[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
The session, moderated by Ms Natalia Vicente, from the EMEA Satellite Operator’s Association (ESOA), explored the issues of the digital economy and trade.
In a question posed to Mr Torbjörn Fredriksson, chief of the ICT Policy section, Division of technology and logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Vicente sought to know what UNCTAD was doing to promote a more inclusive policy. In his response, Fredriksson pointed out that there was a significant gap in the least developed countries in terms of Internet usage, and that only one in six people was thought to be using the Internet. He added that UNCTAD was trying to address the issue by helping countries develop strategies for harnessing the digital economy and e-trade for all initiatives.
The next question posed by the moderator was ‘How can governments help in facilitating and development of digital economy?’ Mr Leong Keng Thai, deputy chief executive, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Singapore, responded by stating there was need for a robust, high quality, and high speed infrastructure. He felt that governments could have enabling policies to encourage the bringing about of technologies. Thai added that a transformation was needed, not just in the ICT industry, but also in education, healthcare, and transportation. Furthermore, he emphasised the need to help small and medium enterprises to adopt technologies, and change the way business is conducted. Thai summed up by calling for governments to develop inter-jurisdiction and proper data protection policies, capable of facilitating cross-border data flow.
Asked what he saw as one of the key enablers for the digital economy, Mr Tomas Lamanauskas, group director public policy at VEON, said that digital finance was key, without which it would be impossible to attain the digital economy.
Mr Pablo Bello, secretary general of the Asociación Interamericana de Empresas de Telecomunicación (ASIET), tackled the question of what would be an appropriate environment to bridge the digital divide. In his view, Bello said that increasing productivity of economies in transition would be fundamental to economic growth. He added that while Latin America had made steady progress over the years, there was still a lot that needed to be done. Pablo added that public policy was pivotal in helping bridge the digital divide in the region.
Mr Matthew McLarty, co-founder and CEO, Pathfinder4 outlined the current state of the digital economy in the Caribbean region. He revealed that Internet usage was between 50%-80% across the Caribbean islands, and that in order to bridge the digital divide, there was the need for human capacity to deliver premium knowledge services.
Asked whether people should be compensated monetarily for their data, and whether the World Trade Organization (WTO) was the appropriate stage to discuss free flow of data and other Internet governance issues, Mr Richard Hill, president, Association for Proper Internet Governance, said that tech companies such as Facebook and Google were literally living off the data of their users who had no bargaining power. Hill also pointed out that other Internet governance issues needed to be discussed with platforms adhering to multistakeholder principles.
Next in line to answer Vicente’s questions was Mr Sasha Iatsenia, head of product, Kiwicampus. Asked if innovations could exceed expectations and break traditional business models to democratise social mobility, and whether they should be taxed, Iatsenia responded by stating that it was vital to understand technological disruption.
He added that data was valuable, as information extracted from it could be used for products and companies. He cited companies such as Uber and Waimo, who he said are building self-driving technology, and are using the data they have captured to improve their products. In regard to whether robots should be taxed, Iatsenia said that this is a question open for debate.
When asked what the International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Sector (ITU-T) was doing for development or building of the digital economy and trade, and what were the main issues preventing use of mobile devices for financial services, Dr Yury Grin, deputy director general, Intervale, talked about the ITU-T focus group on digital financial services. Grin explained that this group was initiated some years ago by the Gates Foundation, and was supported by broadband providers and many other agencies, under the umbrella of the ITU-T. Grin added that this group was joined not only by ICT experts, but financial experts, and people who were engaged in customer protection rights. He mentioned that the work of the group has finished, and its activities have resulted in the creation of an ecosystem for digital financial services.
Regarding the main issues preventing use of mobile devices for financial services, Grin felt that the two core issues were convenience in the use of devices, and security. He added that the ITU was dealing with the issue of security, and had come up with new common recommendations approved by all member states.
Asked what he thought was the role of civil society in developing the digital economy and trade, and what were the priorities for African countries, Dr Cisse Kane, president, African Civil Society on the Information Society (ACSIS), explained that Africa was lagging behind, and African countries were not ready to develop a pan-African vision on the digital economy. Kane however added that work is currently done on designing a free trade agreement for the continent, a gesture that could be seen as a good sign for Africa.
By Bonface Witaba