Friday, March 02, 2007

Working on the Digital Divide

I have met her twice: once in Vienna and once in Bahrain; both occasions took place in 2005. It was all in the framework of the World Summit Award (WSA), a global multimedia competition set up in the framework of the World Summit on the Information Society. The competition is register examples of how the global divide is overcome. Titi Akinsanmi was in Bahrain as a member of the Grand Jury and she is a person you can not ignore. So I am not surprised to read in a press release that she spoke at a meeting between the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies for Development and innovators and corporate leaders at Mountain View in Silicon Valley.

Bringing down costs of Internet access could set off the same wave of connectivity that has made mobile phone usage commonplace in developing countries, was a repeated theme as innovators and corporate leaders from some of the world's leading technology firms met in northern California with Government leaders, activists and United Nations officials.

In 2004 alone, Africa has added some 15 million new mobile phone subscribers, and such subscriptions have more than doubled since 1999, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Telecom deregulation and skyrocketing cell phone use in Nigeria, for instance, have produced "spin-offs of spirituality and spin-offs of profit" in that country, Titi Akinsanmi of SchoolnetAfrica Project told the meeting of the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies for Development. She clarified that subscribers are devising value-added information services that meet social and religious needs.

But making available low-cost computers and cheap Internet depends on a complex chain of on-the-ground realities, of which technological innovation is only one component, Intel Corporation Chairman Craig Barrett pointed out. Among these are strong connection to international Internet, domestic connections and service providers, and content in local languages which meet local needs said Mr. Barrett, who serves as Chairman of the Alliance's Steering Committee.

A sound regulatory system that encourages fair competition and innovative business models is also pre-requisite, added ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, an Alliance Steering Committee member.

The Alliance is a low-bureaucracy organization with its budget of virtually zero, Mr. Barrett told Silicon Valley representatives gathered at the Computer History in Mountain View. Founded in 2006, the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies for Development brings together private and public sector and civil society organizations to collaborate on multifaceted mechanisms to spread the digital revolution worldwide.

The exchange of ideas and experiences covered issues such as bringing broadband to Africa, building a volunteer cyber corps and linking venture capital to development. Also on the agenda were talks on crafting local content, encouraging the spread of telecentres and mining technological innovations for development payoffs.

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