Analysts argue that governments in cash-strapped developing countries often tread a tightrope between a need to shore up the state coffers for public spending, and a responsibility to address critical telecommunications access for the poor. Telecommunications make money – lots of it – and many governments know that this money can be used to fund basic services, such as water, housing and electricity. But in the process universal access promises go adrift, as is the case with Uganda’s high taxes on telecoms services, write Wairagala Wakabi and Alan Finlay.
In late 2003 APC gathered in Colombia to define our strategic priorities for the following five years. Like most good APC meetings, the event mixed politics with capacity building, debate and dialogue with dancing, and it was the largest meeting in our history at the time. Looking back over this period in earnest is quite intimidating. We hope that the APC Progress Report for 2004 to 2008 will give you some idea of those challenges and gives us an opportunity to recognise why APC is what it is and why we do what we do – making the world a better place by helping people gain the access, the skills, and the rights they need to work together online.
“With GEM I began to appreciate why sometimes the women that are part of our community resist the empowerment process. I used to be annoyed but now I understand that this is the product of years of conditioning and it will take some effort to reverse the trend. GEM helps you see the situation for what it is, so you can optimise your resources where you can make the maximum impact in creating change,” John Dada has been a GEM user since 2007 in rural Nigeria. GEM is an evaluation tool for determining whether ICTs are really improving or worsening women’s lives and for promoting positive change. GEM has been developed from the ground up, and has involved the collaboration of hundreds of community-based organisations and individuals since its first design in 2002.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was set up in 2006 as a kind of “pressure relief valve” for some of the most controversial international discussions on the future of the internet. The IGF provides a space where this type of dialogue, between adversarial opponents, can really move towards deepening understanding and ultimately influencing decision makers to make better internet policy for a more just world. Learning to listen to traditional adversaries, understand different perspectives and look for common solutions to complex problems, without losing sight of closely held values and principles, has not come easily to an international rights-based NGO with a broad activist membership like APC. We explore our role in the creation and development of the IGF and its agenda.
As a consequence of our capacity-building work with hundreds of organisations and people from the women’s movement, we believe that we have helped to transform how the women’s movement thinks about technology and the internet, and that their confidence has been built to use technology more and more creatively to further women’s rights. “In the last five years, we have worked with many people and organisations,” says women’s programme coordinator Chat Garcia Ramilo. “What we have discovered is that this overall process of capacity building takes a long time, but if we persist long enough, we find out what changes it brings about.”
The greens are growing like weeds in Bulgaria and Hungary and recently ecologists in Bulgaria made significant headway on yet another battle against a Goliath, preventing the further destruction along the Black Sea coast and high mountains to make way for luxury housing. Campaigns spread like viruses through emailing lists and online networks, and ultimately ended up on the streets in protest, a testament to the growth of new citizen-driven green parties in these countries.
In Peru companies like Claro or Telefónica ignore rules and regulations when the time comes to sign the contract with the end user. Moreover, they reserve the right to block certain types of internet traffic, like voice over internet, infringing on a principle referred to as “net neutrality”. In one of our latest investigations, APC analyses this principle and illustrates it with examples from both Peruvian legislation, as well as the practices of the telecommunications companies in the country.
In a new publication “Change at hand: Web 2.0 for development”, APC’s Anriette Esterhuysen explores the circular relationship between information and communication technologies for development and Web 2.0 for development, and the assumptions about the “quick fix” that ICTs were expected to provide.
Thetha – a Nguni word for debate – bring together a wide range of national, regional and international stakeholders on the expected ICT challenges and opportunities that the Southern African region will face in the next ten years are being organised by APC member SANGONeT. Pre-Thetha reports on Zimbabwe and Mozambique make useful contextual reading. Find out more about Thetha.
According to the UN, access to electricity is extremely low in some areas of African countries like Kenya, where only 3 people out of 20 have power. Schools in rural areas generally have no access to a reliable power source, and other alternatives such as diesel or solar panels are an expensive alternative, and therefore not ideal for IT. In an attempt to provide pragmatic and adapted computing solutions in areas where electricity remains a challenge, Computer Aid International set out to identify what computer solutions were available and appropriate to rural African settings. Read the Computer Aid report on the five top-scoring low-cost, low-power computers or read more about it in an “online review by ZDNet”:http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/0,1000000323,39363065,00.htm.
The Community Education Computer Society (CECS), an ICT training NGO established in 1985 in South Africa, is conducting two-day workshops on free and open source software (FOSS) in five Southern African countries. Workshops will build awareness of FOSS and build capacities to conduct OpenOffice Writer courses in Lesotho, Malawi, and Namibia; and build partnerships with organisations and individuals in Angola and the Democractic Republic of Congo, to translate the FOSS portal to Portuguese and French.
The Andean region has some of the lowest fixed telephone line, mobile telephony and broadband penetration rates of all Latin America, the continent with the starkest economic disparities in the world. In the 90s, Andean countries adopted new liberalisation and privatisation policies in order to attain universal access. Almost 20 years later, these promises have not been fulfilled. APC studied each country through national reports in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela in order to understand this failure. As the State in countries like Venezuela and Ecuador has begun to play a more pro-active role, the research also analyses their effectiveness and the opportunities and challenges of this renewed involvement.
In the Congo, people are paying for a service that cannot even meet their needs. Poor connectivity and staggering costs that can be as high as USD 2 make it difficult to promote widespread use of the internet. In a country where people earn as little as three or four dollars (US) a day, it is impossible for 97% of Congolese to even access the internet. And those who do, are not guaranteed to get what they need from it: it can take over an hour to download a single file. With the newly re-elected government back in power, ICTs are becoming an increasingly important issue for the country’s economic and social development. Will this new presidential term bring successful reforms to the sector? APC looks at the state of ICT policy in the country and the road ahead.
There aren’t that many options for the deaf in Venezuela, and those who do have full time employment often find it difficult to take time off for other activities like professional courses. But the Cisco Networking Academy found a way to train four men and two women who can not hear, on IT Essentials. This course, an initiative by APC member EsLaRed, was given in Venezuelan sign language and was a great success – not only to those who gained the new skills, but also to the project creators, who believe there is potential to apply the project in other communities worldwide.
[img_assist|nid=8855|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=213|height=300]Late 2008 a sensational homage to Creative Commons (CC) usage within Australasia was published. Edited by Rachel Cobcroft and produced in collaboration with the team at the Australian Creative Commons Clinic, >Building an Australasian Commons features a vast repertoire of projects and initiatives that have employed Creative Commons licenses.
What do you do when you want to install a telecentre but there is no building available to house it? APC member Arid Lands Information Network has solved the problem by building cybercafes in shipping containers. These containers, known as maarifa (or knowledge) centres are fully equipped with computers and internet access and can be moved when the need arises.
Since our inception, APC has been combining grass roots initiatives with local and national impact, with global experiences that amplify these impacts. An example of this is Take Back the Tech! – an international campaign that uses technology to fight against violence against women. We present this and other initiatives that the network hopes to be carrying on the next four years.
APC is pleased to announce that Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) which is available in English for download at www.giswatch.org and is available in print upon request, is now also available in French on the GISWatch website. GISWatch is an annual watchdog report which this year asks: How do we ensure access to the internet is a human right enjoyed by everyone? The report highlights the importance of people’s access to information and communications technology infrastructure, and where and how countries are getting it right (or wrong), and what can be done about it. This edition, which focuses on access to internet and internet penetration, explores the challenges related to internet access in almost 40 countries, and includes six regional reports, and several thematic reports.
The telecoms situation in Benin is unique. The array of mobile telephone enterprises established during Mathieu Kérékou’s regime has resulted in the average Beninese owning three, four, or even five SIM cards for their daily communication needs. Facilitated by corruption and skyrocketing prices, it was not until the arrival to power of the new president Yayi Boni in 2006 that reform in this sector began. Despite the current progress and lower prices, networks remain segregated and there is still much to be done in relation to ICTs and the standardisation of the telecom sector in a legislative and regulatory environment that is open to investment. APC investigates to find out more.
May First/People Link, a New York collective, has been hosting websites and providing technology solutions and support to the city’s non-profits since the late ’90s. They have doubled in size since 2005 to about 250 members – without government or foundation funding. During the US Social Forum 2007 they provided all the technology for the event and are in the middle of planning for the next USSF. Find out more about APC’s newest member.