Leapfrogging connectivity for the other 3 billion


September 9th, 2008

Today the BBC have a story that “Africans are to benefit from web plan“.   It is now well known that there are many more mobile phones in Africa than there are landlines.   This is often quoted as an example of “leapfrogging” over old technology straight into the latest new technology.  So can this happen again with Internet access, which is generally very slow in developing countries?

A plan by o3b networks have a mission to make the Internet accessible to everyone on the planet – hence the name – the other 3 billion.   Some well known businesses are supporting the venture, including HSBC and Google.   At first sight then, this seems to be a force for good.

The venture should surely be welcomed as a sign that business is getting involved in the provision of solutions to poverty.   But is it all positive news?   There is an assumption behind this venture that information (of itself) is a good thing.   But information is not neutral.  People need knowledge or “know how” and this is much more complicated to provide than raw data or information.   Sometimes information can effect the power balance in a community and that in turn can affect the culture and traditions.

I hope that o3b networks will work together with communities, NGOs and other stakeholders to enable meaningful knowledge and appropriate technologies to flow along their “pipelines”.

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