Magazine article Information Today

Digital Divide Tops Agendas in '07

Magazine article Information Today

Digital Divide Tops Agendas in '07

Article excerpt

New ITU Secretary-General

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) begins 2007 with a new secretary-general and deputy secretary-general, who will both serve a 4-year term. Hamadoun I. Toure of the Republic of Mali will replace outgoing Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi of Japan; Houlin Zhao of China will assume the deputy position. Toure won 95 out of 155 votes of the member countries in the third round of voting in November 2006 during the ITU's Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey. He holds a master's degree in electrical engineering from the Technical Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications of Leningrad and a Ph.D. from the University of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics of Moscow. He has also worked for the Mali Office of Posts and Telecommunications, Intelsat, and ICO Global Communications.

During his address after the vote, Toure told the 1,500 international delegates that he would work with transparency, objectivity, and vigor to realize the two main objectives that were central to his campaign: to eliminate the digital divide and to ensure that cyberspace would become more secure. "The Millennium Development Goals that were endorsed by all the world's leaders as well as the WSIS resolutions are the ingredients we need to get down to work," said Toure.

Toure inherits the ITU organization with an increased membership, which has become more efficient and effective by Utsumi. Under Utsumi's term, the ITU organized the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and managed to involve more than 50 heads of state in both WSIS phases in Geneva, Switzerland, and Tunis, Tunisia.

Toure's home country of Mali lies near the bottom of the ITU's Digital Access Index. Access to information technology from telephones, cell phones, and the Internet is minimal. This is not surprising because 20 hours of Internet access per month costs three times the per-capita monthly income. The International Executive Service Corps (IESC) Geekcorps is one organization that is trying to promote affordable and sustainable technologies in Mali and other developing countries.

Television in a can

IESC Geekcorps is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting information and communications technologies (ICT) in developing countries. It has more than 3,500 technical experts who instruct communities in becoming digitally independent using affordable and appropriate technology. For example, in Mali, Geekcorps has introduced the CanTV project in the village of Bourem Inaly. The village has a few battery-powered TV sets, but no broadcasts actually reach them. Geekcorps has enabled the local radio station to provide streamed video by Wi-Fi to the local community by developing CanTV receivers (cantennas) made from locally available parts: cans with receiver electronics imported from Canada. By teaching people how to assemble the cantennas, Geekcorps has provided local employment and a new revenue source for the radio station, which rents out the units. The Geekcorps Web site includes a YouTube video of one of the cantennas being constructed.

Geekcorps has four areas of technology development: direct technology implementation, economic development, technology training, and online diaspora organization. The CanTV project is part of the direct technology implementation program that concentrates on services to reduce inequalities between rural and urban communities. Another project in this program is the Network of Regional Market Information Systems and Traders' Organizations of West Africa (MISTOWA). MISTOWA is designed to obtain crop price and availability data from existing and new data sources across West Africa, consolidate it into a single database, and then distribute database information on demand via existing and new technologies.

The other development areas include support programs for Lebanese exports, small business support in South Africa, technology seminars across the world, and resources to identify Sudanese and Lebanese volunteers who are willing to help with skills transfer programs but are living outside their own countries. …

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