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In this issue: a connectivity partnership between the US and Africa, the EU’s attempts to increase domestic production of clean tech and why AI companies should be spending a third of their resources on safety testing. Plus, upcoming IIC events
United States plans to help connect 80 per cent of Africa

US Vice President Kamala Harris has announced the formation of a new partnership to help provide internet access to 80 per cent of Africa by 2030, up from 40 per cent now. It’s understood that Harris is keen to follow through on commitments she made to promote digital innovation when she visited Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia last year. The Partnership for Digital Access in Africa brings together private and public sector leaders from Africa, the United States and other parts of the world. At a meeting in Washington, Vice President Harris said ‘many could rightly argue that the future is on the continent of Africa’, noting that the median age in Africa is 19, a sign of the potential for economic growth. ‘It is not about, and simply about aid, but about investment and understanding the capacity that exists.’ Africa has struggled to receive the capital needed for its technology sector, with foreign direct investment falling to $45 billion in 2022, from $80 billion in 2021, according to the UN. Africa accounted for only 3.5 per cent of foreign direct investment worldwide, while it makes up 18 per cent of the global population. Besides launching the Partnership for Digital Access in Africa, Harris announced an initiative designed to give 100 million African people and businesses in the agricultural sector access to the digital economy.

The EU cyber certification scheme relaxes rules over sovereignty, but the debate continues

EU cybersecurity agency ENISA has published a new text for the cybersecurity for cloud services (EUCS) scheme, designed to overcome a current impasse. The voluntary certification scheme will allow companies to demonstrate that their solutions offer the right level of cybersecurity protection for the EU market. However it had run into disagreements over sovereignty requirements designed to exclude non-EU cloud companies from qualifying for the highest security options. The new text says the EUCS ‘does not enforce restrictions on geographical location or processing’, but ‘requires the cloud service provider to be transparent about this information at all evaluation levels’. Industry groups have warned against requirements that effectively exclude large US companies, arguing that the ‘free movement of cloud services in Europe’ will ‘contribute to Europe’s digital ambitions’.

Artificial intelligence
AI companies should be spending ‘one third of resources’ on safety

The ‘godfather of AI’, Geoffrey Hinton, says that we could have super-intelligent AI (AI that is more intelligent than humans) within the next 20 years. In a recent interview he says this is a prospect ‘we have never faced before’ and argues that regulators need to intervene to force companies engaged in AI development to spend one third of their resources on testing. Hinton left Google last year in order to speak more openly about AI risks, while emphasising that Google itself had behaved ‘very responsibly’.

AI is more hyped than used but people are optimistic, a study finds

For all the money and attention given to generative AI, it has yet to become part of people’s routine internet use. This is one of the main findings of new research conducted in six countries by the Reuters Institute and Oxford University. The study found that ChatGPT was the most widely recognised AI product. However only 1 per cent of those surveyed in Japan used it on a daily basis, 2 per cent in France and the UK, and 7 per cent in the US. 56 per cent of 18-24 year olds had used it at least once. Across the sample there was optimism that AI would provide improvements in science, healthcare, media and entertainment, but pessimism around the impact on jobs and news. The full report can be read here.

EU approves act designed to increase domestic green tech production

The Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) will enter force in July following its approval by European Union governments. The law is designed to increase the production of green technology in Europe by helping European industry compete with US and Chinese rivals. The NZIA proposes streamlining the granting of permits and will require public bodies buying clean tech products to place a 30 per cent weighting on an offer’s sustainability and supply resilience. The bloc has set a target of producing 40 per cent of green technology products domestically by 2030. Separately, European Commission Vice President Margarethe Vestager has suggested that ‘like-minded’ countries will have to develop a list of trustworthiness criteria for critical technologies such as chips and batteries. Speaking ahead of the G7 meeting in Capri she noted: ‘As we further develop the strategy for clean technologies, we must reflect on the question of trustworthiness. These products become connected. And more and more, they are an essential part of our critical energy and transport infrastructure’. Criteria could include environmental footprint, labour rights, cybersecurity and data security.

Data privacy
Ad transparency tools lack data and functionality, says report

Tech giants still have a long way to go in their efforts to be more transparent about the ads they run, according to a new report published by Mozilla and CheckFirst, a Finland-based disinformation research company. The report is published six months after the Digital Services Act (DSA), which requires larger platforms to offer a searchable public ads library, came into force. CheckFirst conducted an external assessment which revealed that the available tools lacked vital data and functionality, concluding that ‘oversight tools are falling short of providing the intended transparency and democratic accountability in a critical year for elections globally’. ‘Full Disclosure: Stress testing tech platforms’ ad repositories’ can be downloaded here.

IIC Events

10-12 September 2024

Botswana Forum, Gaborone, Botswana

21-22 October 2024

IIC Canada Chapter meeting, Ottawa, Canada

4-7 November 2024

Communications Policy and Regulation Week, Bangkok, Thailand

18-19 March 2025

Europe Digital Communications and Media Forum

Details of all IIC events can be found here.

In brief

The US Federal Trade Commission has launched an inquiry into the partnerships between the big tech cloud providers and generative AI companies. The FTC is ‘seeking to build a better internal understanding’ of the networks of partnerships and investment that have emerged between the three big cloud providers – Google, Microsoft and Amazon – and AI start-ups OpenAI and Anthropic. UK and EU competition regulators are also examining Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI.

Paratus Zambia has announced the completion of a 700 km open-access metro fibre network connecting 10 Zambian cities and towns. The project was a partnership with Meta Platforms and construction began at the end of 2022. It is expected to improve connectivity in underserved communities in towns and cities across Zambia.

Zimbabwe’s telecoms regulator, POTRAZ, has directed Starlink to shut down connections to subscribers in the country. Zimbabwe, like Botswana and South Africa, has yet to license the satellite broadband service and has said that it will prosecute users. However, Zimbabweans have continued to take advantage of Starlink’s roaming service through equipment purchased in countries such as Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia and Kenya, where it is legal.

A proposed bill in California that will place restrictions on AI development has met with stiff resistance from AI companies. As well as a commitment not to develop models with a ‘hazardous capability’, developers would have to report on safety testing and include a ‘kill switch’ that could shut the model down. Opponents argue that if passed, the bill will see AI companies leave the state.

Sources: The Financial Times, Reuters, APNews, Euronews, Euractiv, US News, CNN,  TechCrunch, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Bloomberg, Economic Times, BBC, Politico,