It is increasingly becoming difficult to separate our livelihood from the amazing innovations that are occurring on top of the telecommunications channels.
Think about the new services in transport, e-commerce, business management, financial services, even health, just to name a few of the innovators that are exciting users and it is only the beginning.
All of these innovations are riding on the telecommunications and payments infrastructure MNOs have spent the past decade building, to the point where this infrastructure now reaches tens of millions of Ugandans and makes all the innovations mentioned previously possible.
Behind these innovations is data. And in light of the ever-increasing demands on data protection and privacy — the discussion on how we can make the telecommunications data ecosystem work best for Ugandans is most relevant than ever before.
When I think about data, for many Ugandans, I think data is about being able to share your truth with the market. Every day, millions of Ugandans do many important activities—farming, manufacturing, and running a small business.
But because so much of this activity is not digital, they never get credit for this hard work. No one sees the price a coffee grower gets for their crop. No one sees the sales a trader brings in during a market day.
And those who could help them—maybe with a business loan, or a bag of fertilizer right at planting time—they don’t know the truth of these hardworking Ugandans, and so opportunities for economic development are missed due to lack of digital data.
However, due to transformation in the telecommunications data ecosystem, Ugandans are becoming better known, and these data gaps are shrinking.
I cannot overstate the potential of creating and managing digital identity, business documents, and transactions. It is not just about the service being provided. But the records created from different services can also be used by others to provide new services.
Just as mobile accounts enabled payments, and then later digital credit, data creates a constantly expanding chain of innovation potential.
But we have not yet fully realized the potential of this data, for two reasons:
First, our data is not always securely and respectfully managed. Data is opportunity. But data is also risk.
We have all seen the headlines about data breaches and identity theft. So what we need is to match our innovations in data with new consumer protection and data security frameworks which minimize the possibility of harm for data subjects.
The second reason is data silos. Think about it, I have a SIM card, I have various apps I use every day, I have my debit card, I have my national ID. I have almost all my digital identity right here with me on a daily.
But can I connect my digital identity? Can I take all this information, and share it with any of the businesses I interact via one single transfer? For now, the answer is I can’t. At least not easily and electronically.
Our data is not talking to each other, and we as consumers do not have enough control over this information. We often don’t control who gets to see our data, or who is denied access to this data.
Therefore, we need to reframe consumers’ data not as something a firm possesses, but something consumers have a right to leverage for their personal and economic benefit.
This is why the Commission has embarked on a Telecommunications Data Ecosystem Study. We recognize that the data ecosystem is fast-changing. Definitions of industries are becoming irrelevant in digital marketplaces where banks, Mobile Network Operators, and over-the-top players may all offer similar services.
Our policies to date have not kept up with this innovation. We believe it is time to develop a new policy strategy for the Telecommunications Data Ecosystem. This strategy should support four key objectives:
– The first objective is consumer protection. So that our data is not only open, but also safely and transparently managed.
– The second objective is competition. The more firms that can engage with all the data I carry around today, the greater choice I will have in the market.
– The third objective is innovation. Each new dataset creates a new opportunity to improve upon an existing service, or create a new one. We need to make sure that we have in place policies that facilitate the next wave of innovations, many of which we probably cannot even imagine yet.
– Finally, we need to anchor all our policies around the goal of economic development. At every moment we should be asking, “how will this support economic development?” We have already seen the proof how telecommunications data led a first wave of innovation that digitized communications and finance.
But how do we ensure the benefits of digitization reach the real economy and improve incomes for Ugandans? That is the question, and the responsibility, of our innovators.
The Commission is here to help make sure the rules, rights and responsibilities regarding telecommunications data are in place to let you achieve these objectives.
The Commission has undertaken the initial scoping study in partnership with Financial Sector Deepening Uganda. This is a first step and we will proceed by presenting a vision for several policy reforms that we hope will support the four objectives mentioned above.
It is our hope that the various sectors commit to support the policy vision, and prepare to leverage the policy agenda to develop the next set of innovations that allow Ugandans to maximize the benefit they derive from their data.
The writer is the executive director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC)
This article originally appeared on the website of UCC under the title: Godfrey Mutabazi 0n Telecommunications Data Ecosystem