a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

What’s shrinking the digital divide the fastest?

Posted on the January 3rd, 2008

The mobile phone is the electronic device most often in the hands of those in developing countries, according to Katrin Verclas, of MobileActive.org. As of the end of 2007, three billion mobile phones were expected to be in use across the globe, Verclas says.

As a point of comparison, an estimated one billion people in the world reportedly had Internet access by the end of 2007 (see more on digital statistics here).

Verclas is the founder of MobileActive.org. It is a worldwide network for people interested in using mobile phones, and their potential for communication, in civil society and for social activism, according to the website.

Examples of innovative campaigns and projects abound. Democracy organizations have used mobile phones to swing elections through innovative get-out-the-vote activities, ensured impartial voting through poll monitoring via SMS, developed ground-breaking new information services with vital civic or health information, documented abuses of political prisoners, and lobbied legislators to pass environmental laws. (From the About section of MobileActive.org).

For more information about Verclas and the work she is doing, check out this webpage on Changents.com, where I first read about her.

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Is Negroponte’s $100 laptop idea too great for its own good?

Posted on the November 25th, 2007

Nicholas Negroponte’s much praised plan to provide very low-cost laptops to poor children around the world “has been derailed, in part, by the power of his idea,” according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“A Little Laptop With Big Ambitions – How a Computer for the Poor Got Stomped by Tech Giants,” by Steve Stecklow and James Bandler, Nov 24, 2007).

The major derailers? Microsoft and Intel. Last year, Intel introduced its own cheap laptop, price tag less than $300, for developing countries, according to the article, and earlier this year in China, Microsoft’s Bill Gates announced a $3 software package that includes Windows.

Why are the technology giants doing this? Reportedly, to drive back a threat to their future profits that Negroponte’s idea represents. The $100 laptop uses Linux and other open source software rather than Windows, and it doesn’t use Intel chips, the article states. It’s an idea that the big tech companies apparently do not want to become popular.

All’s well that ends well, however, may be the final verdict. According to the WSJ article, developing countries now have several cut-price laptop models available to them, in addition to Negroponte’s star creation. Perhaps Negroponte’s thinking out of the (proprietorial) box has started something rather interesting.

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