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    Providing Equal Public Access To ICTs To Bridge The Digital Divide

    Published on 18 June 2014 @ 7:20 pm

    By for Intellectual Property Watch

    While the last decade has been characterised by an explosion in the availability of information and communication technologies (ICTs), in 2014 the digital divide still exists and 4 billion people are not yet connected to the internet, especially those from the developing world. In order to achieve digital inclusion for all, speakers on a recent panel called for support for equal public access to ICTs notably through public libraries and other community centres.

    A 9 June pre-event meeting of the UN-led “WSIS +10 High Level Event” was entitled “Conquering the Digital Divide: How public access to ICTs supports development in the information society.” The event, organised by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and moderated by Director of Policy and Advocacy Stuart Hamilton, brought speakers from government, business and civil society to share their views on this challenge for the future of the information society.

    The WSIS +10 High Level was held from 10-13 June at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in two phases, 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis, Tunisia).

    There is no commonly agreed definition of public access, but according to a briefing on Public Access for the Commission on Science and Technology for Development [pdf], “these are usually facilities which allow any member of the public to make affordable use of computers with broadband connections, along with associated ICT tools, such as printers and scanners as well as technical support for using the internet.

    Public access facilities may be purpose-built state-supported “telecentres” or “community multimedia centres” (CMCs), or private “cybercafés.” Locating public access services in existing institutions situated in the community, such as libraries and post offices, is often a particularly effective method of deploying public access.

    Public Access a Core Component

    “We still have a long way to go,” said Mike Jensen, internet access specialist at Association for Progressive Communications in South Africa. He said attention to public access has been drawn away by the incredible growth of mobile access, especially among people at the bottom of the pyramid some years ago.

    This rapid growth of internet-connected mobile phones led to “the idea of leapfrogging public access and going straight to private access for full broadband in the home,” he said.

    However, according to in-depth research carried out by the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington, “there is a significant demand and need for public access which go beyond people’s domestic access in their home,” he said.

    This is especially the case for providing “a safe space for users who might to feel intimidated by accessing certain types of information from home or schools and also as resource to get technical expertise on where or how to navigate on the internet,” he said.

    While projects have been delivered to develop public access facilities, their enabling environments were not fully in place and many of these centres were unsustainable, he said.

    Jensen touched on some models to make public access more sustainable. The real need, he said, “is to combine the facilities,” so as to use existing public buildings such as libraries, schools, and community centres rather than building high cost freestanding services.

    Investment should also be made in broadband (high-speed internet) infrastructure in rural areas according a coherent strategy, and relevant content for developing countries should be created, he said.

    Bringing Women Online

    A focus on the participation of women in ICTs was presented by Iffat Gill, activist and researcher at Worldpulse for Pakistan, a network of nearly 60,000 [corrected] women from more than 190 countries using the power of digital media to connect and bring them a global voice.

    Recently, a campaign entitled “Women Weave the Web” was launched with the purpose of crowdsourcing solutions and testimonies from women regarding public access in their respective communities. The campaign encompasses three phases: digital access, digital literacy and digital empowerment.

    So far, more than 180 [corrected] testimonies have been submitted for the digital access phase. Among them, cultural, social, security, and economic barriers with regard to public access to libraries were often mentioned. For instance in Pakistan, public libraries serve as meeting place for men with no designated area for women, in culture that requires segregation.

    Based on these testimonies, various recommendations were set, such as increasing digital literacy courses and training in ICTs for women, creating more libraries, establishing specific hours for women in public libraries and dealing with affordability, as “the internet is still a luxury,” she said.

    Public Libraries: A Natural Partner for Development

    Over the last decade, many projects have been going on with respect to public access, and Hamilton said that “public libraries are now a natural partner for development.”

    Presently, there are 320,000 public libraries worldwide with over 223,000 of those in developing and transitioning countries, and 1 billion people estimated to be registered as library users. While there are still a lot of differences on what is available and what is not, “the key is that this infrastructure exists,” he said.

    Since 2002, the Gates Foundation has leveraged $US 260 million to connect 15,000 public libraries to the internet in communities that serves almost 100 million people across 16 countries, mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

    In addition, the Public Library Innovation Programme, (PLIP Programme) helps to connect more than 300 communities in developing countries to access information on health, agriculture, employment opportunities, and other issues through public libraries.

    Another project is Beyond Access, based on a partnership between libraries, government agencies and community organisations, which aims to recognise that the public library is a driving force for development.

    A Roadmap for Developing Countries

    From a governmental perspective, Vashti Maharaj, director of legal services at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Trinidad and Tobago, identified elements of a roadmap for sustainable public access to the internet, especially for developing countries.

    Above all, public access gaps need to be clearly identified. In the majority of developing countries, cultural constraints related to age or gender exist. That’s why it is important to establish what Maharaj called “a national culture of digital inclusion.”

    A multi-stakeholder approach is required, with the participation of government, private sector, civil society and specific agencies across the public service with special attention to the target group. Public-private partnerships have proven efficient in the context of broadband development and universal access, he said.

    The public need to be sensitised in order to ensure their active utilisation of ICTs and monitoring and evaluation systems should be implemented throughout the project.

    “Private Industry Makes the Difference”

    In the developed world, the public sector is facing a period of austerity and as Michael Gurstein, executive director at the Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training in Canada, observed, there is a defunding of the institutions providing public access of ICTs such as libraries, schools and community centres.

    In fact, ten years ago “there was a much broader base of consensus of the need to support institutions which were providing access to ICT for economic and social development,” he said

    To address this financial and policy gap, said Hamilton, “we need to get other ways to provide access that people need,” and in this regard cooperation with the private sector plays a significant role.

    Silicon chipmaker Intel has launched many initiatives, said John Davies, vice president of the sales and marketing group at Intel Corporation, such as the World Ahead Program to promote increased access to technology for people across emerging countries.

    These projects have helped improve education and healthcare, stimulate economies, and enrich people’s lives, he said, however, none of these programmes would work “if there was not a significant government plan and certainly not if private industry was not putting things in, to make the difference.”

    From a long-run perspective, according to Jensen, the key “is to try to ensure that public access of ICTs is part of the UN post-2015 Development Agenda. There is still “a lot of room in terms of affecting the indicators of those sustainable development goals,” he said.

     

    Joséphine De Ruyck may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     


    Leave a Reply

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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