July 1, 2020 — The coronavirus health crisis has brought about deep challenges related to misinformation, governance and trust.
In a webinar sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies on Wednesday, Accountability Lab panelists on the ground in South Africa, Mali and Nepal detailed how the pandemic is affecting government accountability and corruption.
The Accountability Lab is a non-profit international project, which works to engage citizens in conversations surrounding civil service in nine countries.
Citizens, civil society groups and public sector reformers across several countries are finding creative ways to rebuild trusted communication between states and their people, in the absence of effective national pandemic responses.
“Identifying people who are pushing for change and equipping them with skills, knowledge and resources is how we see systematic change occurring,” said Cheri-Leigh Erasmus, global director of learning at the Accountability Lab.
“Currently, our main objective is to get accurate and validated information out there during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Erasmus said.
In Mali, government instability and citizen unrest was prevalent before the pandemic, which led to increased mistrust when the pandemic hit the country.
“Mali has been going through a multi-dimensional crisis,” said Doussouba Konaté, monitoring officer for Mali at the Accountability Lab.
Malians were facing an economic and governmental crisis even before grappling with the health and misinformation crisis brought about by the pandemic, she said.
“The weakness of the country is obvious,” Konaté added. “There is a lack of trust between the people and the leader.”
Malian people have considered the country’s leader unfit since a 2012 coup d’état, she said.
A distrust of government has led to a general disbelief in the pandemic itself in Mali.
“People don’t believe the information because it’s coming from the government,” said Konaté.
On top of a general distrust in government, vast amounts of disinformation about the virus have been disseminated on WhatsApp, which is widely used as a communications platform by Malians.
The Malian government implemented a curfew from 9 PM to 5 AM on March 26, which quickly ended on May 8 after uprisings protesting both the curfew and the results of the parliamentary election.
The government has taken some socioeconomic measures to reduce utility bills, but people are still struggling to feed their families, panelists said.
The country is easing restrictions and lessening aid, even as cases continue to rise.
Other nations transitioned into lockdown with more ease due to stronger civic environments prior to the pandemic.
Nepal had a comparatively smooth transition in dealing with the pandemic’s impacts, according to Narayan Adhikari, the Nepal director at the Accountability Lab.
The country closed its border to China on January 28, following its first case being reported on January 23, which was an individual traveling from Wuhan.
Nepal has also taken efforts to curb misinformation about the disease within its borders.
On March 21, a 20-year-old man was arrested on charges of spreading misinformation online through an unregistered fake news website, stirring public fear.
After three months in quarantine, the country has reopened, with a relatively low death rate of approximately 14,000, Adhikari reported.
The Accountability Lab aims to utilize a combination of traditional and new media, trusted by local communities, to get accurate information to those who need it.
No shortage of measures has been taken to reach audiences during the pandemic.
In Nepal, a hotline was created so individuals could easily call in with questions and get the facts that they needed.
In Liberia, employees of the lab created rap songs containing important information, which are disseminated on local radio stations and highly popular among children.
“What should civil service look like?” Erasmus asked. “And how do we get individuals active in conversations about civil service?”
“Good governance is hard, but worth investing in,” she said. “All citizens must do their part.”
Huawei’s Success In China A Win For Washington, Expert Says
The Chinese telecom giant is finding greater financial success on home turf, keeping it away from the U.S.
April 16, 2021— The Biden administration’s current maintenance of the previous government’s policy on isolating Chinese technology companies is appearing to pay off, according to experts.
Huawei, which has become the American symbol of alleged Chinese espionage, has seen increasing success in its home country of China, which is where the U.S. wants it to stay, experts say.
“The more you isolate Chinese tech companies, the more the [Chinese] government keeps them at home,” said “Splinternet” author and journalist Scott Malcomson at a Techonomy panel on Wednesday. He added that this strategy is beginning to pay off, citing the Chinese market now being more profitable for Huawei than going abroad.
The United States has instituted a number of restrictions against Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei and ZTE, which has forced these companies to pivot.
He described China’s “soup to nuts” effort to establish a completely independent network: everything from satellites, to undersea fiberoptics, to e-commerce companies—China’s primary goal was to be able to handle all these sectors domestically.
Joy Tran, who is senior vice president of public affairs for Huawei Technologies USA, corroborated the company’s domestic success, saying the Chinese market is now the biggest part of Huawei’s portfolio, which makes up 65 percent of its global revenue.
But Tran also said the company has always been completely compliant with Chinese and American law. “The US government really never told us about their concerns—we don’t understand [why Huawei is restricted from U.S. networks].”
Tran stated that Huawei has never had any “cybersecurity related issues,” and pointed to Huawei’s long-term operation in the U.K. as evidence that Huawei is not a bad-faith actor. Huawei also has deep relationships with academic and government institutions in Canada, which is the only country in the Five Eyes intelligence pact – which includes the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Australia – that has yet to make a determination about whether to ban Huawei from parts of its 5G networks.
Security concerns with Huawei
Tran also attempted to dispel the notion that the Chinese government forced Huawei to maintain backdoors into their hardware and software for spying purposes.
Though the U.S. government has long maintained the opposite, Malcomson argued that the point was moot. “Frankly, if you have a front door, you don’t really need a back door.” Malcomson said that the backdoor argument was merely a red herring that distracted from China’s aspirations and behaviors it had engaged in over the past several years.
Zachary Karabell, another author and former head of a financial services firm, argued Wednesday that the ongoing duel between the U.S. and China over Huawei’s standing was emblematic of the entire U.S.-China relationship.
Karabell’s position is that the question needed to be reframed: the question that needs to be asked is not, “Is the U.S. spying on China and is China spying on the U.S.?” The answer is clearly, yes.
The question that Karabell believes has not been sufficiently addressed is whether the production of equipment and the location of where said equipment is produced offers a competitive edge for intelligence gathering efforts.
Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build
Openreach aims to get 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by later this decade.
April 14, 2021 – STL, or Sterlite Technologies Limited, announced Wednesday a partnership with Openreach, the United Kingdom’s largest digital network business to expand its “Full Fiber” broadband network across the UK.
STL, a global network designer from India, will provide millions of kilometers of fiber to develop Openreach’s goal of 20 million fiber-to-the-premise connections by late 2020s.
“This collaboration with Openreach strengthens a 14-year-old technology and supply relationship between the two companies and further reinforces STL’s commitment to the UK market,” the company said in a statement.
Openreach will use STL’s Opticonn solution, a fiber and cable build that the company claims offers better performance and faster installation, according to the release statement. The company will also utilize STL’s new celesta ribbon cable that boasts a capacity of up to 6,912 fibers, the statement added.
“Our Full Fiber network build is going faster than ever. We need partners like STL on board to not only help sustain that momentum, but also to provide the skills and innovation to help us go even further,” Openreach’s Kevin Murphy said in a statement. “We know the network we’re building can deliver a host of social and economic benefits – from boosting UK productivity to enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips – but we’re also trying to make this one of the greenest network builds in the world.”
Ankit Agarwal, CEO of connectivity solutions business at STL, said, “our customized, 5G-ready optical solutions are ideally suited for Openreach’s future-proof network requirements and we believe they will enable next-gen digital experiences for homes and businesses across UK. This partnership will be a major step towards our mission of transforming billions of lives through digital networks,” he said in a statement.
Openreach’s network now reaches 4.5 million premises, offering gigabit-capable connection through a range of competing providers on the network, and the company is building at a rate of about 42 thousand new homes and businesses a week, according to the release.
The UK parliament has set a goal to get 85 percent of UK homes and businesses access to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. They reported that as of September 2020, 27 percent of UK premises received that connection speed, and 95 percent have access to “superfast broadband” which the government defines as at least 30 megabits per second download speed.
Parliament acknowledged that although “superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs today, the demand for data-intensive services such as online video streaming is increasing and can push the limits of a superfast broadband connection. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity.”
STL is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
Loopholes Allowing Private Purchase Of Chinese Goods Must Be Closed: Commissioner Carr
April 5, 2021 – Loopholes that allow U.S. companies to use private funds to purchase equipment from Chinese-based companies like Huawei and ZTE should be closed, Federal Communications C Commissioner Brendan Carr said Tuesday.
Carr said last week at a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that while the U.S. government has been able to prevent companies from spending federal dollars on Chinese telecom equipment, legal loopholes still persist that allow companies to use private funds to purchase such equipment, leaving agencies like the FCC helpless in preventing these transactions.
Communist China has made it clear it wants to dominate the global semiconductor and chip market, and it is not opposed to using forced labor to achieve that goals. Be it garage door openers or computers, nothing should be allowed if it has ties to Uighur-related forced labor, Carr said.
“The CCP is committing genocide—crimes against humanity—in Xinjiang,” he noted.
Carr spoke broadly about the continued threats Chinese telecom equipment poses to U.S. national security interests.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the new Biden administration’s strategic vision for U.S. foreign policy and identified China as the top geopolitical challenge facing the United States.
Commissioner Carr said there are bipartisan commitments to address threats from China, and that the FCC can continue to take steps to protect the U.S.’s 5G network infrastructure, including moving to block approval of devices that contain parts made from companies with ties to “Communist China,” or forced labor from places like Xinjiang.
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