By David Hoffman and Melissa Mahler.

PVBLIC Foundation’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ) engaged media influencers for an insider look at the United Nation’s high level meetings focused on technology and communications.

3.2 billion people, representing 43% of the world population, are online today, leaving more than half of the world offline. Even with rapid increase in connectivity, there are serious gaps between genders and among countries. According to the “Measuring the Information Society Report” published annually by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “in the developed world, 81.3% of households now have home Internet access, compared to 34.1% in the developing world, and just 6.7% in the 48 UN designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs).”

In September of 2015, the UN put forth a fifteen-year agenda of intergovernmental goals officially called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They outline the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its associated 169 targets, including health, education, economy, infrastructure and climate.

In 1948, the United Nations’ General Assembly met to proclaim the “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It set out for the first time fundamental human rights to be universally protected. It declares humans rights to thought, consciousness, expression as well as work and education. Now in a new millennium, undoubtedly known as the age of digital information and technology, the UN must see access to digital communication and information as a way to enable the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Almost exactly sixty-seven years later the United Nations General Assembly met again to discuss how Information Communications Technology (ICT) can support sustainable development.

In December, the PVBLIC Foundation hosted the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) to engaged media influencers for an inside look at the United Nation’s high-level meetings on Information and Communication Technology. Melissa Mahler and myself were among the media influencers offered an inside look and access to the leaders from different nations working on initiatives to increase Internet access to promote education, economic development, and communication as well as progressive policies on cyber security. “Could it be, at the point in time that you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes?” Sugata Mitra asks his audience during his TED Talk from 2013 titled, Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud. He reviles his research and experiments of self-learning in children. He boldly shows a different way, perhaps a future way, of learning that given opportunity and access to resources, such as the Internet and computers, learning can inherently happen.

Carlos Alfonso, a speaker for the UN Collaboration for Access and Connectivity in Developing Countries described some of the programs used in Latin American to increase connectivity. He talked about Uruguay introducing their Plan Ceibal that guarantees each child a laptop computer. It’s a direction in closing the digital gap inspired by Nicholas Negroponte’s non-profit project, One Laptop Per Child. The plan is also successful in providing resources cheaply by using large buying power to keep the cost of the laptop to only $100 USD per child per year. Uruguay is now working on the next phase of the Ceibal, which includes broadband access in all homes and schools. “Once connected, we must stay connected,” Mr. Alfonzo notes that there is always work to be done as the Internet grows.

Business today and in the future revolves around being online. Access to the Internet allows all citizens to be producers and distributors as well as consumers. Businesses can organize their financials and take credit online. When paired with mobile devices, this allows for a truly portable business. Businesses are increasing their need for faster and reliable broadband access while keeping their usage cost down. In the last ten years Africa and Latin America have been in the process of converting from satellites to optical fiber cable to enable faster connection speeds. In Latin America, the Joint Internet Society and Universidad de San Andrés report on the benefits of establishing more Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) with in the country. These IXPs keep the Internet growing on a more local level while solutions arise for the complex international systems. For example, “In Ecuador, international transit costs hover around USD $100 per Mbps per month. Local traffic can be exchanged at the IXP in Quito for as little as USD $1 per Mbps per month. Without an IXP, operators would exchange local traffic through international transit routes and the additional wholesale costs for local ISPs would be USD $7.2 million per year.” Keeping the cost low for local use is essential for new entrepreneurship and ecommerce in developing areas.

The most obvious part of ICT advancement is the increase in communication locally and globally. Communication on the Internet relies on the openness of the Internet to enable the human right of self-expression. It’s important to keep Internet free of censorship but also develop policies on web security. Repeatedly representatives shared thoughts on the importance of having human rights offline and online as the relationship between humans and machines grows. Giving more people access to communication tools can build more partnerships and embrace the diversity of the people. Representatives stressed the value of Internet locally as a way to enhance cultures instead of exclude them. Currently, 50% of websites are in English while that’s not the language of the most marginalized groups. Creating multi-language platforms and local relevant content is a fundamental part in including more people. Mobile communication devices are now widely available and include more groups of people than ever before. Developments have led to the Touch Free Smartphone that gives communication access to people with spinal cord injuries, ALS, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other mobility impairments.

Overall the experience at WSIS+10 High-level Meeting Summit of Information Development was inspiring. Each nation sharing their progress and goals provides a great opportunity for nations to learn from one another. Increasing access to information and

knowledge for all is becoming a fundamental right and a critical component in building inclusive productive societies.

Link to United Nations WSIS

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