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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 12:52 GMT
UN net summit diary: Day two
Amit Jain
Indian journalist Amit Jain is in Tunis for the World Summit on the Information Society and is writing about his experiences for the BBC News website. Based in Singapore, he is a correspondent for The Straits Times.

TUNIS, 1300GMT, THURSDAY 17 NOVEMBER 2005

Now that water has been poured over the 'burning issue' of who controls the internet - with yesterday's agreement to set up a new Internet Governance Forum, the focus in Tunis has switched to tackling poverty.

Senegal stand
Developing nations are sharing their experiences in Tunis
Information Communication and Technologies (ICTs) have now become the buzzword in development circles.

From countries as set apart as Rwanda and Malaysia, everyone is talking about how they are enabling their rural communities to jump on to the digital bandwagon.

At a superficial level, the issues are straightforward. People in villages live far away from urban centres of economic growth. Typically they are peasant farmers with small plots of land and large families to support.

There are few, if any, health facilities or post offices nearby. Reaching them is often a logistical nightmare.

And for them, accessing a whole raft of information, such as the latest market prices for their farm produce, is an equally difficult task.

Entrepreneurs won't touch, governments don't have the resources, and NGOs are often incapable of serving every rural need. It therefore leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and keeps them out of the circle of prosperity.

Telecottages and e-chaupals

It is a challenge that has spawned many solutions.

Globally to date, we have invested a total of US$5 trillion in laying fibre-optic cables to connect the people of the world. Now is the time to spread their benefits

Common to them is a model that is fairly simple and easy to replicate: create local hubs where rural families can gather and access information on the weather, price of goods and basic health care.

All across the summit venue in Tunis, I found this pattern reflected in the projects that have been showcased. In Hungary they call it telecottages, in India e-chaupal, in Malaysia rural internet centres and in Iran plain old telecentres.

These hubs, typically post offices or public libraries serving a cluster of communities, are the bridge heads over which the five billion people who are still outside the information society will cross the digital divide.

The exercise is still in its infancy and no country can claim that its ICT strategy has been completely successful. But there is definitely a gathering momentum.

When WSIS is over and the cleaners have scooped the last piece of litter from the ground, many of the participants will hopefully go back home a little wiser. The answers to bridging the digital divide are already here. The challenge is in their implementation.

Globally to date, we have invested a total of US$5 trillion in laying fibre-optic cables to connect the people of the world. Now is the time to spread their benefits.


Amit Jain is attending the World Summit on the Information Society with assistance from the Panos Institute (London), a non-profit media organisation that works with journalists in the developing world. The views in this diary do not reflect those of The Straits Times




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