Archive for March, 2009

The Digital Divide: we named it so now we must measure it

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 by

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has just published “Measuring the Information Society” (2009) an ICT Development Index covering the period from 2002 to 2007.   At first sight the top level figures appear encouaging: over 4 billion cell phone subscibers, 1.3 billion land lines, and almost 1.5 billion using the Internet.   But what progress has been made over the past 5 years?   Do more people in the developing world need to use the Internet?   The conclusion of the report is that “the magnitude of the digital divide is almost the same as five years before”.

The concept of the “digital divide” has acheived widespread currency over many years and is commonly interpreted as including both access to ICTs and use of the Internet.   The ITU has then taken this broad definition and built a composite index to measure the divide.   The index includes measures relating to mobile phone, fixed lines, and broadband Internet.   For the first time the report now includes measures relating to an “ICT Price Basket” which relates tariffs for different services into one measure and then compares prices to relative income levels.   For example this shows that in the UK broadband costs 0.8% of GNI whilst in Nepal this is 80% of GNI.

It is clear that those countries with relatively low costs of mobile phones have a high use level.   With the direction of the technology heading towards the mobile Internet could it be that voice communications will be the major way in which developing countries increase access to and use of the Internet?

Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2009: Scores 2 out of 10

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 by

Each year the Technology Review, published by MIT, outlines 10 emerging technologies that will “change the way people live”.   The current (March/April) issue list these technologies and reading it prompted me to ask “which people are going to be changed?”   Almost all of these technologies are aimed at meeting the wants of people living in already rich countries.

Only two out of the 10 technologies have real potential to help developing countries.

  • The first is a liquid battery which can allow solar power to be stored and then used at night.  This would be wonderful in Nepal where there are currenly 20 hours each day without power and Kathmandu is dark each night.
  • The second is a HashCashe which is a new method for storing frequently accessed Internet content that could make it cheaper for developing countries using the Net.   The cost of Internet connections in the developing world is high (often in both relative and absolute terms).   So there is a need to make effective use of bandwidth.   HashCache slashes RAM and electricity requirements by roughly a factor of 10.

How long will it be before there is a higher “score” of emerging technologies of relevance to the developing world?   Let us try to make technology relevant to the needs of people to live sustainable lives on the planet.