The concept of a global information society is one of the most discussed and misunderstood “Big Ideas” of our time. While we’ve made gigantic strides toward connecting the world through information and communication technologies (ICTs), we have not attained that goal.
Over the last decade, ICTs have contributed to globalization, shaped economies, transformed society and changed our history. Companies that didn’t exist in 2003 – including Facebook and Twitter – are now essential components of media strategies and contribute to job creation. Broadband drives economic development across the world, and there are more than seven billion mobile cellular subscriptions.
Despite this meteoric change, we’re not quite there yet. While billions of people are already connected to these systems and opportunities, we need much more collaboration to bring about an information society for everyone.
The world of information and communication technology has changed dramatically over the past decade, evolving from a simple transmission path for information into an enabling platform for countless personal, social and business uses. To keep up with this rapidly increasing usage and growing demand, today’s networks are steadily shifting from narrowband to broadband. Consumers are using broadband networks to access the Internet at speeds up to or exceeding 100 Mbit/s over wired connections, and they are increasingly using broadband-enabled mobile phones too for a wide range of activities.
The digital divide that was once measured in terms of differences in access to communications is now measured in terms of differences in quality of access.
A new resource from the World Bank, the Broadband Strategies Toolkit (http://www.broadbandtoolkit.org), offers advice to policy-makers and other stakeholders on how to develop a national broadband strategy. Based on expert research and collaboration that began in 2011, the final pieces of the toolkit were completed earlier this year.
It’s no secret that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the entire world: nearly 30% according to the International Labour Organization. Over one in four young people have no viable means for economic prosperity, and sadly education is no guarantor of a job. Despite these bleak statistics, a recent survey commissioned by Qatar’s telecom giant, Orredoo, suggests that young people still have hope of a great future, fueled in large part by the innovations of the 21st century. The challenge is to innovate technology and alter our way of thinking about work to motivate MENA’s youth.
I remember once at a conference in Tunisia being asked by a young member of parliament why it made sense to invest in a fiber optic cable to a remote village in Djerba instead of improving more basic services such as electricity grids or water irrigation. The interesting thing is that the two are not mutually exclusive, as most of the times conventional infrastructure projects also have the capacity to deliver fiber at a small incremental cost. But at the time I answered that investing in internet infrastructure should not only be seen as an economic activity but also as an extension of the values of the “Arab Spring”.
This blog post was first published on the ICT blog.
On affordability grounds alone, millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa region could be excluded from today’s information revolution. Meeting this challenge has become a top regional priority. Many countries in the Arab world have identified broadband Internet as a critical input to the broader objective of nation building and the transition to a knowledge-based economy.http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/mena/publication/broadband-networks-in-mna
On affordability grounds alone, millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region could be excluded from today’s information revolution. Meeting this challenge has become a top regional priority. Many countries in the Arab world have identified broadband Internet as a critical input to the broader objective of nation building and the transition to a knowledge-based economy. There is growing consensus that broadband Internet is critical in fostering sustainable economic development and job creation, and a key component of strategies for reducing poverty, enhancing job opportunities, and advancing trade integration. Indeed broadband is expected to have a similar impact on the transformation of the economy and of society as a whole as the printing press, steam engines, or electricity had in the past. But for it to have its full impact, people will need access to it.
Junaid Kamal Ahmad, World Bank Director of Sustainable Development for the Middle East and North Africa, discusses the immense potential for high speed internet to be an engine of development in the region. This is the focus of the forthcoming report, “Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa: Accelerating High-Speed Internet Access.”
The Mauritanian Minister of Economic Affairs and Development, Mr. Sidi Ould Tah, has just signed the WARCIP agreement (Mauritania Program for Regional Communications Infrastructure in West Africa), a program financed by the World Bank that aims to connect all regions of the country to high-speed Internet by 2015 (for more details: www.warcip.mr). This signature represents for me a new step toward achievement of this project on which I have been working for two years now.
Schools should be connected to the Internet. Most people, I suspect, would agree with that statement (although a few dissenters may contend that such a statement does not go far enough, and that all schools *must* be connected to the Internet.) Indeed: Lots of countries around the world have been, and are, engaged in efforts to connect all of their schools to the Internet -- and for those schools that are already connected, to connect them faster.
The efforts of the United States in this regard that began under the 'e-rate' program in the 1990s have been much studied and emulated around the world, and countries as diverse as Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey have sought in various ways to utilize Universal Service Funds to help connect the un-connected. Korea has perhaps gone the furthest in rolling out very fast connectivity to all of its schools. Armenia will soon (if has not done so already) have completed connecting all of its schools to the Internet; when I last checked (in late 2012), Uruguay had almost done so as well. Given current technology infrastructure and available funds, not all countries are of course yet able to connect all schools, even if they consider this to be a priority. (Even in a country as developed as Uruguay, 70 schools were reported still to be without electricity in early 2012 -- not being connected to the electrical grid can make efforts roll out connectivity to all a little more difficult ....) In countries where almost all schools can be connected via existing means, a lack of supporting government policies and/or incentives for groups to connect the unconnected schools can mean that, even where connections to the Internet are technically feasible, they may not be commercially or practically feasible. Some recent work by the World Bank found that 95% of all schools in Indonesia could theoretically be connected to the Internet now, if the political will could be found and provided certain policies and incentives were put into place. (Connecting the remaining 5% of schools -- no small number, in a country as large and diverse as Indonesia, with over 13,000 (!) islands and 250,000 schools -- would be much more difficult, as many of the schools in this 5% category are quite remote, and there are as a result often significant, and very costly, infrastructure challenges to overcome.)
OK, if all schools should (or must) be connected to the Internet, what should be the nature of that connection?
Again, most people would probably agree that, in 2013, all schools should have broadband connections to the Internet. This is, in fact, a common theme in many of the national policies related to ICT use in education one encounters around the world, especially in the more 'advanced' (OECD) countries, and increasingly in middle income countries as well. Reasonable people may (and do!) disagree about the extent to which school connectivity should be prioritized compared with other pressing needs in the education sector, but, while there may be a lack of consensus on the relative importance, the general importance of connecting schools, and indeed in doing so at broadband speeds, is a widely held goal in much of the world (even if it is not always practical in the near term). That said:
What exactly does 'broadband' mean when we are talking about connecting schools to the Internet?
It turns out there is no simple answer to this query. Indeed, there are lots of different answers, depending on where you are and the context in which you are posing such a question.