South African Government holds Road Show on ICT Strategies
The Department of Telecoms and Postal Services (DTPS) issued a draft national e-strategy, e-government and ICT SMME Support Strategy on 31 March and started a series of Road shows with a two day meeting in Johannesburg on 8-9 May.
As the DTPS says in its introduction to the Support Strategy, “The national strategy builds on the various e-government initiatives implemented by a number of [government] departments over the past 14 years. Its purpose is to guide the digital transformation of public services in SA into an inclusive digital society”. However, as the DTPS recognizes there are a number of serious barriers, including: an overall lack of appropriate IT skills; costly data; lack of access (in rural areas especially); concerns by SMMEs over doing business with large companies & government; lack of appropriate training; lack of content.
The attendees at the Road show were told that the DTPS proposed to impose a 30% SMME input requirement for any government-related ICT projects in future together with stringent BBBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) quotas. A number of the attendees however pointed out that a recent study shows that 75% of SMMEs will not do business with government or parastatals due to non-payment or long delays in projects which affected cash flow.
One of the problems raised in the DTPS Support Strategy was the cost of data for both business and the consumer. The DTPS’s controversial White Paper on ICT (not to be confused with the Support Strategy) calls for more WOANs (Wireless Open Access Networks) to be established, and for the introduction of much more competition and the capping of the percentage of broadband access owned by any one player; this is being fiercely contested by the 4 South African mobile phone operators – Vodacom, MTN, Cell-C and Telkom.
Huawei and the German T-Systems announced last month their collaboration on a pay-as-you-use service, Open Telekom Cloud (OTC) based in SA. In their publicity, OTC claims that because it is fully operated in SA no data will be exported and therefore that it is fully compliant with the Protection of Personal Information (POPIA) Act. This statement is rather misleading for two reasons, first because POPIA will apply to foreign cloud operators who process SA personal data, and, second, since some countries in Africa, all European countries as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong have even stricter privacy laws than SA, your data as a consumer may be better protected if it is in part of the cloud regulated by, for example, a European country!
In another project VAST Networks, claiming to be the first open access Wi-Fi provider, has announced plans to grow the number of Gauteng township residences it serves to 1.5 million within the next two years.
Restriction Internet Access in Africa
The Africa Network Information Centre (AFRINC), which manages and allocates much of the registration of internet addresses in Africa, intends to debate a resolution to refuse internet addresses to countries which restrict internet access. This resolution is due before the AFRINC’s annual meeting on 29 May – 2 June in Kenya.
AFRINC points out that 11 countries in Africa had restricted internet access to some extent over that last 15 months. Mostly this was for political reasons – for example, both The Gambia & Gabon shut down all internet access during the period leading up to their national elections last year. The DRC closed the opposition’s internet access in preparation for its elections. Cameroon on the other hand has suffered seemingly from technical issues which has seen much of the country without internet for long periods.
The African Union encouraged to do more on the digital economy
Mr Moussa Mahamat, who replaced Mrs Diamini Zuma as chair of the AU recently, has been called upon to look at the “on-demand” economy. Entrepreneurs that utilize technology to fulfill needs within the economy are replacing governments in Africa as the drivers of economic success.
New tech start-ups, particularly the developers of Apps, are now the leaders of innovation & the economy; and online shopping is growing fast in many African countries. A new KPMG study on African ecommerce shows that 50% of Africans who purchase online shop across frontiers.
Meanwhile, the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) held a meeting on “making the G20 agenda relevant for Africa with special focus on ecommerce and infrastructure financing” on 20 June.
DIRCO and the DTI reported that the G20 Group of countries (which includes all the BRICS countries) has started to look at international trade in ecommerce, and at ecommerce as a generator of business in the developing economies. A number of issues had been identified including: – a lack of skills; infrastructural problems; cost of data; lack of consumer trust; tariff & non-tariff barriers; shortage of financing options for start-ups and small companies.
The meeting heard that the African Union had not yet considered ecommerce but that the SA Minister for Trade, Rob Davies, had suggested that this should be added to the agenda in the Spring. The back ground to the Minister’s decision to raise ecommerce at the AU can certainly be found his views earlier this month to the World Trade Organization (see below).
SA Minister for Trade Davies Expresses his concerns on ecommerce rules at the WTO
On 9 June at the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Paris, Minister Rob Davies acknowledged that some of the new issues such as e-commerce are the alternative gateway in a world where trade patterns are changing. Even though e-commerce is a part of the new world with huge advantages for many people, it could also “land up in a winner takes it all model as it is skewed towards the few while many others will be left behind. That is what is happening now and until that is changed, multilateral cooperation has a role to play in creating inclusivity,” he said. Minister Davies also emphasized that “If members [of WTO] just have the traditional rules for trade on e-commerce that will freeze the status quo and enhances and strengthens the advantages of the early comers against the late entrants.” The World Trade Organization (WTO) started work on ecommerce back in 1998, and has been busy ever since creating guidelines for customs duties and tariffs through the global agreements on tariffs and trade (GATT) and TRIPS frameworks. The WTO work has often been criticized as benefiting the developed world.
ICANN African Region has issued a report on DNS in Africa
ICANN Africa Region at its meeting in Johannesburg on 27 June 2017 announced the results of its mammoth study on Domain Names (DNS) in Africa.
The study is intended to encourage more competition by setting up more DNS Registrars. The research, which took 16 months, has resulted in a 200+ page report covering 54 African countries, from the 3 smallest (with 75 domain names each) to the largest with nearly a million (South Africa). In total Africa has 5.1 million Domain Names worth an estimated $52m. Research shows that the costlier the process of DNS registration the fewer are registered but that this has no impact on the number of users. Kenya, for example, has the highest penetration of internet users in Africa (most via smartphones) but as DNS registration is costly the number registered is far less that South Africa. However, factors other than cost also play a part: Many Nigerian companies opt for domain names that avoid the country’s .ni due to the stigma caused by the old Nigerian “419” email scams. In Africa the vast majority of names registered are for companies. Non-governmental organisations only represent 3% of registrations. A new DNS .africa is being launched in July this year with ICANN’s blessing.