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Call for free Internet in SA

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The IAB SA has kick-started a campaign for all South Africans to have free basic access to the Internet. As the right to information is one of our constitutional rights, it follows that South Africans should have the ability to access this information freely.

Chris Borain, chair of the IAB SA, says, “We believe in fostering digital equality among all citizens.  While Icasa is taking great strides to address the high cost of data, a basic level of free Internet access is a separate issue that requires as much attention. All South Africans, especially vulnerable groups and those without access to mobile phones, have the right to access information online, from government services, employment opportunities or online education resources.”

The IAB SA is already partnering with other media stakeholders to justify the case for free basic internet access and stimulate dialogue on the matter.

The IAB SA in partnership with the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Applied Law and Technology (altadvisory.africa)  have published a research paper on the topic: Perspectives on Universal Access to Online Information in South Africa: Free Public Wi-Fi and Zero-Rated Content, which is publically available.

The paper was launched last year on the International Day for Universal Access to Information at the Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) conference. In her address to the Forum, the then outgoing chair of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and current South African Information Regulator, Adv Pansy Tlakula acknowledged the issues raised in the paper and commended the efforts of all involved.

At its December 2017 National Conference at Nasrec, the ANC resolved to “encourage efforts by Government and the private sector to deploy broadband infrastructure and services and also ensure accessibility of free Wi-Fi as a tool of economic development, including access in rural areas, metros, public schools, clinics and libraries.

An online industry and media delegation led by the IAB earlier this year met with the South African Human Rights Commission to discuss ways in which a basic level of free Internet access for all citizens can be achieved over time.

We proposed a seven-point action plan to roll out free internet rights in South Africa:

1.     The implementation of free access to the Internet at government sites such as schools, libraries, health facilities, etc.  This is already government policy, but government should commit to a fixed roll-out schedule, which should be monitored with adequate oversight and promotion of this service.

2.     Zero-rated access to government websites and data, as envisaged in the e-government policies.

3.     Following on several pilot projects in a number of cities and towns, free Wi-Fi access should forthwith be regarded as a basic municipal service and run as a public utility (alongside water, electricity and other municipal services), and government should set up plans and targets for the progressive realisation of such services.  This could be done via public/private partnerships, such as making it a requirement for commercial operators like telecoms and fibre companies to provide free Wi-Fi in poor areas for the right to provide commercial services in business and affluent areas.

4.     Setting minimum standards for the provision of free internet access, including for all commercial offerings: a minimum data allocation per person per day; and standards for privacy, security, access quality and fair access to information in the public interest.

5.     The introduction of the concept of My Internet Rights (or My i-Right): that every citizen should be entitled to a daily tranche of free internet access (e.g. 500MB per day, which is already the standard for many free Wi-Fi schemes), to exercise their access to information rights.

6.     The introduction of digital literacy programmes in education curricula and as part of free internet schemes, especially aimed at children and those unfamiliar with risks and opportunities related to the internet.

7.     The need for the SAHRC and other oversight bodies to monitor and report on the progressive realisation of internet access rights, and in particular the adoption and implementation of legislation, regulation and policies governing free access to the internet as a basic human right.

In response, the COO of the SAHRC, Chantal Kissoon indicated that the commission will consider incorporating monitoring of government’s internet access plans for inclusion in national, regional and international reports on human rights issues; look into the possibility of convening a conference of experts and stakeholders to explore the proposed action plan; and to raise the free internet access issues in outreach and stakeholder engagements.

Anriette Esterhuysen, the APC’s director of global policy and strategy, says that with South Africa’s internet policies, ICT infrastructure, community networks and free internet pilot projects already underway, the country is well placed to become an example of how the developing world can bridge the digital divide, including the gender digital divide. “What is necessary now is for the public sector, business and civil society to take practical steps towards the goal to give every South African a basic level of free access to the internet.”

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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