28 November 2012

Zambia: Major Challenge of Swift ICT Growth


THE Zambian Government started developing the national Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policy in 2001, through a comprehensive consultation process.

The process was completed in 2005 while the resultant policy was adopted by the Government in 2006, thereby establishing framework for direction of the ICT in Zambia.

The policy was launched in 2007.

Between 2001 and now a lot of development has taken place in the sector, which has been registering rapid growth rates.

Legislatively, the ICT Act was passed in 2009 together with its sister Act, the Electronic Communications and Transaction (ECT) Act, to further stimulate growth in the sector.

The ICT Act which transformed the then Communications Authority of Zambia (CAZ) into the current Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), broaden the mandate for the regulator.

The creation of an enabling environment for the players in the sector through sound policies, led to the rapid growth of the ICT sector with the number of mobile phone subscribers rising from 500,000 in 2003 to more than three million in 2008.

Official data indicates that in 2007 there were 2.6 million cell phone subscribers showing a penetration level of 22.4 users per 100 people while in 2008 the figure of subscribers rose to 3.5 million or penetration level of 27 users per 100 inhabitants.

The following year the number of users soared to 4.2 million while by September 2010 the figure had reached 5.1 million at penetration level of 38.5 users for every 100 people.

For the internet, there were 17,754 subscribers as at 2010 reflecting a penetration of 0.14 subscribers per 100 inhabitants, with only 18 licenced internet service providers then.

To facilitate growth in this field the Government ushered in a new licencing regime for the operators to extend the provision of the internet services to all parts of Zambia through the use of broadband technologies.

The mobile phone operators rose to the challenge and started providing internet through mobile phones such that by 2010 there were 600,000 people using mobile phones to access internet.

This has further been boosted with the installation of the third and fourth generation (3G and 4G) mobile telecommunications technology by some operators.

As more people are exposed to the internet services, however, there has been a rising danger of exposure to undesired information and pictures.

Although the ZICTA is empowered to check that, it is seemingly having a challenge in that some of the issues emerging now may have not been fully taken care of in the available laws.

A good example is some named blogger who has been publishing some information which some people have deemed to be "unpalatable" or even defamatory but has been on the run and yet he has continued operating.

Recently, the country has been swamped with all sorts of blogs and online publications some of which cannot observe even an iota of ethics and therefore have tended to publish suspectedly explicit materials.

A case in point is one such online news blog which has a horridly indecent picture of a musician which has been on the blog since October 2012.

Considering that this blog is in the public domain, there is need to protect its potential visitors from being morally corrupted by posted materials.

ZICTA itself notes on its official website that because of their trusting nature, children are particularly vulnerable to such.

"Sometimes you can run across online pornography accidentally. It can be attached to an e-mail or a pop-up or even sent to your cell phone," partly reads the information on ZICTA website.

Section 202 of the ECT Act proscribes the production, offering, distribution, procurement and possession of pornography in computer system or on a computer data storage medium and is clear on the penalties for such offenders.

The maximum sentence a convict under this law can serve is 10 years imprisonment.

It is, therefore, difficult to comprehend as to why the relevant authorities cannot move in to protect the morality of the innocent members of the public.

Some people would defend X-rated pictures on a person's personal computer but this is totally different in that it is online, not on a classified, closed up website but on a publication open to the general public, regardless of the age.

I hope that somebody somewhere could help me advance this discourse by coming up with information on what the authorities are doing about such alleged offences and or the challenges they may be encountering.

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