Developing world hungers for information technology

After a last-minute compromise on the hot issue of internet governance, the focus of the Tunis World Summit on the Information Society, which ended on 18 November 2005, lay on development issues. 

The hero of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was not so much Kofi Annan – even though the UN Secretary General’s warm words in favour of “[bringing the] costs of connectivity, computers and mobile telephones […] down” went down well – but Nicholas Negroponte. The technological visionary, founder of the famous Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and of “One Laptop per Child” fascinated world leaders as well as tech enthusiasts with his project of spreading 100 US-Dollar, Linux-based, wind-up-powered, super-solid and frog-green laptop computers with wireless networking software to children all over the world, with the aim of giving every child a portable computer by 2010. The governments of India, Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria and Russia have already expressed their interest in purchasing the minimum order of 1 million computers, and as soon as 5 million are ordered, the computers are to enter into production. Mr. Negroponte says he hopes to see 100 million manufactured by 2007. 

Both Mr. Annan and Mr. Negroponte addressed the issue which prevents the internet from being a truly global medium, in the horizontal as well as in the vertical meaning of the word – the so-called digital divide that results in only three percent of Africans having access to the internet, while 43% have an internet connection at their home in Europe. While politics worldwide has little to offer to bridge the gap, technology and industry seem to have taken the lead, even at a political event like the WSIS.  Microsoft presented a new network of learning centers in Tunisia to train people to be teachers in technology. Microsoft International president Jean-Phillippe Courtois said the company would replicate the centers in other developing nations. 

Other initiatives to bring the developing world online include computer projects like the Ndiyo Foundation’s Nivo computer, the made in India Amida Simputer handheld, the TIER hardware/software infrastructure as well as operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows XP Starter Edition and the Ubuntu Linux distribution sponsored by billionaire Mark Shuttleworth. Some analysts think mobile phone penetration  in Africa will outgrow all of these efforts.

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