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Quality of Africa's ICT data under scrutiny

Quality of Africa's ICT data under scrutiny

The value of much of the data gathered about ICT in Africa is of concern according to Dr Alison Gillwald, director of research at independent thinktank Research ICT Africa. Gillwald shared her views on the quality of internet or telecommunications data and how it is used on the continent during her presentation at the 2015 Wits Internet Week held recently in Johannesburg.

Research ICT Africa is a non-profit organisation largely funded by the International Development Research Centre and consulted widely on ICT policy and related matters.

"We are sitting with very patchy information (and) as a result we have become highly dependent on getting funding from donors with the foresight to spend horribly large amounts of money on nationally representative field data et cetera, so that we can do some serious modeling with the data in order to inform policy." Gillwald noted.

She added that private funding has declined over the last ten years and there has not been much take up from governments, national statistics offices or regulators in Africa. As a result the data required for the development agenda has been filled with private sector research which, although useful, can be distorted and can feature content that is not immediately relevant to development.

Gillwald cited data on women's access to ICT as an example because this does not always indicate why women have poor access.

"It also sets it up as a gender agenda...whereas what you see is that when you control for education and income there is no gender effect on ICT access," said Gillwald. " it is not anything about the gendered nature of ICT. It's about the fact that women are concentrated in lower income and education groups and therefore are unable to access ICT."

Country comparisons

Comparisons of countries in research studies Gillwald said is often problematic as evidenced by the use of GDP per capita as a measurement. This is because while figures can appear to be very high, they often mask great inequalities - as is often the case when countries are compared with South Africa.

She recommends that both the cheapest price and the price of the most dominant operator be considered as factors in measuring the affordability of communication because the two considered together will give a real sense of how much it costs to communicate in a specific country.

"Ethiopia for example which is often given as an example of best practice for being the cheapest service. The problem with that is Ethiopia's price is politically set and the penetration levels are extremely low...essentially what you have is state of the art, high quality service in Addis..."

Rwanda's progress in increasing access to mobile internet is some of the data that should be unpacked according to Gillwald.

She said leadership by decree and the lack of institutions contributed to Rwanda's improvement to mobile internet access and to their impressive figures on the affordability index, albeit from a low base.

Gillwald also told attendees that it is not possible to give neat measurements of the reality, but more should be done to better understand policy outcomes and prices across the continent.

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