Access and connectivity for remote rural panel

Observations on the “Access and connectivity for remote rural” panel, held on Tuesday 13 November in Rio de Janeiro, as part of this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Panellist Vint Cerf brought not only wisdom, but clarity to the panel without having to describe the origins of the internet or present another argument for access.

What was clear from the general discussions though, was that basic infrastructure is required well before the multiplicity of access issues are addressed, or rather, that access is not just about the internet, its about the means to enable development.

Vint Cerf explained that the internet was originally intended to be built by anyone, anywhere, or at least anywhere there was basic infrastructure including power, computers and self-sustaining businesses models.

It was also stated that there is no point creating the means for access of there is no locally useful content available in a locally useful language and this goes for all forms of communication.

It was interesting for me to reflect on the access issues described in, for example, the Pacific. In 1992 I presented Pactok Community Networks to Pacific Island delegates to the Global Forum, Earth Summit.

Pactok was a store and forward network comprised of a mix of hubs and access points, local and international calls, UUCP and fido-gateways that provided Pacific Island communities with secure access to email and news groups and the international APC networks. Even in 1992 the Pactok connectivity map was quite impressive. It included Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Kuala Lumpur, Cibu and Kuching (Sarawak), Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

By 1996 Pactok was all but spent with the last hub decommissioned as late as 1999. With the advent of web came increased expectations for the use of net which quickly eroded access to individuals and communities in the region, content in local dialects and security.

If the kind of access people were talking about should be made available according to local means and capabilities, why did a network such as Pactok, and the many others like it, go into decline so quickly?

I was to add my reflections with a view towards steering the remaining discussion from individual access issues towards:

  • How do we manage expectations, and;
  • What are the next steps for this Dynamic Coalition?

For some reason, despite having my hand up since the moment questions were called, and the moderator handing the microphone to participants in front and behind me, I had not been given the opportunity to speak. This did not go unnoticed to those sitting around me.

Other than what Willie managed to tease out of this session, it closed with no clear methodology nor recommendations for the coalition to make advances.

Recommendations for reducing internet access costs workshops (posted by Willie):

  • Governments combine a national broadband strategy with a strict competition policy for the ICT sector.
  • Governments should liberalise international gateways and landing stations.
  • Governments should end monopolies in fixed line provision especially with regard to the leasing of fixed lines, unbundling the local loop, the collocation of facilities and permitting ISPs to build their own networks.
  • Governments should create an enabling environment for ISPs to open internet exchange points to retain domestic traffic inside the country
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