Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

March 2005

ICT4D04:23, March 24, 2005

Following up my post about The Economists leader about the digital divide the other day, I’d like to point interested parties to the report Completing the Revolution – The Challenge of Rural Telephony in Africa, written by Murali Shanmugavelan and Kitty Wariock and published by Panos.

The guys at WSIS can talk about global internet ad infinitum, but without even basic telephone services these countries will be forever left in the dust.

At present, the lack of rural connections is often hidden behind impressive overall figures for the growth of telephony. Important development initiatives such as NEPAD and the World Summit on the Information Society focus on internet-based ICTs, and where they mention telephony at all it is in general terms.

The report provides both case studies (Uganda, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Zambia) as well as insight into the processes of privatization and deregulation. For example, how countries are interpreting the Universal Service-directive and what methods are used to give access to citizens.

Digital Culture and ICT4D16:55, March 20, 2005

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has submitted a paper to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), where the organization gives its views on why Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology is damaging for developing nations.

The answer to “Which DRM will spur the most development in my nation?” is “None at all.”

One of the more pressing points, I believe, is how DRM prevents resale, or even donation, of used goods – something that is crucial to many economies in developing countries. Maybe it’s not such a great deal if where talking about the latest Britney Spears album – but way more serious when you consider that Adobe’s eBook-system also incorporates DRM-technology.

Then there is a problem with infrastructure, of rather lack thereof. Some DRM-solutions require the client/consumer to be in contact with a central server from time to time. This is of course not pretty difficult in a rural area with little or no internet connectivity.

However, my only complaint is that the EFF report feels somewhat thin. They argue, with their usual precision, against DRM in the developed countries – but fall a bit short in providing specific examples with regards to the developing world. Their main point seem to be it didn’t work here – and it sure won’t work there, an argument that might not convince the sceptics and be heard over the powerful pro-DRM lobby organizations.

ICT4D13:48, March 14, 2005

The Economist devotes one of its leaders to discuss the digital divide and the UN’s creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund. The magazine argues that creation of for example community computer centers, cannot bridge the real divide because the illiteracy rate is too high in many of the affected countries. Instead, they say, the real gap is between those with a cell phone, and those without. And, how to achieve high penetration of mobile phones? Less UN involvement and more liberalization of the market, of course.