation of spectrum.
By Amrita Choudhury