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These reports were written by a team of local volunteers: Angela Merino, Assina Bounis, Celia Boyer, Eric Bianchi, Irčne Butor, Julian Albert Kilker and Melisa Makzume. The reports summarise information for people not able to attend the sessions. Their comprehensiveness and accuracy are not guaranteed. For more information, please contact the presenters directly. Their e-mail addresses are available at

Track 5: Globalisation and Regional implications

Session: The Internet and Global Socio-Economic Development

By Melisa Makzume, 23 July 1998

This session was about the Net's situation in developing countries. Speakers tried to focus on two specific questions: is it the height of the Human Development Level that helps the net's emancipation? Or, on the contrary, is it the net's presence that increases the Human Development Level? With these question marks, the panellists wanted to compare the different evolution of the Net between industrialised countries and developing ones.

The message was clear: developing countries have much more problems in installing and reaching the Internet. There are different explanations to this gap between the Northern countries and the developing South.

The first problem is the low wealth of developing countries like the entire African continent. This means that the necessary equipment is not available and neither is the net!

This is not the only factor that affects Internet development in those countries. There is also a lack of infrastructure: because of the low wealth, there are too few networks in place. "Telecenters" is a typical response to this lack. Instead of using one network line for two or three persons, the telecenter is a line that serves the whole community connected to the Net! That implies a slower service or sometimes no service at all because the line is always busy…

There is also a material problem in infrastructures: to possess hardware is not so evident and moreover, to have it is not a sufficient condition to be connected to Internet (because of the lack of material or the telecenter…)

The language and the culture are two other obstacles to reach Internet. Only 23% of non-English speaking countries are connected to the Net. There are many problems for languages like Arabic or Chinese even though specialists work on lots of projects for a "unicode". On the other hand culture and education are important. In fact, in developing countries like Nigeria, half of the population still can not read or write. So, what is the use of the Internet for them? They need basic education to understand the information received by the Net and to be able to use it!

There is a last obstacle for the Net in these countries: it is their government. In opening to a larger communication system, governments fear to lose control over services. They are also afraid of the information exchanged between different countries. That is why the authorities do not allow the Net unless they can control all e-mail and sites. The speakers explained that this was uncontrollable and that is the reason why these countries still can not reach the Net.

In conclusion, the developing countries have a long way to go to remove the gap with industrialised countries. Basic education is still needed to be able to use the Internet. Maybe the Net will be the solution to this sociological problem…

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