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It is not enough to advocate for access, it has to be meaningful access. People need knowledge and skills to make their experience on the Internet even better. All stakeholders need to be on the table to tackle digital inclusion.
This session was moderated by Mr Leidel Steffen, Head Digital Innovation and Knowledge Management, Deutsche Welle (DW) Akademie, who reviewed Speakup Barometer, a DW Akademie project that examines the connection between digital participation, freedom of expression and access to information in five thematic areas: access, digital rights, media and journalism, innovation and society. He asked three questions regarding the number of people who live under governments that have disconnected mobile networks, the cost of 1GB of data as a percentage of the average income in Uganda, and languages on Wikipedia. It was noted that of the 6 000 – 7 000 languages spoken in the world, 292 are active on Wikipedia.
Ms Sarah Kiden, Co-Founder, DigiWave Africa, gave insights on the access cluster. She mentioned that if you imagine the Internet as a jigsaw puzzle spread across the world, there are holes, which means we cannot get a full picture of our lives. She reminded participants that half of the world's population still has no access to the Internet. She mentioned that cost is a barrier to access to the Internet and policies like Social Media and Mobile Money taxes increase the costs and increase barriers to access.
Mr Talal Raza, Program Manager, Media Matters for Democracy, mentioned that two factors are important when evaluating a society’s level of digital inclusion: the extent to which people can express themselves online, and how people affiliate with others in the cyberspace. From a Pakistani perspective, he noted that that human rights defenders and marginalised groups have a tough time in the digital space and as a result, 88 percent of journalists self-censor. He noted that the digital rights space needs other sectors: private, media, government, and others to be successful.
Mr Daniel O'Maley, Deputy Editor and Digital Policy Specialist, Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA), argued that the Internet is keeping people from the news. He noted a change in the development of new dissemination channels with new aggregators online. This change has created a challenge for news media institutions that support journalists and independent reporting because no financial support is available, resulting in a reduction in the quality of information. Speaking of digital inclusion, O'Maley stated that it is not enough to have knowledge of the Internet and Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), but more technical knowledge is required to create platforms to encourage people to visit websites.
Mr Osama Manzar, Founder, Digital Empowerment Foundation, pointed out that some 1.3 billion people, most of the unconnected society of the world, lives in India; and yet India also has the highest number of people connecting to the world. He shared 2 stories from India: one of a farmer who could not get his daily wage without verification of his biometric data, but with no infrastructure available to provide inclusion; and another of a musician who recorded his pop music on his phone in a language without a script. Mr Manzar concluded that digital inclusion can save many languages.
The final panellist, Ms Mary Rose Ofianga-Rontal, Founder, Womenpowered Digital, focused on innovation. She mentioned that technology and the Internet brought up innovations like food delivery to our doorsteps with a tap on the phone, a service that is not available for most people because of little or no access. She mentioned that 63 percent of the people of the Philippines are connected to the Internet although access is concentrated in urban areas. To suggest how innovations can be sustained, Ofianga-Rontal advised that all stakeholders should be on the same table when developing solutions to meet community needs.
In the breakout groups in the five clusters, issues such as data and knowledge gaps, censorship, access for persons with disabilities, social norms, power structures, poor policies, little or no awareness and corruption were raised as pressing topics. Promising solutions included community networks, public broadband access, flexible spectrum allocation, consumer focused initiatives, capacity building, universal design and multistakeholder approaches.
When asked if we shall have a digital world in 5 years, participants were optimistic.
By Sarah Kiden