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|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|March 11, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 217
Can you hear me now?
Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher
I read in the news today that more than 500 million cell phones were sold last year around the world -- so much for the future of the traditional land line. But who's using all these cell phones? Considering that there are six billion people on this planet, are the phones equally distributed among all six billion? Do some countries use more than others and do all countries have equal access?
As one would expect, the more developed countries have the greatest usage. But unexpectedly the developing countries around the world are recognizing this new technology as doorways to possibilities once thought beyond their economic realities.
Since the emergence of the information age, there has been a growing concern that new information power-centers within the more developed countries will dominate and control the less developed countries unable to access information as quickly or as effectively. But quietly operating around the world is a movement of organizations, private and governmental, addressing these issues by means of the new Wi-Fi (wireless) technologies. (One example is Media Lab Asia.)
Wireless technologies, including phones and Internet access, are making a significant impact on the need to bridge the digital divide between developed and developing countries. Though many challenges remain, within a number of economically depressed areas, those unable to own a traditional phone are now able to purchase a cheap wireless phone that gets activated with a calling card. In Uganda, six times more people own wireless phones than use traditional land line phones. Without utility infrastructures that keep phone lines up and telephone poles standing, wireless has become an economically advantageous reality.
It has been suggested that with the increased use of wireless phones that are capable of surfing the Internet using small attached flip screens there is little need to invest in expensive computer systems.
A report, "Telecommunications and Information Services for the Poor" (April 2002), prepared for the World Bank says that "access to information and communications technologies has become crucial to a sustainable agenda of economic development and poverty reduction."
The report says these technologies affect poverty reduction through three primary mechanisms:
Obviously, governments need to invest in their own telecommunications infrastructures for any of this to work. But with worldwide cooperation, the sharing of technological resources may be more affordable than initially thought. Universal access, for the sake of future generations, must not be put aside as an unreachable goal. The digital divide is a chasm we are meant to cross.
Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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