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Uganda's internet stance under scrutiny

Uganda's internet stance under scrutiny

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is to host the Internet for All Forum in conjunction with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, which has drawn attention to the East African country's management of the internet.

The UCC's Post, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Market and Industry Report found that in the first quarter of 2016 there were 14.6 million internet users in the country.

Currently, the level of internet penetration is at 39%, according to the organisation.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has praised efforts by the Ugandan, Kenyan, Rwandan and South Sudanese governments in East Africa to increase access to the internet, particularly through collaborating on the Northern Corridor's One Network Area.

The One Network Area, implemented in 2014, has substantially reduced the cost of calls among the four countries by eliminating roaming charges, according to the WEF.

However, other participants in today's Internet for All Forum have been more critical of the role of different governments, including that of Uganda.

The 2016 State of Internet Freedom in Africa report, issued by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) six months ago, detailed internet shutdowns in Uganda reportedly facilitated by the UCC itself.

"In Uganda, the communications regulator ordered a blockage of access to all social media and mobile money as the country went to elections on February 18, 2016 and then again in May while the re-elected president was being sworn in, and there were arrests of social media users over content deemed critical of the president," states the report.

CIPESA's report also found that Uganda's laws, among them the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 and the Anti-Pornography Act, 2014, hamper access to the internet through broad definition, and offer too much power to law enforcement agencies when it comes to monitoring online content.

Uganda dropped two places to 157 in the 2016 edition of the Measuring the Information Society Report compiled by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The ITU found internet access in the country to be at 19.22%, which is about half of the figure reported by the country's communications regulator months earlier. The same report lists Uganda as an 'LDC' (least developed country) along with 39 others from Africa.

The ITU report also found that while fixed-broadband prices continued to drop significantly in a number of LDCs, they remained unaffordable.

"In LDCs, a fixed-broadband plan with a minimum of 1GB of data per month still corresponds to over 60 per cent of GNI per capita. The service is sold at over USD 300 a month in Uganda, Chad and the Central African Republic, and remains very expensive and clearly unaffordable in some of the small island developing States," the ITU stated in its report.

Alex Wong, Co-Head of Future of the Internet Initiative and Member of the Executive Committee at the WEF says, "The internet has been a major contributor to the evolution of and growth in the global economy over the past decades. It continues to have the potential to propel societies, help business leaders develop innovative business models and assist governments in addressing critical policy concerns. Yet despite the clear importance of the internet as a key enabler of the fourth industrial revolution, over 4 billion people remain unconnected to the web."

The meeting in Kampala will look at ways for Uganda to contribute towards the goal to connect up to 60 million new internet users across countries in the Northern Corridor in East Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia), as well as in Argentina and India within the next three years.

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