Highways, roads, and byways
There are many different dimensions of access and the IGF panel here in Athens certainly touched on many of them… from access for people with disability, for people that are not literate, access for scientists and researchers.
There are many different dimensions of access and the IGF panel here in Athens certainly touched on many of them… from access for people with disability, for people that are not literate, access for scientists and researchers. There was even a focus on access to knowledge, and of the power of open source and open standards to promote access. A speaker from the floor asked a challenging question about access for women. There was talk of new technologies that can be used for access, and the need to train more technicians. Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change in India said that access should have value for ordinary people, e.g. through public sector services being made available on the internet. Several speakers talked about who should be the primary driver for extending access, the market or governments. Milton Mueller had a sensible response: markets, competition, private sector investment will bring the internet to most places, but not always. There are people and places that are excluded, and it is the responsibility of governments to make sure they are not.
But, considering that the session was about access, it was disappointing that only Mohamet Diop from Senegal highlighted the fact that without basic reliable, fast and affordable regional and national telecommunications and internet backbone, affordable access will not be achieved.
This infrastructure simply does not exist in most parts of Africa. Where it does, it is far more expensive than it is in rich countries. A survey done by Research ICT Africa indicates that many Africans spend up to 15% of their monthly income on telecommunications.
This can change. But unless there is a focus on building the basic infrastructure and making sure it is affordable and well distributed nationaly and regionally, it won’t.