While many attendees at the Mobile World Congress have focused mainly on all the latest and greatest mobile tools, a discussion that has gone largely under the radar is the so-called “digital caste system.” Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt said in his keynote before MWC12 that for the “aspiring majority” of five out of seven billion global citizens, “the web is still a scarce resource.”
“For most people the digital revolution has not arrived yet. Every revolution begins with a small group of people. Imagine how much better it would be with another five billion people online,” he said. “Smartphones are part of the solution, but having a smartphone is not enough to get you online.”
The International Telecommunication Union — the U.N.’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICT) — launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to help evaluate how to not only make mobile broadband more accessible worldwide, but also how to better incorporate such policies into the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
Target 1: Making broadband policy universal. By 2015, all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their universal access/service definitions.
Target 2: Making broadband affordable. By 2015, entry-level broadband services should cost less than 5% of average monthly income.
Target 3: Connecting homes to broadband. By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have internet access.
Target 4: Getting people online. By 2015, internet user penetration should reach 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in least-developed countries.
The digital gap is particularly wider for rural women who face the barriers of poverty, illiteracy and language. The UN General Assembly Resolution 58/146 of 2004 recognized the need to provide rural women with better ICT, which has led to the growth of UN-supported ICT programs in rural communities.
There is significant evidence of how this resolution has improved the lives of many women, particularly in Latin America. According to Martin Hilbert, researcher at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the programs help women become leaders in their communities, by allowing them to search for jobs, access education through online trainings and software, and increase their income. “ICTs are a tool to fight discrimination against women in a holistic way,” he said.
Women accessing mobile technology can also become citizen journalists in their communities. Mobile journalism played a large role in the Arab Spring. Yemen’s Nadia Abdullah became an unlikely reporter covering events in her country.
“I didn’t imagine that my father, brother or the family would accept that I go out and do an interview on camera” Abdullah said to Voice of America. “This was almost impossible to do because of the norms and traditions. They are closed and conservative traditions. It is not proper for a woman to appear in public.”
Eventually with the approval of her family, Abdullah used an amateur video camera to document events throughout Sanaa, ranging from crackdowns by government troops to a man cradling the dead body of a loved one. She not only helped to topple Yemen’s long time ruler, but she is now also seriously pursuing a journalism career.
“With a camera and a picture,” she said, “you can silence anyone.”