Author: Giulia Semeghini
The world has never been more connected than it is today. Indeed, through new technologies and the use of internet it is now possible to communicate with everyone at a global level in just few seconds, making appear our world very small. But this is not valid for everyone.
As recently stated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - the United Nations (UN) specialized agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) - there are four billion people in the developing countries that are still unconnected because they have no internet access. Consequently, this data points out that more than a half of the world population is totally excluded from this interconnected world and that digital divide still remains a core issue to solve.
With the aim to discuss about this topic, on the 17th of November 2015, a seminar was organized at the European Parliament (EP) by the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Marietje Schaake on behalf of the Digital Agenda Intergroup, an informal network of MEP’s, cross-party and cross-nationality interested in digital technologies and their role in bringing benefits to society. The seminar, entitled "Tech for change: ICT’s, internet access and the post-2015 development agenda" and led by speakers from different organizations, initially was focused on the importance of making more efforts to improve the openness and accessibility of internet.
In this regard, Samia Melhem, as a Lead Policy Officer in the World Bank’s Transport and ICT Global Practice, highlighted that ICTs can have an important role in supporting public sector transformation, innovation and in improving health and education services. Having the goal of ending extreme poverty and boosting a shared prosperity worldwide, the World Bank sees ICTs as a fundamental tool for transformation. Particularly, she emphasized the efforts made by her Institution to promote e-government, that consists in the use of digital technologies in public administration to foster public services and democratic processes. For this reason she underlined the necessity to promote broadband in every household and reduce disparities in digital access.
Eddy Hartog, Head of the International Relations Unit and member of the European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology (DG Connect), focused his speech on the necessity of eliminating internet fragmentation since ICTs represent an important tool to generate new opportunities of development, fight poverty and enhance prosperity.
In view of the increasing refugees emergency, the second session of the seminar was based on the importance of improving internet access in refugee camps. Doug Greene, Director and CIO for the Division of Information Systems and Telecommunications at UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), stated that concerning the digital divide refugees are doubly disadvantaged since only 50% of them have mobile phones and just a few have internet access. He also pointed out another problem consisting in the fact that the ones who were born in camps do not even know how to use telephones or other digital devices.
On the lack of a spread and an efficient connectivity worldwide, Kevin Martin, Facebook’s Vice President for Mobile and Global Access Policy, affirmed that there are many barriers that prevent a fair internet access in every country, among them: lack of infrastructures, affordability and lack of awareness of the value of internet. In this regard, Facebook is developing many projects to try to solve and overcome such barriers, and an example can be seen in its recent project "Internet.org", a partnership between Facebook and other six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that plans to bring affordable access to the two-thirds of world’s population who is not connected and to facilitate the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access.
The same effort is concretely pursued by Syed Karim, Founder of Outernet, a global broadcast data service aimed to provide free content distribution at a global level. Given the topic of the second session, among his projects he mentioned in particular the "ROW3D - Refugee Open Ware", a humanitarian innovation consortium whose purpose is "to develop open hardware innovation ecosystems, fueled by co-creation between refugees, host communities and the best global resources in the world".
Hayo van Bejma, Director at TTC Mobile, agreed with the importance of fostering mobile access in refugees camps by explaining how some of the tools that characterize mobile phones today, such as voice messages, can help to include people with disadvantages or illiterates.
As a closing speech, Alexander DeCroo, the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, remembered that ICTs can be a strong tool to eradicate corruption and promote participation, stressing also the importance of investing in infrastructures and new skills. Concerning the eradication of poverty, he finally underlined the necessity of working together and cooperate without paternalistic solutions, in order to promote a global participation and a real social change.