Telecommunications and information communication technology (ICT) has a tremendous potential to accelerate progress towards reaching the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
This ranges from connectivity to cloud computing to the Internet of Things, new and to evolving technologies that can help increase the scale, improve the impact, enhance design and measure results in ways that simply were not possible just a few years ago.
In fact, used well, these technologies can help the world to realise the SDGs for collective benefit. Non-profit organisations are often at the forefront of addressing the SDG challenges.
But for many non-profits, understanding which technologies hold the most promise and how to implement them most effectively, is always daunting and, sometimes, overwhelming.
In addition, ICT as the driver of SDGs, has caused disruptions in traditional economic and social structures, resulting in digital divides that need to be navigated and the pain of disruptions mitigated. Although the potential for ICT to contribute positively is well-established, amplifying changes that can also be negative if not countered.
For example, ICTs can accelerate growing income disparity and foster winner-take-all economics, if efforts to ensure inclusion, universal accessibility, and support for skills development, are not made.
In short, achieving the SDGs will require designing and adopting ICT-centric strategies for economic growth, employment creation, government policies, regulatory frameworks, markets, and education.
The spread of ICT and global interconnectedness present a great potential to accelerate human progress to bridge the digital divide and develop knowledge societies.?
One approach for bridging the digital divide and possibly global interconnectedness lies in the imposition of universal service obligations (USO).
This is a specific example of regulation of quality, or conditions of service that need to be carefully designed to achieve sustainable development.
The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act, 2009, provides for the establishment of a Universal Service Fund (USF) to be administered and managed by the regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA).
The fund is meant to support widespread access to ICT services, and promote capacity building and innovation.
The sources of the fund include levies on licensees, appropriations from the government as well as grants and donations.
The fund supports national projects that have a significant impact on the availability and accessibility of ICTs in rural, remote and poor urban areas.
The USF is expected to provide incentives for infrastructure rollout in unserved and underserved areas. To support this, the authority in May last year, concluded a study on ICTs access gaps, which established that population coverage in Kenya for 2G and 3G stands at 94.4 per cent and 78 per cent, respectively.
The land coverage for 2G and 3G is at 45 per cent and 17 per cent respectively for Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya.
To close the gaps, a five-year USF strategy was formulated to guide the fund. In the 2017/18 financial year, the access gaps study prioritised the closing of gaps in 202 prime sub-locations, covering an unserved population of 700,000.
The authority has initiated two priority USF projects aimed at closing the digital divide.
They are voice infrastructure and education broadband connectivity projects. Those facing the greatest challenges require the latest and best technologies to provide them with services.
Mr Gecheo, an ICT specialist, is a member of the universal service advisory council of the Communication Authority of Kenya. [email protected]