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[Digital divide]

December 12, 2003

Good news travels fast. Digital Solidarity Day, invented by the President of Senegal little more than an hour ago, has already made it into a leading online encyclopedia...

David Steven @ 06:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Get set for 12/12/2004. The President of Senegal has just declared that, from now on, December 12 every year will be celebrated as 'Digital Solidarity Day'.

We're not sure what that means, in practice, and he's not taking questions. A source tells us that, essentially, it's a fundraising exercise.

Update 1923 CET - In the closing press conferenece, ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi has confirmed that this is a "voluntary" celebration... phew.

The news has come as a shock to the people of Guadaloupe, however, who will now be torn between celebrating digital solidarity and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. (It was on this day in 1531 that the Virgin Mary appeared before a Roman Catholic convert and told him, in his native Nahuatl language, to build a church.)

It is also tough luck for gardening fans in America who declared December 12 National Poinsettia Day (a poinsettia is a type of flower). Kenyans might also be too busy celebrating their independence day.

Honor Blackman, who will be celebrating her 77th birthday on December 12 2004, was not available for comment.
Aaron Scullion @ 05:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Swedish massage. The Swedish delegation summed up the Western world's attitude towards funding poorer countries' digital infrastructure this morning.

When asked whether she was in favour of the Global Solidarity Fund, Astrid Dufborg said: "Perhaps we can divide this into two questions. We are in favour of solidarity: but we have another position when it comes to the fund."

She continued: "We don't believe there is one kind of global fund that is appropriate for dealing with the whole issue [of the disparity in technology between rich and poor countries]. Creating a single fund would not deal with the issue. It would be more appropriate to have bilateral relations between the countries."

This is the Western world's argument in a nutshell. While poorer countries bandy the name "Digital Solidarity Fund" about the World Summit, the richer countries they have in mind for bankrolling the project are uniformly sceptical. The message coming out of Western countries is clear: we will look at the digital divide, but only through our existing aid channels. We don't rule out acting multilaterally, but with a small number of partners who will be of our choosing.

In Ms Dufborg's case, her country has joined with Ireland and Canada to fund the Global eSchools and Communities Initiative, an $80 million programme to provide hi-tech education in Namibia, Ghana, Bolivia and Andhra Pradesh in India.

The advantages of this scheme over contributing to a Digital Solidarity Fund are twofold. First, Sweden can keep a close eye on where its money is going and expand or downgrade the project at will. Second, eSchools is politically more valuable than a Global Solidarity Fund because it enables both technology and education ministers to answer their critics with one scheme.
Jack Malvern @ 01:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Nigeria in space. Nigeria launched black Africa's first satellite (Nigersat 1) into orbit a few months ago.

Talking exclusively to Daily Summit in his Mandarin hotel room, Nigeria's Minister of Science and Technology, Turner Isoun, had some exciting news. Nigeria now plans to launch its first communications satellite.

"Our strategy now is to go into communications satellites," he told us. "We missed the industrial revolution. We can not afford to miss the IT revolution."

"Now that the Federal Executive Council (the highest decision making body in the land) has approved the project, the satellite will be our IT infrastructure backbone.

His aim: "To be able to produce goods and services for the ICT market. To massively encourage training, capacity utilisation and software."

His plan: "Using this good beginning (WSIS) to transform the present environment ensuring that, in the next four years, at least 50 percent of all the children and youths in schools are signed up to the IT world."

The Science Minister spoke with real passion about the Nigerian dream. With a population of over 120 million, an ICT revolution in Nigeria could transform prospects for Africa. And provide a ray of hope for the continent.
Oghogho Obayu @ 12:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 11, 2003

Indigenous ICT. The paradox of discussing computer access for people locked in a daily struggle to survive was pointed out by indigenous peoples today.

"People are sick, starving they are fighting day to day to survive. That is the situation in many indigenous communities," said Mr Ole-Henrik Magga,
chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. "It's not a question of whether we use a computer or not, because there are
no computers. It is not a question of seeing a television, because there isn't one."

"Now we are knocking at the door of the information society and the question is, will we get in?" said Mr Magga, a member of the reindeer herding people of Northern Europe.

His organisation was only invited to WSIS a couple of months ago - severly curtailing any influence they could have in the run-up to the summit. Ms Mililani Trafk, Permanent Forum Member for the Pacific ,said the references to indigenous peoples they had fought to get added to summit documents have been removed for the final versions.

But she said their struggle to access ICTs would continue as they could bring "housing, food, health services and peace."
Erin Dean @ 03:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

Africa's dicey situation. Africa fears being left behind as the world rushes into a high tech future, with a stunned audience hearing from the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) this evening, that New York has more telephone lines than the whole of Africa!

The Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo puts it bluntly. "We are still struggling to provide the basic necessities of life... While faced with these challenges, we are also confronted with the digital revolution. We are, therefore, placed in a dicey situation."

"Almost everyone in the developed countries has access to ICTs, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, overall fixed line teledensity is about 1 to 130 inhabitants while internet, computers and television are available to only a handful of elites," he added.

Earlier, Senegalese strongman Abdulaye Wade had raised hopes of the emergence of a new concept of digital solidarity. But the Nigerian president seemed more downbeat, his baritone voice conveying the sad message that there appears to be a lack of political will to tackle a widening digital divide. He called, again, for a Digital Solidarity Fund, as "a practical measure for redressing the digital imbalance."

It was not all bad news. The President enthused about the strides which he says Nigeria has taken in catching up with the rest of the world. An independent telecoms regulatory is in place, which "has led to increased foreign investment as well as the intensification of competition. within the past four years, fixed telephone lines have increased from about 300,000 lines to 720,000 while mobile telephones increased fro m less than 50,000 to about 2,500,000. Direct foreign and domestic investment in the sector amounts to about four billion dollars."

More on this from Andy Carvin...
Oghogho Obayu @ 08:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
In philosophical mood, Nitin Desai, Kofi Annan's special adviser to WSIS, commented in a press conference:

"It's all relative. When I was young nobody in my village had used a telephone."

Erin Dean @ 03:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Let a million speeches bloom - His Excellency Mr. Pascal Couchepin, President of the Swiss Confederation, fresh from re-election, has kicked off a couple of days of speeches. He urged the world to bridge the digital divide - arguing that "if the rich countries do not keep their promises, they will plunge poor countries into despair."

Kofi Annan has now taken the floor, claiming that English-language websites are, at times, crowding out local views...

David Steven @ 02:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
The prickly dispute over the digital fund rumbles on (here, here, and here).

Nitin Desai, Kofi Annan's special adviser to WSIS, has suggested that a voluntary fund will be set up. Daily Summit asked him who had agreed to this. "All 192 countries," he replied.

Erin Dean @ 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2003

Furrer solution or final solution? We reported that the Swiss government's information chief Marc Furrer had hammered out a compromise on the digital solidarity fund - based on Western leaders agreeing to look into the idea.

But the President of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade has just been laying on the line here at WSIS his view - the fund must be more than looked into, it must happen. He's asking for more clarification from sceptical countries who want to emphasise existing mechanisms, and wants a defninition of what these are, and what they are achieving.

Cara Swift @ 06:45 PM | Comments (0)
Big bridge needed - as "the digital divide is massive". So says George Sciadas, a researcher who helped launch The Global Information Technology Report at WSIS. He added the divide "is closing at a hugely slow pace", which will take generations.

ICT's could stretch the gap - rather than breaching it - between the haves and have-nots, according to the report.

The have-nots in this case are Chad, Ethiopia, the Central Africa Republic, Eritrea, Malawi, Myanmar and Bangladesh, who bring up the rear of the list.

The discussion that went with the launch was called 'Who Is Winning and Who Is Losing in the Information Revolution'.

The upbeat chat from the panelists that it was a "win win situation" for every country fell flat in the face of the hard evidence.
Erin Dean @ 04:44 PM | Comments (1)
Leopard changing spots? So, we were listening to experts discussing ways of bridging the digital divide... and one says "breaking monopolies" is a way forward.

The speaker was Jean-Philippe Courtois, senior vice president and CEO of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa. You know, Microsoft.

He was cagey when we asked him to explain, and said when "the market was opened up" for telecoms companies in monopoly states, it seemed to be beneficial.

Erin Dean @ 04:40 PM | Comments (1)
Last minute agreement. Further to our earlier post, Marc Furrer, Swiss Secretary of State for WSIS, has just arrived, with PrepCom President Adama Samassekou - the latter resplendent in a blue turquoise robe. Mr Furrer apologised for his tardiness and for not having a copy of the draft text - so fresh is the ink on the new agreement.,

Key revelation - Mr Furrer said that the developed nations have agreed "at least to look into" the possibility of a global fund. Meanwhile the developing nations will each proceed with their various funds organised on a regional basis.

Cara Swift @ 01:26 PM | Comments (0)
Cyber Oscars - A Cambodian project connecting disadvantaged young people to the global market place has won the top award in this year's Cyber Oscars.

Digital Data Divide is a Cambodian-US company providing data entry services to US companies. It has turned over 140,000 US dollars and benefited over 80 Cambodians under the age of 25. We'll link to details of other projects honoured when the details go online...

David Steven @ 08:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

Thanks to reader, Mike McCallister for pointing out that the executive summary of the ITU World Telecommunication Development Report is now online. The full report will be available from Tuesday - expect a third launch...

We really value your thoughts, comments, tips, hints, brickbats, corrections etc. (hold fire on the abuse though!). So hit the comments or email info -at-

David Steven @ 03:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
In WSIS news, the ITU is determined to wring every last drop of publicity from their flagship World Telecommunication Development Report. After one release last month, yesterday saw a re-release (what next: a re-mix?).

The focus this time is on the Millennium Development Goals. The news is unsurprising - ICT's biggest contribution is to MDG#18, which deals with access to ICTs and information. The news is dutifully picked up here and here, though this takes a different angle).

Bizarrely, the report itself doesn't yet appear to be online...

David Steven @ 08:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

E-commerce and development? UNCTAD's E-Commerce and Development Report is out. The report claims that "while the Internet euphoria of the late 1990s may have subsided, the economic gains of ICT have broadly permeated business and society alike."

It also identifies what impact the growth of the digitial economy is likely to have on developing countries, with India's experience showing that "the growing market for IT services and business process outsourcing offers poor countries a new development opportunity."

Ahmed Reda @ 01:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
E-commerce and development? UNCTAD's E-Commerce and Development Report is out. The report claims that "while the Internet euphoria of the late 1990s may have subsided, the economic gains of ICT have broadly permeated business and society alike."

It also identifies what impact the growth of the digitial economy is likely to have on developing countries, with India's experience showing that "the growing market for IT services and business process outsourcing offers poor countries a new development opportunity."

Ahmed Reda @ 01:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2003

Teach your Granny. Young people are going to get the older generation online - at least, that's what BT hopes! They've launched a campaign, Internet Rangers, in the hope of tackling digital exclusion. According to BT, "one third of parents and grandparents have been encouraged to surf the internet by a teenager".

Cara Swift @ 06:10 PM | TrackBack

November 29, 2003

What Digital Divide? Business Week questions the notion of a digital divide, in an article that suggests that the internet is no longer being socially divisive.

Business Week quotes Donald Hicks, professor of political economy and public policy at the University of Texas, who argues that "the market seems to be taking care of digital divides."

Many of those not online in the US, at least, are avoiding the web because they don't want to use it, with researchers identifying a group of 'net evaders,' who reject the internet as a point of pride.

Claire Regan @ 10:03 AM | TrackBack

November 28, 2003

Any connection will do. Digital development should focus on universal connectivity, rather than high speeds. That's the "boring" (his words) conclusion of this piece by Eli Noam in the Financial Times - and while being connected is obviously better than not, surely such regressive thinking will ensure digital equality remains some way off?

Aaron Scullion @ 04:47 AM | TrackBack

November 26, 2003

Striking images of the impact of the information society are on display at a Geneva exhibition commissioned to coincide with WSIS. Tales From A Globalizing World is a series of moments highlighting the variety of globalization's effects on society.

Aaron Scullion @ 01:15 AM | TrackBack

November 25, 2003

On the web, and from a few months back, Douglas Clement asks whether innovation requires intellectual property rights and, along the way, provides a good primer on the economics behind WSIS's IP debates.

Clement talks to Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine who argue in a much-talked about paper that patents and copyrights create "intellectual monopolies" which, like any other monopoly, leave us all worse off in the long-run.

According to Clement, Boldrin and Levine have made a "formidable assault on the conventional wisdom about innovation and the need to protect intellectual property."

"The reaction for now is surprise and disbelief," Boldrin admits. "We'll see. In these kinds of things, the relevance is always if people find the suggestion interesting enough that it's worth pushing farther the research. All we have made is a simple theoretical point."
David Steven @ 08:55 AM | TrackBack

November 22, 2003

On the box. Kofi Annan has been celebrating World Television Day (yes, really) and loyally linking this momentous event both to the summit and the World Electronic Media Forum.

"Television can be a tremendous force for good," the UN Secretary General said. "It can educate great numbers of people about the world around them. It can show us how much we have in common with our neighbours, near and far. And, it can shed light on the dark corners, where ignorance and hatred fester."

However, Mr Annan is worried that poor countries do not export enough TV programmes to the rich world: "The flow of information ought not be one way only, from North to South; this has led to a burgeoning 'content divide' that threatens to overwhelm or marginalize local views and voices."

Mr. Annan wants to "preserve and promote cultural and linguistic diversity" without infringing on media freedoms."
David Steven @ 06:53 PM | TrackBack

November 21, 2003

In the news, One World East Asia carries an interview with Chetan Sharma on Indian preparations for WSIS. Sharma is "utterly dissatisfied with the government's response," but remains "certain the WSIS will help the poor."

David Steven @ 05:40 PM | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

Technology League Table. Summit organisers, the ITU are trumpeting their new Digital Access Index as the "World's First Global ICT Ranking".

And it's a Scandinavian one-two-three - with Sweden in pole position, and Denmark and Iceland just behind them on the grid. Norway (5th) and Finland (8th) are only just behind. The US only comes in 11th (apparently because of its weak mobile phone network), just behind Canada, while Italy (22nd) and France (23rd) only just edge out Slovenia.

Niger rolls in last, just behind Mali, Chad, Guinea-Bissau and Ethiopia. Africa's performance is predictably depressing - with only two countries (the Seychelles and Mauritius) squeezing into the index's second division and most languishing in its fourth (and bottom) one.

The performance of Asian countries is improving rapidly - with Korea (4th), Hong Kong (7th), Taiwan (9th), and Singapore (14th) all ahead of tech-obsessed Japan (15th). UAE (34th) heads up the Arab League Table, followed by Bahrain (42nd), Qatar (48th), Kuwait (60th) and Lebanon (67th).

The report's author, Michael Minges, claims lack of infrastructure is not the main, or even the most important, barrier blocking ICT take-up. Affordability and education are equally important factors, he claims.

Contrary to perceived wisdom, he claims English is no longer an advantage. "Over the past four years there's been a big shift," he says. "It's really moving toward Asia and away from the English-speaking nations."

Using data from 1998 on the top 40 countries as a comparator, Minges argues that non-Anglophone countries are on the way up, while English-speakers are plummeting down the rankings.

"This is completely contrary to everything that we've heard, that English is an advantage, if you don't speak English you're behind," he says.

The index aggregates eight (weighted) variables: fixed telephone subscribers per 100 inhabitants; mobile cellular subscribers per 100 inhabitants; internet access price as percentage of gross national income per capita; adult literacy; combined primary, secondary and tertiary school enrolment level; international internet bandwidth (bits) per capita; broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants; and internet users per 100 inhabitants.
David Steven @ 03:35 PM | TrackBack

November 16, 2003

Where's the progress? The summit is in trouble, as previously noted. Three more days of talks, designed to sort out gaping disagreements, have dribbled to a close.

By now, we shoud have something to really work with in Geneva - but instead, every time the participants get round a table, more tensions come out.

The draft paper optimistically calls for a "people-centered, inclusive"
information society - something which it wants to get from a hopelessly divided bunch.

There seem to be three main problems:
- Firstly, surprise, surprise, - money. The EU, especially Germany and the UK, and Japan are desperately against even a voluntary fund to pay for ICTs.
- Secondly, freedom of expression and human rights. China have successfully ambushed a complete paragraph on the "free flow of information" - not a good decision for the good of the world's media.
- And finally - Internet governance. China again seems to be causing more trouble than anyone else - it looked like governments would agree on just stating the need for further discussion in the declaration (a bit of a cop-out anyway), but China is blocking progress here, because Taiwan is a member of the ICANN government advisory board.

In addition the Civil Society seems to be generally brassed off with the course things are taking. They also said that terrorism legislation is now clamping down on the freedom of speech - an interesting swipe (especially at the US).

These are pretty complex issues, but Daily Summit is going to unravel them as best we can, over the next couple of posts.
Erin Dean @ 02:35 PM
In the news, Reuters analyses the progress of the negotiations, but reports that developing countries are making some progress on the"digital divide" fund they have been pressing for. It looks like they're going to get... more talks!

According Pierre Gagne, head of the summit secretariat: "No decision will be taken on the establishment of a fund, but I think that there will be agreement to establish a mechanism that will come up with specific recommendations on what to do."

David Steven @ 11:36 AM

November 12, 2003

Raising awareness. Daily Summit isn't even a week old, and already we're getting people talking about WSIS. A letter in the Guardian, responding to an earlier article about us, talks about what we can do to prevent the end result of the summit being "reduced freedoms and a further widening of the "digital divide".

Aaron Scullion @ 11:07 AM

November 11, 2003

In the news, Associated Press reports that the French Prime Minister and German Chancellor are among 56 world leaders committed to attending the summit, while the World Bank is resisting plans proposed by Senegal for a special fund to address the digital divide.

According to a Bank spokesman: "It's a very powerful concept, [but] generally people are not excited by the idea of creating a special fund that entails massive arrangements. The bank would not support something that would generate a few million dollars for African countries and cost the same amount in managing."
David Steven @ 09:09 AM

November 10, 2003

The Sri Lanka government has started an ambitious e-Sri Lanka programme to highlight the issues to be raised at the World Summit on Information Technology. The five year pilot scheme is the island's first attempt to bring together all government institutions through networking and once fully implemented it is the man on the street who will benefit. The project will even allow fishermen to get weather forecasts!

Cara Swift @ 01:40 PM
India's government is under pressure to bridge the digital divide in the country. Despite increasing investments in IT infrastructure the gap is still widening, according to a group of NGOs. The government is sending a sizeable delegation to WSIS in Geneva, but the director of OneWorld South Asia says there has been no dialogue between the government and people's organisations on ICT strategies and policies.

Cara Swift @ 01:39 PM

October 29, 2003

Information Revolution. A report issued by RAND, casts some light on the Information Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa, providing a great deal of statistics in its attempt to tackle the issue..

Ahmed Reda @ 11:43 PM | TrackBack

October 25, 2003

Telephone Tax. Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade has proposed a global tax on international calls, personal computers and software packages. Revenue would fund a "digital solidarity" fund to help Africa catch up with the IT revolution.

"It is paradoxical and ironic that the continent which invented writing . . . [is] excluded from universal knowledge," the President commented.

His tax, he argued, would be a painless one. Daily Summit is not so sure - shrieks of pain can be expected from IT lobbies should the proposal ever be put seriously on the table once the summit gets going in Geneva next month...

David Steven @ 10:47 AM | TrackBack
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