Shola Taylor

Emma Okonji

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Mr. Shola Taylor, has warned of an impending risk that is likely to rob Commonwealth countries of modern technology benefits.

He stated that many Commonwealth countries may likely miss out on the benefits of Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and augmented reality technology innovation, if they do not invest sufficiently in broadband and ICT services.

Taylor, who spoke at the opening of the just concluded CTO ICT Forum’17, which held in Maputo, Mozambique, called on Commonwealth countries including Nigeria to consider huge investment in broadband, which he described as a platform for the next frontier of technology advancement.
He called on member countries to invest urgently in broadband as well as in information and communications technology (ICT) services, or miss out on IoT and AI evolution.

Taylor, a Nigerian citizen was the chief executive officer of Kemilinks International, a global ICT consultancy firm based in Lagos. He had over 35 years of global experience in ICTs with government and the private sector, prior to his appointment as Commonwealth Secretary General in 2015, warned commonwealth countries of the danger of not investing heavily in broadband.
According to him, “With the IoT, we have a new environment conducive of opportunities for new forms of digital entrepreneurship or public service delivery. But there are still far too many without access to the internet, who are unable to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits that digital technologies have to offer.”

Taylor spoke alongside Mozambique’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Carlos Mesquita; Director-General, International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation, Patrick Masambu; and Deputy Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union, Malcolm Johnson.

The event, which was declared open by Mozambique’s Prime Minister, His Excellency Carlos Agostinho do Rosário, was attended by ministers, regulators, national ICT agencies, industry executives, non-profit organisations and academia from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, South Asia and the Pacific.

“We need to investigate new options to provide broadband, including low-orbit space solutions. To achieve this, more investment is essential. Of course, universal service funds must continue to invest and deliver on increasing access. Countries must invest in services for their citizens, and in the infrastructure to support the delivery of these services, or they will miss out on the benefits of IoT, Big Data and augmented reality technologies,” Taylor warned.

“It’s important for us to continue developing infrastructures as well as information and communications technology services in order to ensure greater availability and coverage of online services,” the Prime Minister said.

Experts at the forum were of the view that internet access is the key to development, being the first step towards a digital nation.

“Big Data, Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G will all shape our digital future. They are important steps on the journey towards a digital nation and we need to bring together technologists, regulators and policy makers, not only from the ICT sector, but all the sectors that will depend on the technology, in order to address these challenges,” they added.

The theme of this year’s forum was Digital Nations, Digital Wealth, with discussions focused on the prospects for socio-economic growth in a digital future comprising virtual environments, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, machine-to-machine communications and augmented reality applications. The forum attracted participation from other organisations such as ICANN, Facebook and Huawei who actively contributed to various sessions on universal broadband, regulation of virtual environments, the digital economy, security and privacy.

In Nigeria, broadband penetration has been abysmally low, prompting industry stakeholders to raise concern that Nigeria may not achieve the National Broadband Plan, which targets 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, up from the current broadband penetration level of 21 per cent. Their concern however seems not to move the federal government of Nigeria, that has assured Nigerians of surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, given the current indices on the licensing of two Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) and the planned licensing of additional five InfraCos that will drive broadband penetration and internet access in Nigeria.

At the CTO Forum, consensus emerged from the discussions, which clearly stated that: The journey to the digital future is both individual and collective; Public investment is a necessity to connect the unconnected, as although 3G covers 85 per cent of the world, only half of the world population is connected to the internet. Other consensus reached, included that: Countries must develop coordinated multi-sectoral strategies for ICTs, to include broadband infrastructure, health, education, agriculture and other areas; IoT and augmented reality may require less and but more flexible regulation; The need to balance open data with privacy; Government to lead by deploying e-government services, among others.

The CTO ICT Forum is the annual ICT conference of the Commonwealth, which is the oldest and largest Commonwealth intergovernmental organisation in the field of ICTs.
With a diverse membership spanning developed and least developed countries, small island developing states, and more recently also the private sector and civil society, the CTO aims to become a trusted partner for sustainable development for all through ICTs.