North KoreansThe West is never lacking digital information about world news. E-books, the radio and news media keep people informed about current world events. However, the people of North Korea do not have access to such resources. In North Korea, information regarding the outside world is limited or, in some cases, non-existent. Although the citizens of North Korea are largely unaware of global current events, people around the world are working together to provide them with digital information.

Providing Digital Information to North Koreans

The state of North Korea regulates almost all content that its citizens can view, denying nearly 25 million residents access to information about the rest of the world. While millions of people worldwide can search current news via the internet, North Koreans cannot. Most of their internet content is restricted to information related to the government and their leader, Kim Jong-Un. Luckily, many organizations are uniting to provide information to those in North Korea.

Flash Drives for Freedom is an organization dedicated to uniting North Koreans and multiple organizations to grant access to digital information. The Human Rights Foundation, Forum 280 and USB Memory Direct have worked diligently to provide flash drives to those in North Korea. These devices contain media content such as Hollywood movies, books and other information denied to North Koreans. The organizations load the drives with information and smuggle them into the country. In 2018, more than 125,000 flash drives were donated and distributed.

Activists in South Korea have also taken action to help. The small group of activists has been informally smuggling food and information in bottles to people in North Korea. These bottles often contain rice, worm medication, U.S. currency and USB drives. Twice a month, with conducive tides, activists toss these bottles into the Han River, and the groups gather together in prayer. This method is a safe and ingenious way of providing digital information to North Koreans.

Hope for North Korea

Activist groups and non-profit organizations are coming together for the overall benefit of North Koreans. Their creative methods have provided key information about the outside world to civilians who have been denied internet access and important news. Techniques as simple as flash drives and plastic water bottles can mean all the difference to someone living in North Korea. By providing digital information to North Koreans, they can gain not just information but hope for a better future.

Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Digital Bangladesh on its WayBangladesh has embarked on a journey to digitize itself and transition to a middle-income country by 2021. This goal is known as Digital Bangladesh. Incorporating digital technology in almost every sector of the country is an ambitious target for Bangladesh, yet it has already made progress with more initiatives on the way.

Information and Communication Technology

By 2021, the government aims to integrate Information & Communication Technology (ICT) as a key tool in eradicating poverty and establishing good governance as well as improving the quality of education, healthcare and law enforcement. The government has already laid out some of the foundation work for realizing Digital Bangladesh, such as preparing the National ICT Policy 2009 and the Right to Information Act 2009.

Some of the strategies being used to implement Digital Bangladesh include increasing the coverage of broadband internet connection and cellphone communication throughout the country in order to exchange information and access different types of services, integrating ICT into the school curriculum and improving the capacity and management of healthcare services. Other important areas Digital Bangladesh will improve are increased efficiency in judicial processes, improved coverage of social safety-net programs, reduced environmental impact as well as increased access to banking and financial services.

The Benefits of Digitizing

With more than 120 million cellphone subscribers and 43 million internet subscribers, the population of Bangladesh has been able to enjoy the benefits of digitizing different services around the country. Some examples of these digital services include admission registration to academic institutions, the publication of exam results online, online submission of tax returns, online banking systems and bill payments and filing complaints to police stations. Even video conferencing and telemedicine services are now available in rural areas of the country.

The Access to Information (a2i) Program, supported by UNDP and USAID since 2007, has been the driving force for Digital Bangladesh with the aim of increasing transparency, improving governance and reducing inefficiency in providing public services around the country. On average, six million e-services are provided per month to rural and remote areas through the 407 City Corporation Digital Centers, 321 Municipality Digital Centers and 4,547 Union Digital Centers.

Digitizing is helping to streamline government affairs. More than 25,000 websites of different unions, sub-districts, districts, departments and ministries are connected through the National Web Portal. This portal contains information for more than 43,000 government offices. Furthermore, activities are much more environmentally friendly now that the Prime Minister’s Office as well as around 20 ministries, 4 departments, 64 Deputy Commissioner’s offices and 7 Divisional Commissioner’s offices are using e-filing system. This created an efficient paper-less environment in offices.

Digital Banking

In terms of digital payments, as of December 2015, 18 banks are now operating mobile financial services in Bangladesh. Transactions have risen significantly to 120 percent on average since 2011. This amounts to $1.3 billion on average per month. Although these transactions are a small portion of the entire economy, it is still a notable shift towards digital services, thus a step closer to Digital Bangladesh.

More than one billion transactions in 2015, worth around $20 billion, were done digitally. Furthermore, 70 percent of government payments were also digital. As of 2016, around 38 million people in Bangladesh had utilized mobile money services, reflecting the shift from a cash-dominant economy to a more digital payment economy. The availability of mobile money orders has also been a remarkable stride towards Digital Bangladesh, especially for the rural areas in the country.

Furthermore, around 300 of the Digital Centers have been involved with rural e-Commerce, allowing people to purchase items that are not easily available in remote areas. It has also allowed small-scale women entrepreneurs to participate with 5000 women entrepreneurs who are involved with the e-Commerce platform called “ejoyeeta.com,” which consists of goods produced by these women.

Improvements Still Needed

Bangladesh still has a long way to go in terms of fully digitizing itself. The National Identification System needs to be fully implemented and incorporated with important services in order to improve access to digital financial services. Since human capital is an essential element when it comes to adopting new technology, programs aimed at incorporating ICT-based education from primary to tertiary level schools should be prioritized. Finally, having political stability is a necessity in realizing Digital Bangladesh, given how political turmoil is often a setback when it comes to the development of different sectors in the country, including ICT.

The progress Bangladesh has made so far in realizing its 2021 goal cannot be overlooked despite its lacking in certain areas. However, with the increase in different digital services and activities around the country, Bangladesh is gradually lifting itself up and shifting towards a more ICT based economy, making Digital Bangladesh a potential reality. 

Farihah Tasneem

Photo: Flickr

How Technology is Reducing Poverty in Thailand
Thailand, Southeast Asian Nation, is a country that has benefited from programs that use technology to help people living in poverty. There are several examples as to how technology is reducing poverty in Thailand, and some of them are going to be presented in this article.

Internet Centres

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) of Thailand have established more than 20 rural internet centers nationwide. NBTC-ITU Volunteers programme built this network, and each of the over 20 centers is equipped with at least 10 computers connected to the internet. The centers, located in 16 provinces across the country, strengthen information and communication technology (ICT) skills among students and are helping to promote social and economic development in some of the most remote areas of the country.

At the centers, students, youth and members of the local community are trained in how to use computers and are given courses for basic digital literacy needed to access information online. The center is useful because it gives students the ability to do online research in order to widen their knowledge of various subjects taught in school. They have also been able to transfer the computer and internet knowledge they have gained back to their families and communities, allowing them to use e-commerce platforms to do business and thus expand their family incomes.

Internet Advantages

While global connectivity is rapidly expanding and empowering billions of individuals around the world, ITU data shows that more than half of the global population remain cut off from the vast resources available on the internet. Access to information and communication technologies can help facilitate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in rural areas. Access to the internet allows citizens to access basic services such as education and health care and is helping to lift people out of poverty through e-commerce and job growth. Nowhere else is this more pertinent than in rural and remote areas. In 2016, Thailand had more than 29 million internet users or 42.7 percent of the total population, which puts the country in the 24th place in the worldwide ranking of internet users.

Thai People Map and Analytics Platform

In 2018, the Office of National Economic and Social Development Board (NESSB), the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC), the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Ministry of Science and Technologies joined up to help alleviate poverty in Thailand. The NECTEC center developed the Thai People Map and Analytics Platform (TPMAP) to pinpoint the problems people are facing in Thailand in different areas. Policymakers can use TPMAP to decide on which poverty programmes are suitable for each poverty-stricken area specifically. The data system TPMAP collects can help improve the quality of people’s life by increasing income, boosting employment opportunities and reducing living costs.

Suttipong Thajchayapong, a senior researcher at NECTEC, said that to understand poverty in Thailand, the three questions of who are the poor, what are their basic needs and how can their poverty be alleviated need to be answered. TPMAP can precisely answer these questions by integrating data from different government agencies. It can also compare individual indicators year to year to see if poverty is reducing. TPMAP uses five poverty benchmarks to determine levels of poverty. These benchmarks include education, healthcare, income, living standards and access to public services. The total number of people surveyed this year was 36,647,817 people and out of this number, 1,032,987 were targeted as poor people, according to TPMAP.

Establishing internet connections as well as various platforms such as TMPAP are examples of how technology is reducing poverty in Thailand. If Thailand continues to implement programs utilizing technology, people living in poverty will have more access to basic services. The country has implemented multiple programs that have addressed the issue of reducing poverty in Thailand. Utilizing technology is crucial for helping people living in poverty to access basic services.

Casey Geier
Photo: Flickr

Digital GAP Act
While the developed world sends emails to colleagues, updates friends on Facebook and conducts research using online databases, the 4.2 billion who lack access to the internet linger behind on economic, health and education development.

The 60 percent of the population currently offline is predominantly low-income, rural, female, elderly and illiterate, according to the House Foreign Affairs committee. Seventy-five percent of the 4.2 billion are condensed into only 20 countries.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, authored the Digital Global Access Policy Act, better known as the Digital GAP Act, to increase internet access in developing countries using a “build-once” policy. The Digital GAP Act would also require more transparency in the U.S. accomplished through projects to open more possibilities for private firms to invest in internet infrastructure to aid developing economies.

During a $100 million road construction project years ago, Liberian officials decided not to lay cables that would have added $1 million to the project’s cost. The lack of connectivity in Liberia and other developing countries has cost lives and economic growth. The build-once policy would help avoid the need to later add cables for internet connectivity for tens of millions of dollars.

However, history has shown lack of internet connectivity has repercussions reaching far beyond development as the world suffers the impacts of crises longer and more deeply. In 2014, the outbreak of the Ebola virus infected over 28,000 people in West Africa, killing over 8,000. This was due in large part to the lack of reliable internet access that hindered coordination between community health centers.

Those treating Ebola patients did not send patient information to other health facilities at the click of a button, but instead physically transported the information. This was not only less efficient but also exposed those outside of the quarantined red zones to the virus. Increased internet connectivity during the Ebola outbreak could have cut exposures, improved the tracking of the viruses’ spread and opened the possibility of international analysis anywhere with scanned and uploaded patient documents.

The world faces a similar struggle in containing the Zika virus. The current strategy involves notifying travelers where the virus is, but officials in many developing countries have no way of tracking the effect of the virus in their own communities. Containing the virus and notifying vulnerable populations could be as Recode writes, “as easy as the click of a mouse or a swipe of a mobile application.”

In addition to improving crises response, the Digital GAP Act’s purpose is to aid developing countries in expanding economies, creating jobs, improving health and education, reducing poverty and gender inequality and promote good governance of a populace. The U.S. is to “promote first-time internet access to mobile or broadband internet for at least 1.5 billion people in developing countries by 2020 in both urban and rural areas,” the House Foreign Affairs committee wrote in an official press release.

The Digital GAP Act also stresses the importance of U.S. cybersecurity for the U.S. in its provisions. If passed, the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment’s title would change to include “Cyberspace.” The Department of State would be required to designate an Assistant Secretary for Technology, International Communications and Cyberspace to lead diplomatic cyberspace efforts, and the president would include information on internet access, cyber security policy and internet freedom in the next White House Cyberspace Strategy session.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would integrate efforts under the Digital GAP Act to increase internet access and the protection of private information. The Peace Corps Act would include an amendment that would allow Peace Corps to develop volunteer positions for the purpose of increased internet connectivity. The president would share with Congress plans to promote U.S. partnerships to provide internet infrastructure for increased access in developing countries and direct the House in advocating for these efforts abroad.

The House of Representatives passed the Digital GAP Act and the Senate is expected to vote soon.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

internet_access_in_africa
The Wi-Fi networks we use at home, or in a café, has a limited signal reach of about 100 square feet.

To manage the problem of Internet connection, IT companies and Microsoft Corp. are utilizing TV white space. The technology is a spectrum of broadcast frequencies, typically used to transmit TV channels from one location to another, harnessed for wireless networks.

Through the 4Afrika initiative, Microsoft collaborates with local universities and IT companies including those in Namibia, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania, to bring the internet to unconnected parts of Africa. Microsoft launched the initiative in February 2013, with the latest project this year in Botswana.

TV white space makes broadband internet access in Africa affordable for most users in isolated parts of Namibia that could not otherwise access using typical café Wi-Fi. The distance of the frequency waves from the TV towers is much farther than a basic modem signal radius.

Namibia is an example of a large-scale white space project that covers a 38.5 by 94-mile area. The regions of Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and 28 schools in Northern Namibia are now connected to a broadband network.

One of the purposes of connecting secluded areas is to ensure that schools can communicate with other schools, businesses and nations.

Namibia is not an exceptional country grappling with access to the internet. Many African schools and hospitals outside of urban areas require the internet to provide learners and patients with the best education and health care.

In Ghana, tablets and other electronics are used to connect students to a broader academic and business community. Orlando Ayala is chairman of emerging markets at Microsoft.

He says that “We have to be an active participant in ensuring that by empowering this young human resource, that translates into innovation and creation of jobs. Hopefully, Tech Start-ups come from not only Africa but beyond Africa.”

Broadband Internet connection in Limpopo, South Africa also links secondary schools to a larger education community. Mountain View secondary school teacher Simon Matlebjame says that “We will be able to interact with other countries. Learners will be marketable and employable.”

The Internet gap between some parts of Africa and other communities is often referred to as the “digital divide,” or Africa’s economic and technological relationship to the rest of the world.

Another one of 4Afrika initiative incentives is to enhance Africa’s global economic value.

Microsoft looks at Africa as an investment in the future of technology. The company’s message is that the “Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.”

By focusing on world-class skills, innovation and access, the company aims to provide the tools for success in the global market. Beyond economic opportunity, the initiative brings quality heath care to African countries.

Project Kgolagano connects hospitals and clinics to allow easy transmission of medical records, and patient access to specialized medicine through telemedicine. In partnership with University of Pennsylvania, Botswana government and other IT companies, Microsoft helps join specialized health care and hospitals.

Director of the Botswana Innovation Hub Marketing, ICT and Registration, Dr. Geoffrey Seleka says that “there is currently a lack of specialized care in remote hospitals and clinics in Botswana.” The specialized care using photo and video transmissions between hospitals will make quality health care realistic.

A 2012 U.N. Human Rights Council resolution declared that Internet access is a basic human right.

Hospitals all over Botswana and Africa are, or are in the process of being, connected. By the efforts of local educators, IT companies and the 4Afrika Initiative, hospitals will have easier access to crucial medical records and students will have easier time learning.

The overarching goal is that people in Africa will share medical, educational and technological innovation with the rest of the world.

Michael Hopek

Sources: Penn Medicine, Microsoft, UW Electrical Engineering, 4Afrika Microsoft 1, 4Afrika Microsoft 2, 4Afrika Microsoft 3, 4Afrika Microsoft 4
Photo: The Guardian

Digital_Revolution
Revolution. The word carries a tremendous amount of weight. From the Arab Spring to the American Revolution, from wars to ideas, countries rise and fall on the waves of revolutions. A new revolution is sweeping through Latin America: a digital revolution.

Latin America currently has about 232 million Internet users. This number is a sharp increase from the number of Internet users in 2005: 78.5 million. By 2017, Internet users could rise by 63 percent to 294 million.

In Mexico, Colima’s 600,000 residents have complete Internet access to all kinds of different state services and documents. The state has made health records electronic and crime reports can be filled out online, as well as filing documents for permits. To go along with this, Colima has hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots for those that do not have Internet at home.

Further to the south, Columbia and Peru are spreading broadband Internet to remote corners of the two countries. The Peruvian government is working to spread Wi-Fi to public buildings, including hospitals and schools in all of its 25 regions.

The Columbian government in Bogotá has subsidized the spread of fibre optic networks around the country to the point where nearly every town in the nation is connected. The government has also gotten rid of taxes on Smartphones, tablets and computers. Under-resourced families have been given vouchers for broadband access. In the last five years, Internet usage has increased from 16 percent to 50 percent.

The digital revolution is helping to improve education equality in Brazil. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul began a new free online program for high school students to help prepare them for a difficult national exam. Grades from the national exam dictate whether students can attend the federal universities. Students who used the service were 31 percent more likely to achieve grades high enough to enroll in the universities, and the system was so successful that 10 other states have implemented it.

Latin America is often cited as a relatively violent area of the world. Never fear, the digital revolution is helping to fix this too. Ecuador released a real-time data supplier for crime hotspots four years ago. Fast-forward to today and the homicide rate has been reduced by 48 percent, thanks to the system.

Tech start-ups have followed the digital revolution. Coupled with inspiration from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, new “technolatinas” are using the Internet in Latin America to create start-ups of their own. Some companies have used close ties with Silicon valley to register their companies in the U.S. Successful companies have the potential to bring outside investments, creating the potential for economic growth.

The spread of broadband Internet opens up “new frontiers for regional development. It can serve as a tool for reducing social and economic inequities.” However, it can also lead to more inequality. It can enable a select few to “hyper-develop,” leaving the rest in the dust. However, the risks outweigh the gains. With the potential for reduced crime, increased economic growth and a more equal education system it is little wonder the digital revolution is booming in Latin America.

Greg Baker

Sources: FT, Latin Post, ABCNews
Photo: Unitee

Schools-in-Nairobi-Free-Internet

Because of an amazing contribution from the Wananchi Group, over 2,000 public and private schools in Nairobi County will be receiving free, unlimited, high-speed fixed Internet. The Wananchi Group has invested two million dollars to provide this access.

Continuing a partnership with the Kenya Education Network (KENET) and the County Government of Nairobi, over 150 schools have been connected to fixed high-speed internet since the initial piloting trial in April 2014.

As this project supplements a recent government initiative to provide free laptops to schools across the country of Kenya, students will now be able to perform research with a broader collection of knowledge and information from different parts of the world. This will not only open up a previous barrier, but also increase the students’ awareness of global society.

The Wananchi Group is a part of the Zuku Fibre project, a private-public partnership that uses the Wananchi Group’s fiber infrastructure to provide these services. The partnership was created for the betterment of the country of Kenya as a whole.

In fact, this achievement is along the lines of the Vision 2030 initiative. Vision 2030 is Kenya’s development blueprint to transform Kenya into a “newly industrializing, middle income country providing a high quality life to all its citizens” by 2030. By making progress toward this step, Kenya can now continue to focus its efforts on other areas.

Perhaps they will focus next on the health sector to improve community health centers, or the environmental sector to improve waste disposal and sanitation measures, or the manufacturing sector to help revitalize industry. Regardless, within the Vision 2030 initiative, Kenyans will continue to make strides within economic, social and political spheres to improve Kenya as a country for its current and future generations. Providing free internet to schools is a monumental milestone toward these efforts.

– Alysha Biemolt

Sources: IT News Africa, Vision 2030
Photo: Computer Aid International

blackberry

In Nigeria and South Africa, Blackberry has launched its latest smartphone, the Blackberry Leap. According to the company, this smartphone offers more than a day’s battery life, even with heavy use.

This latest version of the phone has switched out its old keyboard to feature a new touchscreen, much like the Apple iPhone. The new touchscreen keyboard features error correction and multilingual support.

Many may question why a consumer would buy a Blackberry when there are much more popular phones like iPhone, Android and Samsung.

The Blackberry, jokingly referred to as the “Crackberry,” was once the must-have device for executives. It was the first smartphone that allowed easy and constant access to email and the Internet. The easy-to-use QWERTY keyboard allowed executives to respond to emails without being tied to a computer.

But with the emergence of the Apple iPhone, Blackberry quickly lost its dominance as the number one smartphone in the market.

Would you buy an unpopular smartphone? The answer from consumers in Africa is… yes.

Over the past four years, the Blackberry Curve has been the most popular smartphone in South Africa. A recent survey conducted by Vodacom in South Africa found that Blackberries make up 23 percent of the smartphone market. In Nigeria, Blackberries make up 40 percent of the smartphone market.

But why have Blackberry phones become so popular in African countries?

The first reason is that Blackberries are a status symbol; they were once the phones used by top executives. People strive to achieve the same success associated with the phones.

Additionally, an attractive feature of the Blackberry is its low-cost data bundles. In fact, Blackberry users can send messages for free using the Blackberry Messenger (BBM). This makes the phones well-suited for less capable mobile networks.

And lastly, Blackberries are able to stay updated without the purchase of a new smartphone. In developing countries, phones are upgraded less frequently. Before the introduction of the Blackberry Leap, the most up-to-date Blackberry in South Africa was 3 years old.

There is still room for growth for Blackberry in African countries. In a poll conducted by GeoPoll, 17 percent of people reported that they would buy a Blackberry as their next phone.

Blackberry is predicted to keep its number one spot in Africa as the most popular smartphone brand partly because of its popularity with students.

The Blackberry brand has transitioned from being known as the phone for high power executives to the most popular, affordable phone used in developing countries. Of course, affordability is an important aspect when purchasing a smartphone. Blackberry has allowed consumers in developing countries to afford a smartphone without sacrificing technology, mobile network service or various communication abilities.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: Inside Blackberry, IT News Africa, The Conversation
Photo: TechLoy

Digital Poverty
The digital age has improved quality of life for many people around the world. The digital era has become a great asset to today’s world and has helped with business, community and even the economy. However, as prevalent as technology has become, there are still many countries that live with little or no access to technology; limited access means limited benefits. Among those countries living in what is called digital poverty, they are, more often than not, developing nations. So, what is digital poverty exactly and how does it affect the economy?

“Digital poverty is the inability to use IT, either due to the lack of access or due to the lack of skills,” said Thierry Geiger, co-editor of the Global Information Technology Report. “It is really a form of poverty because without digital access, without digital skills, you cannot tap into the huge potential of technology to improve your lives and create opportunities.”

 

Digital Poverty and Economic Growth

 

There’s an apparent link between countries with slow economic growth and limited access to technology, which results in digital poverty, according to a new report. The Global Information Technology Report for 2015 stated that only a minority of the world’s population has internet access; meaning, the economic and even social benefits that arise from being digitally involved are not reached. Approximately 39 percent of the world’s population has access to the internet. Additionally, many of the nations that do not have access to technology are failing to address digital poverty as a means to end poverty in general. Invoking simple, technology-focused reforms can not only help develop the economy, but boost productivity as well. Technology can also help improve education, communication and business practices.

According to Geiger, technology has a powerful impact on economies, especially those which are struggling to sustain their country’s needs. Digital poverty affects nations’ unemployment rates, increases inequalities and financial demands, particularly in countries with emerging and developing economies. In order to help in economic growth, countries need to establish a more advanced, digitally acquainted population.

Geiger also emphasized that the notion that technology is prevalent around the world is actually a myth because only a small percentage of the world’s population has access to technology. According to the report, out of 143 nations, among the top countries that have access to technology and use it as means for communication and economic impact are Singapore, United States, Norway, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Netherlands and Finland. Additionally, the countries that have minimal access includes Yemen, Haiti, Burundi, Madagascar and Angola.

There are also countries that have made significant improvements in technological developments. The report revealed that among the countries that ranked high in development include Latvia, Macedonia, El Salvador and Armenia. The report reveals that those countries that utilize technologies have improved their economies by 20 percent, compared to 10 percent in nations who have not.

Aside from government actions and reforms, the population needs to be willing to become part of the digital world. Governments and content developers producing better and more relevant content can help with the job market, people’s income in particular. Providing the people with an incentive to advocate for technological advancements can help bring nations closer to the digital age. As countries become more digitally acquainted, digital poverty will decrease and in the process, more people will begin to see an increase in economic growth and a reduction in poverty rates.

– Nada Sewidan

Sources: VOA News, WE Forum
Photo: Flickr