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2019

During Africa Tech Week held in 4-5 March 2019, the UK and South Africa announced they will collaborate to lead the Commonwealth Digital Connectivity Agenda that aims to promote prosperity through digital trade. The agenda advocates inclusive growth and sustainable development in the Commonwealth through exchanging best practices and views on digital connectivity. By allowing members to potentialise digitisation, member states will collaborate to develop national digital economies through improving information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities, regulatory frameworks, digital infrastructure, identifying disruptive effects of digital trade, and the participation of women in the digital economy. ‘As Commonwealth countries prepare to embrace the opportunities this offers, and to ensure that the smaller and more vulnerable are not left behind, collaboration and innovation are of supreme importance,’ said Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland. This was further reinforced by South African Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Rob Davies, who noted that ‘[a]ppropriate policies and measures need to be taken to ensure that developing countries benefit from the advantages of technological progress and do not suffer from lack of its early adoption’.

The United Nations Science Policy Business Forum working group on Big Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence published a discussion paper on ‘The Case for a Digital Ecosystem for the Environment: Bringing together data, algorithms and insights for sustainable development’ in during the 4th meeting of the UN Environmental Assembly. The paper notes that the global digital ecosystem for the environment is quintessential to achieve sustainable development seeing the importance of frontier technologies and integrated data for environmental sustainability. Yet, this requires collaboration between citizens, governments, business as well as intergovernmental organisations to collect and share data, process data, and create analytical insights and information. While citizens can collect and use data, governments should create a culture of data use and data governance for the national data ecosystems. Additionally, the private sector should share data, algorithms, and expertise. A global digital ecosystem that hinges on innovative partnership among different stakeholders could be buttressed by the UN. This could, in turn, put forward environment-related data and enhance policy intervention. The paper further tackles the components of a digital ecosystem for the environment, the potential benefits, risks, and governance challenges as well as the entry points and opportunities for engagement.

The UK Office for National Statistics published a report exploring the digital divide in the UK, examining the scale of digital exclusion and the impediments to digital inclusion. According to the report, Internet non-users in the UK are mostly adults over 65, disabled adults, and employees on long term sickness or disability leave. As for the main barriers to inclusion in households, 64% stated they did not need Internet, 20% did not have the skills to use it, and 2% had physical or senior disabilities. However, the percentage of Internet non-users has dropped since 2012 which narrowed the gap in regional Internet usage. While London remains the region with the lowest portion of Internet non-users (7%), Northern Ireland has the highest proportion (14.2%), followed by North-east England (12.1%). Additionally, the study notes that the Internet is increasingly used to interact with public authorities and services; particularly in obtaining information from websites, submitting and downloading official forms.

Huawei announced its digital inclusion initiative, Tech4ALL at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019. During his speech at the ministerial program of the MWC, Deputy Chairman of Huawei, Ken H, underscored how digital inclusion should be more comprehensive. ‘While much of the telecommunications industry is focused on next generation technology like 5G and AI,’ Hu said, ‘we can't forget that there are still many people excluded from the digital world. There are still more than 3.8 billion people who are offline, and one billion people without mobile broadband coverage.’ To this aim, Tech4ALL is crafted to tackle digital inclusion for individuals and organisations equally through addressing: (a) connectivity: providing remote areas and extreme climates to access digital resources, (b) applications: providing an easy-to-use development platform, thriving in the ecosystem, and generating applications, and (c) skills: improving the digital capabilities of organisations, local communities, and national digital economies. Huawei further acknowledged that digital inclusion necessitates collaboration between governments, industry organisations, and enterprises to provide the required technology that meets the needs of local communities as well as different groups and organisations.

Through Facebook Connectivity, Facebook is launching several initiatives in partnership with global operators, equipment manufacturers among other partners to provide high-quality Internet connectivity to more people. The initiatives aim at giving more people a voice, strengthening communities, and creating new economic opportunities. They include: (a) new partnerships and technologies to extend rural connectivity in Peru and Mexico, (b) open source technology to enable new operator business models – Magma in Latin America, (c) new investments in fiber connectivity in Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda (d) Express wi-fi  platform to provide people with fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet, and (e) high-speed connectivity to urban and suburban communities through growing the millimeter-wave gigabit wireless ecosystem with Terragraph in Malaysia, Brazil, California, and Greece. Through these initiatives, Facebook endeavors to address some of the global Internet connectivity challenges of accessibility, affordability, and relevance through a multi-faceted approach.

Facebook published its flagship Inclusive Internet Index 2019 report which benchmarks Internet inclusion across four categories: availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness. The 2019 report covers 100 countries which represent 94% of the world’s population and 96% of the global GDP. It indicates that some digital divides were narrowed thanks to improvement in access, affordability, and quality of coverage. Women and people with disabilities were also included in low-income and lower-middle-income countries driving progress. Yet, compared to last year, digital divides manifested due to poor progress in Internet access and network coverage improvements. The downturn in affordability of mobile data and devices has also adversely impacted people in low-income countries and women who depend on mobile devices as their primary means of accessing the Internet. Additionally, the report shed light on challenges vis-à-vis online privacy and decline in trust in government information in Europe and North America which could hinder the growth of the digital economy. The top countries in the Inclusive Internet Index 2019 by income were Sweden followed by Singapore and the USA.

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