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May 03 2011

10:07

May Net2 Think Tank: Improving Lives in Rural Communities with ICTs

May 17 will mark World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). To celebrate, we're using this year's WTISD theme, "Better Life in Rural Communities with ICTs" to guide our Net2 Think Tank question for May!

For this month's Net2 Think Tank, we're brainstorming ideas for closing the digital divide for people living in rural areas all around the world. How are you bridging the divide and what are your tips for others who are just getting started? Share your projects and ideas with the NetSquared Community!

Topic:

How can we help improve the lives of people living in rural areas using ICT? What are your tactics and best practices for helping rural communities using web or mobile technology? And, which projects are already doing this well?

Deadline:  Saturday, May 21st

How to contribute:

  • Post your response online: Leave a comment below, write on your own blog or website, post on the NetSquared Community Blog, or share your feedback on Facebook or Linkedin.
  • Tag your post, comment, or tweet with net2thinktank.
  • Email Claire Sale the link to your post.
  • Have you written about this topic in the past? Great! Simply add the net2thinktank tag to your post and email us the link.

Be sure to get your submission in by emailing Claire the link to your post by Saturday, May 21st

The roundup of contributions will be posted on the NetSquared blog on Monday, May 23rd.

About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.

 

About World Telecommunication and Information Society Day:

The purpose of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

17 May marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union. Learn more.

March 04 2011

12:05

Further your Knowledge of ICT4D at the University of London

A great educational opportunity - MA in ICT for sustainable development at the University of London

The ICT for development (ICT4D) programme is a new strand within the established and highly successful Master course in Practising Sustainable Development at the Royal Holloway, University of London. The new Masters tries to balance out the proportions between the research and practice and it is designed for those who want to launch or further their careers as development practitioners or scholars.

The University is looking for the people with a good academic background in a field related i.e. natural or social sciences, and/or considerable professional experience in the development and environment protection field.

Read more about the programme and apply

February 16 2011

17:24

7 Lessons From the Egyptian Revolution

Whilst I am no expert in Egyptian history or politics, I have found the role of digital technologies in Egypt's revolution fascinating. This blog serves as a summary of some of my observations surrounding the 18 days of protest, which successfully ended President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30 years of rule.

1. People at the heart.

Whilst information and communication technology (ICT) provided critical channels to mobilize and magnify the revolution, it was the motivated, driven activists, such as the leaders of the April 6 Movement who effectively and deliberately used these tools to organize the protests. Millions of brave, determined demonstrators took action and met on the streets. Thus, it was the Egyptian people -- not the tools they used -- who need to be given credit for successfully demanding political change.

2. Kick-started by social media.

Wael_ghonim.jpg

Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing manager administered the We are all Khaled Said Facebook page that -- amongst others such as the January 25 Facebook page -- were the initial tools that enabled and enhanced the January 25 demonstration. Soon Twitter followed Facebook, with the #Jan25 hashtag spreading virally online.

As Ghonim told the AP: "This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook...This is the revolution of the youth, of the Internet and now the revolution of all Egyptians."

3. A combination of tactics.

The organizing capacity of social media was the impetus for the revolution and it continued to play a pivotal role throughout, recording events in real time for all with Internet access to see. However, other combined and coordinated tactics were used, including demonstration invitations delivered face-to-face and via email and SMS.

Hotline numbers, such as those of Front to Defend Egypt Protesters, were used to receive citizen reports. Blogs and photos were posted online, bambuser.com was used for live video streaming, Google created the Crisis Response page for Egypt and videos were posted on YouTube, Storyful, and CitizenTube.

Here's one such video highlighted on YouTube's CitizenTube page:

Arab satellite television, such as Al Jazeera, was also a particularly powerful force for intensifying participation both locally and internationally. For instance, Wael Ghonim was interviewed on television, after he was imprisoned for 12 days by the secret police. He wept for the 300 Egyptians killed and it is widely believed that this emotional moment turned up the movement's heat and led to a large swell in the number of protesters in Tahrir Square the day following his interview. It was broadcast on television, uploaded on YouTube, subtitled, and then circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter.

Even when the government disrupted and blocked Internet and mobile phone communication, activists were inspired to be even more resourceful in their use of cross-platform strategies. Researcher, Alix Dunn gives examples of these hybrid techniques and how they spread: satellite news broadcast of tweets, transmission from satellite television to radio, and leaflet distribution by people on the ground.

The impact of this coordination is proof that the Egyptian revolution was both a people's movement and a tech-centric uprising.

4. Censorship led to further innovation.

During government disruptions of Internet/mobile communications, citizens and journalists continued to use social media via third party applications like Hootsuite and TweetDeck and they transmitted videos via satellite devices.

Full Internet/mobile censorship by the government led to further communication innovation, with Speak2Tweet being developed by Twitter/Google, so that Egyptians could send news without being online. Egyptians could call in to advertised numbers to leave voice messages, which were then tweeted via the #Egypt hashtag, with a link to the audio message. Small World News subsequently organized translation of the Arabic messages into English.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo warned autocrats that censorship doesn't prevent protesters from using Twitter completely, "you're just challenging them to find another way to use it. People will always find a way to communicate."

5. The importance of external allies.

Twitter and Al Jazeera English service were key avenues for Egyptians to communicate with the rest of the world, including with international NGOs, bloggers, and media. Once the world is paying attention and in solidarity with the uprising, citizen protests become more difficult for dictators to ignore.

6. Corporations should be held more accountable.

According to Pyramid Research, the government used Vodafone Egypt, in which it has a 36 percent ownership stake, to send pro-government SMS messages to the Egyptian citizens. According to sources on the ground, Mobinil was used for this purpose as well. Later Vodafone, other mobile operators and the country's major Internet service providers, were forced to suspend their networks by the government.

Telecommunications providers and ISPs, which have physical assets, usually need a country license to operate. Thus, they are more susceptible to government pressure than corporations like Facebook and Google, which do not have to build infrastructure in a country to be accessed by its citizens. Yet despite pressure from repressive regimes, surely corporations like Vodafone have some responsibility to citizens and should be held accountable for their actions in Egypt and elswhere?

7. A question of access.

Egypt is blessed with a relatively solid ICT infrastructure. According to Pyramid Research, there are three mobile operators, providing nationwide coverage and 3G services, with cellular penetration having reaching 78 percent of the population by the end of 2010. According to 2009 data 21 percent of Egyptians are online and 5.1 million are on Facebook.

In African countries, where access to ICT is considerably less, building up this type of political momentum may be more difficult.

Conclusion and next steps

ICT and particularly social media definitely lubricated and sped up the revolt in Egypt and, as Ethan Zuckerman states, it will be interesting to see how these tools will be used to help form a new democratic government in Egypt.

When Wael Ghonim was asked what's next in revolutions in the Arab world, he told CNN: "Ask Facebook."

Similarly, global citizens from countries with repressive regimes have heard the tweets and the news from Egypt and are in some way emboldened and inspired.

March 29 2010

18:12

Competition in Internet, Mobile Services Boosts Democracy

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) such as the Internet and mobile phones are often recognized for their role in helping connect people and communities, and spread knowledge and information. People may be unaware, however, that they're also a powerful force for international development -- provided that they are not suffocated by regulation and censorship.

The ICT Development and Initiative Dossier from June 2002 [PDF file] stated that, "since the beginning of the 1980s almost all national telecom and information technology markets worldwide have been transformed by technological innovation, product diversification (especially the introduction of mobile/cellular telephony and Internet) and market restructuring (particularly privatization, liberalization and the introduction of independent regulators)."

This holds true in some countries more than others. In some instances, the levels of liberalization and regulation in the ICT sector seem to directly correlate with the health of the country's democracy.

Civil and Economic Benefits

Market liberalization and the adjustment of regulation levels for ICT industries results in a growing shift from state-owned monopolies to a more open market which allows for competition from various dynamic and privately driven entities. Some governments and national operators are threatened by the prospect of increased competition and decreased state control, but for civil society and the economy as a whole, there's an array of benefits.

Economic analyst Vlade Milićević argues that, by adjusting the legislative and regulatory mobile telephony frameworks, increased competition leads to improved customer choice, enhanced quality, more efficient services, reduced prices, faster product innovation and growing economic development for both the market and the relevant country. These positive impacts are notable in various case studies on Central Eastern European countries, where the sector has recently been liberalized.

Similar cost benefits patterns have occurred in various ICT sectors. Between 1998 and 2002, retail prices of the fixed telecommunications industry in the EU decreased by 8.2 percent due to liberalizing the regulatory framework. Likewise, the liberalization of Internet telephony, which includes the legalization of voice over IP (VoIP) services in various countries, resulted in a dramatic decrease in phone charges. For example, in the U.S. a few years ago, calls to India were 50 cents per minute -- now they are less than 5 cents per minute from fixed lines.

Other than decreasing costs, information and telecommunication technology liberalization has other benefits. The use of VoIP enabled the advent of outsourced call centers because it offers the possibility of routing a local number offshore. In the U.S. today, 80 percent of companies have call centers located offshore. This cuts costs for the American companies and generates employment and income for the offshore country. These employment and revenue benefits are significant for countries such as India, Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya and South Africa.

Other examples of the benefits of this form of liberalization include community initiatives like Village Telco, "an easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit." It uses open source software, VoIP and other technology to offer free local calls, cheap long distance, Internet access and other information services to previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa and other developing countries.

Lack of Liberalization

However, in some countries such as Zimbabwe, VoIP remains in a legal grey zone. According to a report commissioned by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, "African regulators have been reluctant to legalize VoIP, based on a largely misguided attempt to protect the revenue base of the incumbent fixed-line, and in some cases, mobile telcos." Unprogressive regulators can retard growth in the sector, stunt the country's revenue, create lost opportunities, constrict the adoption of new technologies, and leave communities isolated in information vacuums.

The World Bank recently stated that there is positive and direct correlation between growth in gross domestic product and ICT development. Despite this, two factors seem to be preventing some governments from liberalizing ICT markets: The threat of a decrease in revenues for state controlled monopolies, and the decrease in control of the content that is available to the public. ICTs -- and particularly the use of the Internet and mobile phones -- are making it difficult for undemocratic governments to control information and in this age of communication, information is power.

"Freedom of information is...the touchstone of all the freedoms," according to the 1948 UN Freedom of Information Conference. Similarly, the principles from the World Summit on Information Society of 2003 declared that: "We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers."

This sentiment was again reiterated in a recent poll by the BBC, which found that 80 percent of the 27,000 people surveyed around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental human right. However, only about 25 percent of the world's population has access to the Internet, and various countries moderately to severely censor the information available.

Along with many other economic and technological benefits, a global shift to a more liberalized ICT market would honor fundamental human rights, and help create a more equitable and informed world.

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