[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
This session, moderated by Ms Crystal Rugege, high-level track facilitator from Carnegie Mellon University, Africa, staged an interactive and multistakeholder discussion on ways to bridge digital divides.
Mr Andre Müller Borges, secretary of telecommunications at the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication, explained that although a large majority of the Brazilian population lives in large cities, around 42,000 people are in remote areas and are unconnected. Borges distinguished between two programmes: one sponsored by the government to connect these communities through satellite connection, and a second allowing private companies to provide connectivity services to low-income populations in exchange for tax exemption and certain technical facilities.
Ms Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, minister of communications of Ghana, spoke about the major challenges in extending connectivity to all parts of the country. Owusu-Ekuful shed light on the cost of deployment of infrastructure and how the government partnered with telecommunication companies to deploy the service to underserved communities and encouraged telecom companies to share their infrastructure. The speaker added that the government had built a network of community information centres for unserved and underserved areas. Owusu-Ekuful concluded that they hope to ‘reach the farthest first’ and connect the entire country by 2020.
Mr Abdoulaye Balde, Senegal’s minister of communication, telecommunications, posts and digital economy, shared the ‘Digital Senegal 2025’ strategy which focuses on digital literacy for all users, and aims as supporting a dynamic and innovative private sector and a performing ecosystem. The minister emphasised that reforms have been undertaken through simplifying the provision of Internet services and granting authorisation to three Internet access providers, the implementation of a national high speed plan, and the inauguration of regional exchange points. Balde added that Senegal had collaborated with UNESCO and Swiss corporations to launch multimedia projects in underserved areas and offers free Internet access at universities, which gained Senegal a prize.
Mr Marcin Cichy, president of the Office of Electronic Communications in Poland, shared the Polish perspective on bridging information and communication technology (ICT) development gaps and also fulfilling the end user's expectations. Cichy admitted that the national coverage of broadband access is still insufficient and not in line with the European Commission goals. There is now nonetheless a special operational programme for a digital Poland with over 1 billion euros dedicated to next generation networks. Cichy also explained that in terms of 5G deployment, there is a need to cooperate with partners.
Mr Bocar A. Ba, chief executive officer at SAMENA Telecommunications Council, highlighted that there are factors that can narrow or widen the digital divide. These factors include infrastructure, political and regulatory frameworks, and society readiness. Bocar clarified that digitalisation is not only about literacy but also affordability. The panellist explained that a digital economy can be achieved through smart collaboration, regulations that incentivise investment, and setting objectives with measurable targets.
Ms Iffat Gill, founder and CEO of ChunriChoupaal, shared their innovative mentoring programme to teach women the key e-skills required to pursue a career in the ICT sector. The programme is a collaboration between women in tech communities and some non-profit groups in Amsterdam. Gill explained that access alone is not enough and that digital literacy is fundamental for finding a job. The programme also provides safe spaces to learn new skills for more economic independence.
Prof. NK Goyal, chairman and president of the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association of India (TEMA), called upon technology experts to develop plans for how to train students and teachers all over the world, and to work on curriculum costs. The panellist explained that students need technologies which are affordable first and foremost.
By Ines Hfaiedh