Big tech companies must contribute to expand connectivity infrastructure — Ursula Owusu
• Ursular Owusu Ekuful (2nd from left), Minister of Communication and Digitalization responding to a question during a panel discussion at the Day Two 3I Africa Summit in Accra. With her are Dr. Maxwell Opoku-Afari (right), First Deputy Governor, Bank of Ghana, Uyoyo Zino Edosio (2nd from left), Principal Innovation and Digital Expert, AfDB and Dare Okoujou (left), Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Onafriq. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO
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Big tech companies must contribute to expand connectivity infrastructure — Ursula Owusu

MINISTER of Communications and Digitalisation, Ursula Owusu, says all value added service providers in the digital space must contribute towards expanding connectivity infrastructure in Africa.

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With connectivity infrastructure being a major challenge for the continent, she said it was only fair that all those who utilised the infrastructure must contribute towards its roll out.

Contributing to a panel discussion at the 3i Summit in Accra, she said the big technology companies have to pay towards rolling out the connectivity infrastructure on which they deliver their services

“The how has always been the sticking point, but they recognise that you can't ride on the back of networks put in place with the sweat and toil of the network operators without contributing to it.”

“You're utilising it to deliver your Facebook, Google, Instagram, X, etc to the people and making money from the advertising revenues and that’s fair enough, but share some of that with the network operators and the government to roll out the infrastructure,” she stated.

She said the government also needed the tax revenues that were generated from the businesses that were utilising those networks. “So instead of shying away from that conversation, we need to have an honest conversation about how to spread the pain and share the gains,” she said.

Public/Private partnership 

The minister also called for collaboration and partnership between the public and private sector to expand Internet connectivity.

She said the private sector would not go to certain parts of the country, and the public sector could not also do it alone, so partnership was key in rolling out connectivity infrastructure. She said an example of such partnership was the Rural Telephony project in Ghana that is connecting some 2000 cell sites to connect some five million currently unconnected people.

“And we have noticed that no matter how high the capacity is; it always gets used up so there is a business case to be made for extending connectivity to all parts of the continent. If it works in Ghana then it can work everywhere. Once it's there, they will use it and we need to find a way to make them utilise that infrastructure that has been put in place,” she noted.

She said digital literacy was therefore also critical to get the people to take advantage of the infrastructure. “It can be there and they will only use it for phone calls and WhatsApp messages, but they need to be taught what other uses they can put that infrastructure to.”

“Once the infrastructure is there, with some basic instruction, they would know how to use social marketing to get the goods to market and to use the digital financial tools to pay for it seamlessly,” she said.

Data sovereignty 

Commenting on data sovereignty on the continent, Ms Owusu said data sovereignty was important, as countries needed to know where their data was being stored, how it was being stored and who has access or control over it.

She said she was therefore in support of data sovereignty on the continent “but also allow some flexibility that would allow African countries share data among themselves”.

“Fortunately we have already started having those conversations on a regional level but before you can even have that conversation, you need to know where your data is, how it is being handled and protected, how individual rights are also being protected by those who are handling that data locally.”

“So data protection laws are very important and every nation needs to have it, but it needs to be flexible enough to also create room for some data to be utilised regionally,” she stated.

She said within the auspices of the Smart Africa Alliance, the region was already working along those lines and developing a Data Cloud Policy for the African region as part of the Africa Alliance countries which are about 33.

“So that is a significant number of residents or citizens on the African continent that we represent so if these 33 are able to align their policies around data usage, rationalisation, storage and sovereignty and can build trust on how we utilise that, then we have come a long way towards integrating the continent in a practical way. 

“So we need to begin to build the framework, which will enable us to integrate our systems globally,” she said.

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