Global Information Society Watch 2008 is the second in a series of yearly reports critically covering the state of the information society from the perspectives of civil society organisations across the world. Global Information Society Watch or GISWatch has three interrelated goals:
2008 - Access to Infrastructure
Efforts to agree on the most appropriate indicators to use for measuring disparities in information and communications technology (ICT) adoption and progress toward information society goals have continued in 2008. However as yet global consensus has not been reached and debate continues over what indicators would best take into account the growing broadband divide, what constitutes “universal access”, and how to accommodate local realities regarding data availability, especially in developing countries.
This overview chapter is concerned with ways in which global institutions have addressed access to infrastructure since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), particularly during the last year (2007-2008). The policies and practice of global institutions usually change gradually rather than dramatically. The chapter therefore seeks to put their role in context. Its first section reviews key issues in recent debate about access to infrastructure. The second section considers recent developments in institutional policy and future access challenges.
Bandwidth, the petrol of the new global economy
Put simply, bandwidth is what carries voice and data from one place to another. Bandwidth is the petrol of the new global economy; and cheap international bandwidth is an essential component for any developing country to remain competitive in a changing world.
Most computer users today remain “digitally colonised” (Bhattacharya, 2008) due to our unquestioning use of proprietary standards. As users of proprietary standards we usually forget that we lose the right to access our own files the moment the licence for the associated software expires. For example, if I were to store data, information or knowledge in .doc, .xls or .ppt format, my ability to read my own files expires the moment the licence for my copy of Microsoft Office expires.
This year’s thematic focus for Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) is “access to infrastructure”. The Geneva Plan of Action that emerged from the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) declared information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure an “essential foundation for the Information Society” and identified it as one of six main action lines.