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Africa-Europe Alliance: EU boosts pan-African Internet connectivity with €30 million

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EU has announced additional €30 million for the project “AfricaConnect”, that will provide affordable, high-capacity Internet for research and education networks across Africa.

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, said: “Affordable high-speed broadband connectivity enables African youth, students, and researchers to boost collaborative scientific research with their peers around the world to help them tackle challenges in Africa. This is an important step towards tackling the digital divide.”

Improved Internet connectivity will not only facilitate African participation in world-class research projects, but also enable education, training and research institutions to develop and use applications to improve their teaching and learning environments, such as virtual classes or massive open online courses.

This additional €30 million contribution from the EU budget will provide support to the three African Regional Research and Education Networks, which will also contribute €7.5 million:

  • UbuntuNet Alliance (Eastern and Southern Africa),
  • WACREN (Western and Central Africa) and
  • ASREN (Northern Africa and Middle East Arab countries) as well as
  • GÉANT, Europe’s leading collaboration on e-infrastructure and services for research and education and operator of the GÉANT pan-European Research and Education Network.

The new contracts signed today will support the third phase of the project. Since its launch in 2014, more than 800 higher education and research institutions have been connected, their high-speed capacity has been significantly increased, while costs have been lowered.

  • In Zambia the National Research and Education Network (ZAMREN) multiplied their Internet capacity by 60 times, while costs dropped by 94% over a 4-year period.
  • In Nigeria, the project helped students to improve campus security at the University of Lagos. By building a mock surveillance system for the detection of intruders, in the form of a moving robot, the project demonstrated a cost-effective way to deploy monitoring on Nigerian campuses. This has inspired other universities to improve campus security nationwide.
  • In Uganda, the project helped students to enhance their university services by facilitating affordable online access. Frustrated with long waiting lines and complex bureaucracy, a group of software development and data management students developed an application that optimised administrative processes and enhanced their learning experience.
  • In Egypt, AfricaConnect joined forces with the scientific community to issue early warnings about natural disasters. The impact of dust storms, which can cause injury through falling debris or trigger asthma attacks, is being mitigated through monitoring and timely alerts. Reliable Internet connectivity provided by this project has helped to access, download and transfer data from satellite sensors and meteorological stations.

Background

Home to the youngest population in the world, Africa is progressing rapidly in digital adoption. Over the past ten years, Africa has recorded the highest growth globally in Internet access, moving from 2.1% in 2005 to 24.4% in 2018. The digital economy in Africa provides not only opportunities for increased job creation and data, but also the basis for accelerating access to quality basic services, improving transparency and accountability of governments, and enhancing democracy.

Research and innovation environments can support the development of skills and improve the employability of young people. eEducation and eLearning can support the establishment of collective digital educational resources, and virtual reality can increase access to quality vocational education and training for young people in remote areas. Given their strong potential as enablers of “knowledge-based” societies, digital technologies are key to accelerating progress in the education and research sector.

AfricaConnect3 builds advanced Internet networks for research and education across the entire African continent. It involves regional networking organisations, facilitators of cross-border exchanges of data and collaboration, from three geographical areas: ASREN in North Africa; WACREN in West and Central Africa; UbuntuNet Alliance in Eastern and Southern Africa. By collaborating with the pan-European GÉANT network, it strengthens Europe’s links with the African continent and provides African research and education communities with opportunities for global collaboration.

The projects announced above are funded by the Pan-African Programme Annual Action Programme 2018.

They contribute to education, skills and digitalisation – key priorities under the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs. The European Union-African Union Digital Economy Task Force, set up under the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, recommends mainstreaming digital skills and responsible online behavior and the promotion of digital skills in schools, by reviewing education curricula in accordance with the evolving needs and trends in the digital economy and society.

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Ensuring a More Inclusive Future for Indonesia through Digital Technologies

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While Indonesia has one of the fastest growing digital economies in South East Asia, action is needed to ensure that all Indonesians, especially the most vulnerable, can access various digital technologies and services and realize the benefits, according to a new World Bank report Beyond Unicorns: Harnessing Digital Technologies for Inclusion in Indonesia.

Although the accelerated adoption of internet-enabled services during the pandemic is likely to boost the growth of the digital economy, the benefits of such development could be unequal.

“There are a whole host of opportunities to use digital technologies for promoting better healthcare delivery, and improving access among the underserved but these need to be built on a base of reliable and interoperable data systems,” said Minister of Health of the Republic of Indonesia, Budi Gunadi Sadikin. “The pandemic has generated an unprecedented urgency to make this a reality and has also created a momentum to expedite adoption of digital technologies.

For Indonesia to leverage digital technologies for greater inclusion, the new report emphasizes three policy priorities. The first is to boost digital connectivity and universalize access to high quality internet through efforts such as improving clarity of regulations around the sharing of telecom infrastructure. The second priority is to ensure that the digital economy works for all. This can be supported by better logistics and greater investment in relevant skills for the digital era. The third priority is using digital technologies to provide better public services, improve the quality of citizen-and-state interactions, and build trust in the digital world.

Despite the progress in expanding internet over the past decade, the basic connectivity gap remains a major hurdle in Indonesia. Almost half of the adult population is still without access while the urban-rural connectivity divide has not narrowed. In 2019, 62 percent of Indonesian adults in urban areas were connected to the internet compared to 36 percent in rural areas, while it was 20 percent and 6 percent respectively in 2011. Indonesians in the top 10 percent of the income distribution were five times more likely to be connected than those in the bottom 10 percent.

“Addressing the digital divide goes beyond efforts to reduce the connectivity gap,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.“It will be crucial to help citizens develop the skills to maximize digital opportunities, especially for better jobs. At the same time, it is equally important for the government to address the challenges related to regulations and business environment to enable firms to innovate and compete effectively.”

The proportion of Indonesian adults with access to the internet has increased from 13 percent in 2011 to 51 percent in 2019. Indonesians who are connected to the internet are among the most engaged populations in the world spending as many as six hours a day online. In addition, a large segment of this population is ready to intensify their digital interactions with the government. However, fragmentation of data and an untapped potential of building a comprehensive digital ID framework off the existing ID system are some of the key challenges holding back the government from a broader digital transformation.

Digitally engaged Indonesians are now experiencing how technologies reshape their lives and commercial activities contributing to better consumer experience. However, the opportunities are often limited to a particular demographic group with relatively higher level of skills. Digital gig work is more remunerative than other forms of informal work but is concentrated among urban male workers predominantly in the transportation, storage, and communications sector.

The report recommends the development of a national digital ID framework to enable Indonesians to prove their identity securely online, including a law on personal data protection that is backed by an independent oversight body. It calls for a reorientation from a narrow focus on e-government to a more comprehensive national digital transformation agenda.

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WEF Launches Coalition to Tackle Harmful Online Content

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The World Economic Forum announced today that it is launching a Global Coalition for Digital Safety which will accelerate public-private cooperation to tackle harmful content online. It will serve to exchange best practices for new online safety regulation, take coordinated action to reduce the risk of online harms, and drive collaboration on programmes to enhance digital media literacy. The full list of members can be found here.

With the growing challenge of health misinformation, violent extremist and terrorist content, and the exploitation and abuse of children online, there is an urgent need for more deliberate global coordination to improve digital safety.

“The Forum recognizes this problem is only growing in size and complexity. This Coalition serves to bring together leaders in the public and private sector to cooperate globally on solutions that will ultimately reduce the consumption and distribution of material that is causing harm – especially to vulnerable members of our population,” said Cathy Li, Head of Media, Entertainment, and Sport Industries at the Forum.

Coalition members highlighted the need to act more proactively when it comes to digital safety and the importance of further cooperation:

“All the processes of the modern world are connected to the internet and information technologies. But at the same time, when we speak about high-tech processes, ‘digitalization’, we always know about the main goal – to create a safe online environment for our citizens. Therefore, the global initiative to create purposeful cooperation between states, organizations and businesses is extremely relevant.”

H.E. Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, Ukraine

“In order to improve digital safety, it is imperative that we accelerate public-private cooperation. This is an area that the World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Digital Safety, as an impartial platform, can look into.”

H.E. Johnny G. Plate,Minister of Communications and Informatics, Indonesia

“The significance of national and international collaboration, multistakeholder engagement and investment in holistic solutions to address the proliferation of global online harms has never been more important. I am so pleased to be part of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Content Safety initiative and to have an opportunity to raise awareness about eSafety’s multifaceted approach to helping our citizens have safer, more positive experiences online. Securing harmonization across jurisdictions to avoid a patchwork and fragmentation of online safety legislation, governance arrangements and national online safety measures should be a priority for us all.”

Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner, Australia

“Global online safety is a collective goal that must be addressed by working across borders as well as by individual nations. We look forward to collaborating with international Coalition members to reduce the risk of online harms and build a safer life online for everyone.”

Dame Melanie Dawes, Chief Executive, Ofcom, UK

“We believe that everyone should be free to share without harassment or abuse.”

Chris Priebe, Executive Chairman, Two Hat Security

“Technology offers tools to learn, play, connect, and contribute to solving some of the world’s greatest challenges. But digital safety harms remain a threat to these possibilities. As the World Economic Forum is uniquely positioned to accelerate the public-private collaboration needed to advance digital safety globally, Microsoft is eager to participate and help build whole-of-society solutions to this whole-of-society problem.”

Courtney Gregoire, Chief Digital Safety Officer, Microsoft

A framework proposed in the new report, Advancing Digital Safety, will serve to better protect users online. It is centred on industry standards, which establish a safety baseline, together with regulation to govern enforcement. Coalition members are committed to charting a course that will resolve key tensions in privacy, safety, expression, business incentives and corporate versus public responsibility to effectively minimize the risk of harms encountered online.

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How digitalization helps Moscow and its citizens

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The unified digital register, an electronic system of interdepartmental interaction, provides departments with access to more than 390 types of documents – certificates, statements and other information needed to provide city services to residents.

The system allows citizens to avoid wasting time collecting a number of documents themselves. Government employees responsible for providing services can receive and process information more quickly.

“Creation and development of the base register allowed Moscow to transfer many state services into electronic form, including services related to construction and realty spheres, where several authorities and organizations are involved. In addition, the electronic interdepartmental interaction helps the staff of “My Documents” centers to provide services to citizens and solve their problems more quickly. Almost all the necessary information is acquired electronically from each other, so that residents do not have to collect certificates and statements themselves. According to the statistics of the Moscow City Information Technologies Department, over the past 10 years, this system has saved Moscow citizens from having to submit more than 400 million documents,” said Eduard Lysenko, Minister of the Moscow City Government, Head of the Information Technologies Department.

Today, the mos.ru website gives users access to a full range of services needed by citizens in certain life situations, such as the birth of a child or purchase of a car. The first service on the mos.ru portal was the “Relocation help under the Renovation Programme” service. At the moment, it offers interactive instructions, notification service for all stages of moving and a service to call movers who will help move things to a new flat.

In the future, the city will continue to develop the mos.ru portal services so that residents will be obligated to visit authorities in person and present original documents as rarely as possible.

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