Efforts to improve ICT use, access and skills across Africa are being hindered by the lack of reliable data that can be used by policymakers in the sector.
Panelists at the 2016 World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS16) have called on industry stakeholders to share data to help reinforce connectivity across the continent.
Cosmas L. Zavazava, Chief of Department, Project Support and Knowledge Management of ITU has flagged the lack of cooperation in the data gathering process, particularly by mobile operators.
"It is difficult and we are seeing it not only in collecting basic statistics, but we are now starting to collect big data and when we do that, you try to engage the regulator in a particular country and the regulator may be willing but the operator will say no because they have an agreement and obligation to safeguard information from their consumers or clients. That way it becomes difficult," said Zavazava.
"Some of the operators may be reluctant to provide data depending on the national framework and may not be partners and avail complete data on time. We were collecting big data in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The first two were cooperating, but in the other country it took ages because some of the operators were saying they are local but we are global. That is actually wrong because they are bound by local laws," he added.
Zavazava says assurances to keep the data safe does help and the result is that stakeholders eventually do grant the ITU access to data.
"We know we have to provide some sort of wall around the data and protect it. Privacy is one of the most important elements and a confidence builder to assure them that nothing is going to happen to the data and that it is going to be anonymous."
Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa emphasised the need to secure data and said it should be collected from as wide a pool as possible in the ICT sector.
"The bigger issue is around privacy and surveillance and those things have to be in place. We have had examples of operators refusing to give information in some of the big data examples, but it seems to me quite possible that one could create a mutually beneficial but public data out of that but it has to be anonymised. I think the much bigger challenge is getting data from global platforms because one does not have jurisdiction over them, but I think these platforms are making a lot of claims around free and open internet, bringing internet to more people etc. I think while there may not be a strong legal case but there is a stronger moral case to be put on them to provide information in the countries they operate in."
Thari Pheko, Chief Executive of Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority and Chair of WTIS16 reiterated the call for collaboration in ICT data collection in his closing remarks.
"The symposium highlighted the importance of improving the collection of ICT statistics, including by disability and urged countries to make the data available for monitoring of SDGs and to endure no one is left behind in accessing and using ICT. The symposium emphasised the value of national collaboration and the inclusion of ICT in household statistics in order to identify the priority areas for ICT management and to pull resources.: