Let the people speak: Using evidence from the global south to reshape our digital future

21 Dec 2017 10:45h - 12:15h

Event report

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The session was arranged to discuss the outcome of the “ICT access and use survey”, undertaken in 2017 across 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that brings to the forum some available evidence on the status and determinants of digital penetration and its application. Mr Matthew Smith, onsite moderator of the session, provided the background to the session and mentioned that the session further aims to explore some of the arising governance and policy implications of the findings of the survey and find out if any progress is to be made towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and to developing measurements to assess that progress.

Ms Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa (RIA), presenting the outcome of the survey mentioned that the data from this survey is collated from studies done across the global south, 16 countries in total. Highlighting the uniqueness of this survey she mentioned that “These regions have been doing surveys for over a decade but this is the first time we have used the same instrument to do nationally representative surveys.  These are important because in our prepaid mobile markets there’s no way to get the number of people connected, who they are and what they use them for.” She further elaborated that the data from the survey is focused on the after access of services, moving beyond the simple connectivity issue, looking at the day-to-day challenges of the telecommunication environment, duplicate SIM cards, the voice and text surface. To summarize, she mentioned they are “Looking at the effectiveness and inequality that effect the use of the Internet, once one is connected or prevent one from being connected” and stated that the survey “has a 95% confidence measure along with being Nationally representative”.

Ms Scarlett Fondeur-Gil, who works in the Science and Technology Branch of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in her opening remarks, mentioned that her organisation is going to present progress on information and communication technology (ICT) statistics in the next UN statistical commission in 2018.  She emphasised the shortcoming in the current approach by mentioning that the global indicators framework for sustainable development goals (SDGs) has 232 indicators but only seven ICT indicators are included, even though ICTs are recognised as a development enabler. She further highlighted the importance of using the survey information to gauge the different levels of development, that are both social and economic. She updated the audience that a partnership was established in June 2017 with a task group on ICT for SDGs which will aim to propose a thematic list of indicators that countries could use to measure ICT availability and news in sectors that are relevant to the SDGs and not covered in the current SDG indicators framework. These might include indicators on skills, e-commerce, financial inclusion etc.

Ms Helani Galpaya, CEO, LIRNEasia, was requested to respond to a question from the audience asking if Internet penetration is an awareness issue and if there is a misalignment of the incentives offered to the telecom and Internet service provider for increasing this penetration. She acknowledged the issue and mentioned the strategy of the service provider as “Up sell, sell more services to the urban people that you’ve been selling to, and then get the new consumers.  Clearly, this is in the strategy of mobile operators.”. Commenting on why more people are not coming online and converting to be active users, she mentioned that people are not getting online as they are afraid of the content being offered to their kids. As a result, owing to the demand she mentioned, in her home country, Sri Lanka, the dongle sold for internet browsing comes preloaded with content blocking software.

By Mohit Saraswat