COVID-19. This is all your fault. All the workarounds that have led to CADiT – COVID Assisted Digital Transformation. Then again, you are quite a mixed bag of blessings. It became evident when the conversation around who has and who should have access to the Internet happened.
Rounded up at the 13th annual Kenya Internet Governance Forum (KeIGF) and moderated by Ali Hussein, Co-Founder and CEO of Kipochi, were panellists Dr Katherine Getao, (CEO, ICT Authority), Hon. William Kisang’ (MP Marakwet West, Chair of the Communication, Information & Innovation Committee, National Assembly) and Prof. Bitange Ndemo (Prof of Entrepreneurship, University of Nairobi, Business School) breaking down the wonders of CADIT.
Here are excerpts from their inclusivity dialogue.
Ali: In your daily lives as shapers of policy and engagement within the ICT sector, you have no doubt noticed some of what we are facing thanks to the pandemic. As a matter of fact, a survey recently discovered that 77 per cent of employees would like to continue working from home. But as a country, are we ready to face this WFH (work from home) challenge?
Dr Getao: Of course, the issue of Internet connectivity has been experienced globally during COVID-19. And the quality varies with location. Getting the Internet everywhere is an expensive exercise to achieve and maintain. Locally, the public and private sector work well together with the former installing sea cables with heavy investment from the government. This includes TEAMS and NOFBI.
There have been challenges but we do have close to 9,000 km of fibre. Granted, some of it is ageing owing to time (having been developed between 2007-2011), some requires rehabilitation while some of it is high-speed infrastructure. As ICTA, we have developed the National ICT Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP) 2019-2029 to help Kenya develop the infrastructure that is needed. Within our mean’s as government, we are dedicated to providing connectivity to all Kenyans. As experiences from COVID-19 have proven, it is a basic utility and essential service.
Hon. Kisang’: Over the last six months, even though people have lost lives, it has a blessing in disguise for technology. Many are embracing technology and the Internet. You don’t have to be in traffic for two hours going to work. I have a friend who works for a multinational that now allows them to WFH only coming to the office occasionally. A lot of resources, as Dr Getao said, have been put in. What is lacking and we need to improve on is the Last Mile Connectivity. This is where the private sector can champion so that collaboration with the likes of Safaricom, Liquid Telecom and Jamii with the government can fast track connectivity. There are about 13 counties that are underserved. How can we help while simultaneously helping areas with poor connectivity? It is, for instance, difficult for me to stream when I go upcountry.
Prof. Ndemo: I don’t think learning will ever be the same again. Especially for graduate students who love the way we are teaching at the moment. But a number of students are not able to study freely because of poverty and lack of working space. We need to begin to create spaces for children in poverty-stricken places to learn. Overall, though, this has been a blessing in disguise because we have been pushed to embrace technology.
Unfortunately, we have not seen a lot from the government when it comes to the reduction of duties and taxes to enable students in rural areas access content online. Everyone knows we are paying dearly for connectivity because it is not being made affordable. To a large extent, 4G covers almost 85 per cent of the country. We would want to see everywhere covered. There are still things that need to be done but COVID-19 has assisted us in leveraging technology.
Ali: NOFBI are at every county today yet you have people without internet. In Kenya, broadband penetration hovers around 35 per cent to 40 per cent. Globally, it is around 30 per cent. Vitu kwa ground ni different. How do we ensure that no one is left behind as the private sector?
Hon. Kisang’: The Ministry of ICT came up with the ICT Policy in 2019. It was adopted early this year. In it, the private sector is expected to work closely with the ministry to ensure policies put in place in this emerging sector will give tax holidays so that we can catch up with South Africa, Europe and America. In June 2020 the Digital tax bill came into existence.
I did not see the private sector lobbying from parliament, to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) all the way up to the level of the CEO of the country to explain why they needed taxes lowered. Some of us in the public sector lobbied, but because we do not have the numbers coming in to support us, we lose some of the amendments coming in. Let us increase our lobbying so that it is reflected in our laws. What you need as the private sector are champions.
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Ali: This is true. As the private sector, we still don’t engage the government enough and when bills are put in place, we are surprised. We keep talking about having a seat at the table. The thing is, if you do not have a seat at the table, then you are on the menu. And if you are on the menu, you are food. Any last words of wisdom?
Dr Getao: When it comes to the cost of the internet, yes, is about taxation; but there is also the technical architecture. You need to have one that delivers cost efficiency in the delivery of the network. That is why we need a plan and technical capacity.
Some of the inefficiency is caused by each building its own infrastructure instead of sharing. That creates a lot of wastage. We are working with bodies such as TESPOK, to encourage the public and private sectors to share infrastructure and deliver it in a cost-efficient manner.
We are also doing what we can to allow those who cannot to access the internet freely.
One of the reasons some countries are ahead of us is, they convert their local innovations into manufacture. They not only deliver it cost-effectively in their own country, but they also earn and grow the economy by exporting what they manufacture. We have a lot of potential in this area.
Prof. Ndemo: The government has done quite well with respect to digitisation. There is an inverse relationship between cost and demand. The greater the demand the greater the private sector investment and the lower the cost. We need intensified digitalisation. Now that we have seen the possibilities of crises like COVID-19, we need to create demand for the private sector to invest and lower the cost of connectivity. We have benefitted in understanding why we need the Internet.
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