When connectivity is not enough: driving meaningful digital inclusion

Digital World 2017 Daily Highlights 4

Deploying broadband in rural areas and developing countries to bring the internet and all its benefits to the next billion is not, by itself, enough. There needs to be more than a business plan, more than just technology; there has to be awareness, demand and content.

Satya N. Gupta, Country Managing Director of Bluetown, summed up the most important key criteria for establishing meaningful connectivity in rural areas in his patent 5 “Ls”:  low cost technology; low power for areas that are generally off-grid; low maintenance systems where digital skills on the ground are limited; local control to ensure better quality of service; and local cloud, so that users can enjoy relevant content and government services without having to make use of expensive international connectivity.

Without a viable business case to invest in infrastructure roll out, telcos don’t generally reach the villages, he continued – and government USO funding is not enough. The solution may be a third party independent infrastructure provider working in partnership with many service providers for the last mile: “With that, you are bridging the missing link between no government and no telco motivation.”

Commenting on the apparent mismatch between national broadband plans or digital agendas, and what is actually happening in rural areas, moderator Antonio Garcia Zaballos, Lead Specialist Telecommunications, Inter-American Development Bank, said: “We need to define and implement policies to encourage investment and provide final users with interest to make the most of the opportunities.”

Wireless may well be the best approach to bridging the digital divide, suggested Veni Shone, President of TDD Product Line, Huawei, especially given the technological advances enabling a low cost, high quality wireless to the home solution. The other side of the coin, of course, is demand, as even those with connectivity might not access the internet “because of a lack of content, or content in a different language. Local content can accelerate deployment and usage of broadband structures.”

No one underestimates the importance of connectivity, agreed

Atef Helmy, Senior Advisor to the Board, Orange Middle East and Africa, Egypt.  “But it is not the act of connection or number of connections that creates value; it is the outcome of those connections that make it possible to achieve a digital society.”

A successful business case rests, then on content and the value citizens will get out of internet usage. Issues need to be addressed at both global and national level, he continued, if we are to accelerate the creation of digital content.

Measures should include a national strategy and vision for content; enhanced protection of local content; more investment in research and development of digital content and increased incentives to speed up its creation.

An important aspect is having domain names and IP addresses in local language. ICANN, explained Akinori Maemura, Board Director, is working to formalize international domain names in many different scripts, including the thousands of African spoken languages and some 20 scripts largely ignored online to date – a major step in encouraging the creation of local content and a local app developer ecosystem.

Establishing innovation hubs and incubators to support local entrepreneurship; technology neutral incentive plans to encourage fixed and wireless roll out; and comprehensive digital literacy including programmes throughout government and formal education were amongst other measures discussed in this important session – the final panel debate at a content-rich and fascinating ITU Telecom World 2017.

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