ISOC Zimbabwe Calls for the Inclusion of Persons with Disability in the Digital Economy

ISOC Zimbabwe Calls for the Inclusion of Persons with Disability in the Digital Economy

The internet is developing faster than many people and they are struggling to cope up, the development is due to the global investments on innovation, research and development. Covid-19 has exacerbated the adoption of ICTs as the new normal has made production better for those that have invested in technology. Persons with disability have not been spared by the importance of internet however many concerns have been raised before on the compatibilities of ICT gadgets to be easily used by this special group. Gadgets that are made specifically for persons with disabilities are not readily available and have additional costs associated with them, hence this has made many companies and organizations just provide what other general people use. Mobile device manufacturers have added some features that include Visual or vibrating alerts, relay services and hearing aid compatibility devices that make mobile phones accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing, while features such as voice recognition and auto text are needed by those with physical disabilities. However these features come at a cost which makes the devices out of reach for many.

Internet Society Zimbabwe has embarked on a digital skills training for persons with disability as a way of reducing inequalities by preparing them for the digital economy. These skills include graphics and website designing focusing on this special group as many of them who are physically challenged are able to use computers have shown key interest in the program. Internet Society Zimbabwe partnered with Leonard Cheshire and trained a group of 12 young persons with disability on digital skills. ISOC Zimbabwe Project Officer Mr Rangarirai Mangundu said “There is need to reduce inequalities and prepare persons with disability for the digital economy as they must not be left behind as the global world is leveraging on Internet”

“We seek to expand this initiative to include those in marginalised communities, the internet is for everyone and especially those that are disabled as technology may address their needs better” said Leonard Cheshire Programs Officer Mr Mbambai. ISOC Zimbabwe President Zimbabwe Mr Jasper Mangwana emphasized the need for collaborations, “There is need for a more coordinated approach in the inclusion of persons with disability, government is playing a very progressive role as we have seen the launch of the Disability Policy and also the role POTRAZ is playing for this community but more can be done with business and civic society in the picture”

The Digital skills training program is running under the theme “Internet and Inclusion of Persons with Disability”

Girls in ICT Event

Girls in ICT Event

International Day for Girls in ICT is celebrated every year to build awareness about the gender digital divide, support technology education and skills training, and encourage more girls and young women to actively pursue careers in STEM. The celebrations were held on the 22nd of April this year under the theme “Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Future”

 

Due to Covid19 restrictions, it has been difficult to gather people for events and made the digital platform very important for social, economic and political engagement. ISOC Zimbabwe chapter celebrated the Girls in ICT by empowering 7 young girls with graphics designing skills. The 8 young girls were selected among 26 applications who matched the requirements, which among others included that they should have completed their high school in 2020.As of January 2021 there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide – 59.5 percent of the global population. Of this total, 92.6 percent (4.32 billion) accessed the internet via mobile devices(www.statista.com) . The statistics make the internet a good platform for branding and marketing, hence the graphics technical workshop was done to promote girls and women in design. The young girls had diverse backgrounds and future aspirations ranging from law, art and design,  engineering, marketing, computer science, actuarial science, accounting etc.

Shamiso Mawiwi who studied at Visitation Makumbe was excited and she designed a flier for her mother who is into cake making and was very excited about learning the new skill. Over and bove the technical training workshop Natalie Chidakuza an aspiring computer scientist was excited about the software packages given to them for free. Marketing in the 21st century is dependent on graphics and Tafadzwa Simango a future marketing guru appreciated the role of designing in her career aspirations. Kundai Baramasimbe a Mutendi High School former student and aspiring actuarial scientist appreciated the role of graphic designing in making reports and digital footprints. Phyliss Mavedzenge(Kriste Mambo – Accounting), Charity Debwe (Visitation Makumbi – Engineering)  , Mufaro Matsikarima (Samuel Centenary Academy – Engineer) appreciated the graphic design skill and intended to do graphic designing as part time to also create revenue for themselves in college.

Internet Society head of events Karen Mukwasi acknowledged the digital gender gap in graphic designing and challenged the vibrant young girls to show the world that they are better designers and inspire other young women and girls to venture into STEM. Internet Society Zimbabwe values students from high school and is working in encouraging more women to venture into STEM programs.

 

DOES RELIABLE ENCRYPTION MATTER

Encryption is the process of scrambling or hiding information so it
can only be read by someone with the means to return
it to its original state.

Encryption(special access); ain’t criminals special in a way

Governments and law enforcement agencies have tried to come up with ways to gain special access to secured data as a way of helping fight crime. Yes from the onset it may look like a genuine cause, Catch criminals while they are unaware. But once these back-doors(special access) are discovered by criminals, can be used to do more harm than good. Even the same law agencies and governments will suffer the consequences for they are the main targets

Who is immune to weak Encryption

You and me are not immune to weak encryption. Instead our daily lives depend on strong encryption in this modern world of internet everywhere. Our mobile devices, the communications that we do, our homes our cars, our workplaces all depend on strong and reliable encryption. Imagine working from home during these trying times of COVID-19 with weak encryption, Who will get paid for the hard work and sacrifices you are going through if you are not fully protected. Criminals might get access to your private banking details and even know how much you are supposed yo get paid. All these can be tempered with all in the name of special access

5 Reasons why Encryption

1. It helps you stay safer when working remotely as companies are now requiring workers to solely use encrypted devices due to incidents like these helping employees to stay productive from anywhere.

2.It supports data integrity by increasing the integrity of the information alone. If you trust the data, it’s easier to use it confidently to make business decisions.

3. It is a privacy safeguard On a smartphone, for example, encryption apps can make it virtually impossible for any unauthorized person to access your information. In several instances, law enforcement officials have had difficulty investigating phone data on encrypted devices.

4. Using encryption for Data Protection could surely increase Trust. As a company or organization, even when not required to encrypt data due to privacy regulations, you may choose to do so to show your clients making that assertion is particularly important due to the eroding trust many people have in the internet today.

5. You could help yourself avoid regulatory fines depending on your given industry or the specific policies set forth by your employer, encryption technology for data protection may become mandatory rather than optional. For example, in the health care sector, patient privacy laws require keeping information encrypted. Organizations receive significant fines for noncompliance.

Time to Take Action

If you’ve been considering using encryption to keep data safe, there are plenty of reasons to do so. Statistics do show the need for it in our everyday lives. Governments, just like criminals themselves should not be granted special access to private Data for it defeats the purpose of data Integrity and Trust. It is time for all of us to stand up and say no to government back door access especially in our vulnerable developing economies Zimbabwe and the SADC Region

ommatunhu@gmail.com+263774542388 Cnr Angwa and south AveDaventry HouseHarare, Harare Zimbabwe

Community Networks Regulatory Framework and Structures in Zimbabwe

Introduction

Bridging the digital divide between urban and rural communities is critical to the development of any community. This can be achieved by extending the reach of the Internet beyond the economically viable areas that ISPs and other commercial operators normally target. In the first quarter of 2020, Zimbabwe recorded a 2.5% decline in data and internet subscription as well as a decline in overall voice traffic of 6.9%[1].  This was mainly attributed to the tough economic conditions that the country is experiencing. This is a huge concern as it shows a shrinking internet penetration rate and calls for strategies that can help arrest the situation. Community networks have emerged as a means to enable affordable Internet connectivity and broadband access for rural and underserved communities. Community networks are therefore critical in connecting the unconnected.

To harness the power of community networks, policy and regulation should facilitate the development of community connectivity and the deployment of community networks. This paper explores the policy and regulatory framework within Zimbabwe in relation to community networks.

What is a community network?

Community networks (CNs) are networks built in a collaborative, bottom-up fashion by groups of individuals who develop and manage new network infrastructure as common goods[2]. CNs are created by communities or organized groups that decide to share a telecommunications service through their own network. Their infrastructure is built, managed, operated, and administered by a community-driven organization or by a community itself by pooling their existing resources and working with partners to start-up and scale their activities[3].

Zimbabwean Legislation and Community Networks

The current Zimbabwean legislation does not recognize CNs. However the importance of community networks cannot be underestimated and as such, there is need for substantive legislation and  a regulatory framework. Only one documented CN has been established in Zimbabwe – Murambinda Works. This CN was granted rights to operate by the regulator but under terms and conditions which cannot be replicated in other areas. The CN operates as part of a licensed operator TelOne, through whom they have access to spectrum.

There is need for a broad policy and regulatory framework to specifically address the needs of CNs.

The legislation on community networks needs to address:

  • Registration of community networks – there is need to set minimum requirements for recognition of a CN. This should address recognizable governance models, regulatory and ownership models.
  • Licensing and license fees – should determine when a CN requires a license, minimum requirements for licensing, license fees, duration over which a license is valid.
  • Spectrum issues and spectrum fees – should address how community networks can access unlicensed spectrum. Unlicensed spectrum has great potential for the success of CNs and has been successfully used in other countries such as South Africa. The regulatory framework on CNs can consider issues such as spectrum reuse, use of TV white spaces, frequency sharing and other innovative ideas that allow communities to take advantage of idle spectrum.
  • Regulatory issues – there is need to spell out clearly which regulatory issues have an impact on CNs.

What partnerships are possible for community networks?

  • Non-Governmental Organisations are very active in rural communities within Zimbabwe and as such would make good partners in the establishment of CNs through providing funding for initial deployment as well as training.
  • Private businesses who can take advantage of community networks to bring more visibility to their products and expand their customer reach.
  • Universal Services Funds – synergies can be created between communities and agencies responsible for the management of universal services fund in the deployment of community networks and underserved communities. Zimbabwe has a USF[4] whose major mandate is to deploy telecommunication services to underserved and under privileged communities.

Current Initiative

The Government of Zimbabwe has made some strides in trying to bridge the urban-rural digital divide and connect the unconnected. Many projects have been deployed through the Universal Services Fund and make a good basis for establishment/expansion of community networks:

  • Establishment of community information centers (telecentres)in all district, aimed at bringing ICT services and offer basic ICT skills training course free of charge to the public, in all districts. There is potential of reducing running costs by adopting their use to becomes hubs for community networks connectivity.
  • Rolling out of internet connectivity and distribution of computers to schools in underserved communities. In one such program named “Connect a School, Connect a Community”, the aim was to have the school as the hub from which the surrounding community can access Internet connectivity and learn the use of computers at very low costs.

Educating Stakeholders

One of the major requirements in Zimbabwe to allow for deployment of community networks is education of important stakeholders. These stakeholder include:

  • Community members- communities need to learn and understand that there are alternative ways they can build networks cost effectively, to better serve themselves. This knowledge will empower the grassroot users to lobby for policy makers to allow this to happen.
  • Policymakers – Policy makers have a duty to ensure that the rural-urban, privileged-underprivileged digital divide is bridged. Currently policy makers have been pushing for CICs deployment because they understand their potential in bridging the digital divide. An understanding of the greater impact that can be achieved through CNs could result in a change of focus and an acceleration of the corresponding legislation.
  • Regulators –There are knowledge gaps which can only be closed by having close dialogue among all stakeholders. CN specialists could be instrumental in guiding regulators.
  • Current network operators – current operators can be educated and understand that community networks are not necessarily competition, but an avenue through which their products can be consumed.

Recommendations

  • Streamline the process of registering and licensing of community networks and make it different from the process used for commercial operators as community network might not have the legal expertise and financial resources to undergo a long application process.
  • Easily avail information pertaining to policy and regulation on community networks.
  • Look at establishment of special licenses categories to cater for community networks and their special needs.
  • Benchmarking with other countries on regulation is a good starting point. The experiences and lessons from Murambinda Works can also be used  to create a check-list of policy and regulatory changes that need to be addressed to facilitate community network development.

[1] POTRAZ, 2020, Sector Performance Report, 1st Quarter – 2020

[2] Baca C et. al, Challenges, Regulations and Solutions, APC, FGV Direito Rio

[3] Srivastava R, Community Networks: Regulatory Issues and Gaps, an Experience from India, Internet Society, Digital Empowerment Foundation

[4] Government of Zimbabwe, Postal and Telecommunications Act, Chapter 12:05, 2000, Rev 2014