Thursday, August 07, 2003

Wiping Out the Digital Divide

You hear a lot about bridging the Digital Divide, which still means leaving all the have-nots at the wrong end of a narrow bridge most of the time. We need to obliterate the Digital Divide, and just bring everybody in together.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Challenge to Silicon Valley identified the key issues. It called on the tech industry to provide computers and wireless communications capabilities that will be affordable for villages that presently lack electric power and telephone connections. That means using solar and other renewable power, and providing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to connect to the global telephone network. This whole blog is about the effects of such systems on health, education, microbanking, e-governance, and communications. Getting the poor of the world into the global conversation, with each other and with the rest of us, will have the biggest long-term consequences. It will allow the poor into their own regional and national political discussion, and also provide a new voice in the globalization debates. After all, the poor know better than anyone else what their real problems are, and what is most likely to help in dealing with them.

Besides the Simputer makers, here are the leading players and some of the supporting cast in the ongoing drama.

The UN ICT Task Force is following up on the Secretary-General's challenge.

The Grameen Technology Center's Village Computing Project, blogged here on July 19, is conducting trials in Tamil Nadu.

The Hewlett-Packard e-inclusion project is wiring East Palo Alto and conducting trials in North India.

That's a good start. We have the leading international organization, the non-profit arm of the leader of the microbanking movement, and one of the top high-tech companies, together with numerous small tech companies, all working toward a common goal.

The Jhai Foundation is placing solar-powered computers with wireless communications in Laotian villages.

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement has organized 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka, mostly without the use of computers, and has started placing computers and wireless communications systems throughout its organization.

The Black Data Processing Association is working on projects in Africa, particularly in Linux training.

The government of Sierra Leone held a conference earlier this year on the contributions that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) could make to reconstruction after their disastrous civil war. Issues included rehabilitation of child soldiers, medical care for amputees, reuniting refugee families, recovery of stolen land, and data gathering on war crimes.

These are just a few of the important initiatives. There are already more than I can keep up with.
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