Thursday, October 29, 2009

Of political terms and ICANN community

what comes into your mind when you hear the term "bridging the digital divide"? I bet its the idea of connecting rural schools with computers, government policy , mobile phones for the poor, huge donor funding and that kind of stuff.

Well, the same term appeared in the ICANN strategic plan and was quickly short down. Why? After all, there is no argument that there exists a gap within ICANN, between the developed and developing countries, especially in Africa.

The term bridging the digital divide has political connotation within the ICANN community and evokes memories of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) where the International Telecommunications Union discussed ways of taking over management of the internet from ICANN as a way of giving power to the governments.

So, you will understand the ICANN faithful when they say that the term should belong to other circles and not the mainly technical and business oriented group.

After all, most of the people who attend ICANN meetings have all the internet infrastructure needs and the idea of an unconnected business in Giathi village in Gatundu, where I come from does not resonate with them.

Maybe the idea of a country not having an internet exchange point or a non performing country code Top Level Domain e.g ,ke. .ug, .za seems remote, but these are realities in Africa.

I think the gap within ICANN for instance within the ccTLDs can be bridged through sharing resources and ideas. I recall Michuki Mwangi explained to me that Kenya got copies of root zone files because of his contacts within ICANN.

Michuki met root operators and was able to get the root zone files, which is probably why internet in Kenya is faster than in Uganda, even though we both have the fiber optic connectivity.

Michuki also benefitted from training offered by the Brazilian tech team, the guys who operate the .br registry. The Kenic infrastructure, which is open source, has heavy contribution from Brazil.

So, can the actions of Hartmut Glaser in Brazil, who invited Michuki be termed as bridging the digital divide? I think so.

In my opinion, ICANN community needs to do something, and am sure so many people here would help if they knew about the challenges and ways their technology share can help.

The problem is in the political correctness of the term "bridging the digital divide". Maybe they can come up with another term but the experiences can yield greater benefits if taken seriously.

Of course, for the global community to help, African internet infrastructure must rise from the chaos. The ccTLDs must resemble a sense of normalcy. They must sort out the issues of who operates the domains and have operational registries. Then we can start talking about ways of improving the services.

Perhaps that is the reason why we do not have many Africans contributing in the public forums; because of the apparent gaps.

Political terms or no political terms, something needs to be done. I will not stop saying that Africa needs to act but so is the global community.

Ends

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