[INET'99] [ Up ][Prev][Next]

Optic Fiber Versus Social Fabric

Juan Manuel SOTO <jmsoto@rds.org.co>
United Nations Development Program


The categorization of problems associated with connectivity expansion depends primarily upon their source of origin. It is not new for the Internet Society to divide problems between "developing countries" and "the rest of the world"; this distinction presents the origin of our topic. For the former, technical concerns are primary; for the latter, technical concerns are not necessarily the central issue -- sometimes these may be easier to solve than the social impacts, especially when embedded in sustainable development projects.

When the issue of connectivity expansion is addressed by business (e.g., telecommunication managers, Web designers and hosts, e-merchants, along with all the major hardware and software producers), the troubles expressed relate mostly to physical, technical, or technological barriers. The major concerns relate to bandwidth, improved phoneline or satellite connections, more computer availability and access, better security, and other "wire-related" concerns.

Contrarily, when the issue of connectivity expansion is addressed to solve basic social needs and help improve living standards, as the United Nations' Sustainable Development Program, the concerns include, not solely, but very important, the social impact.

How to guarantee and maintain the technical capacity within the communities, how to obtain incremental benefits from each new connection, how to make effective the changes on terrain to provide for "real" ground sustainable development, and how to maintain the interest in networking are only some of the social concerns that reside in the minds of Web developers, from the developing world's viewpoint.

At times, and especially at places, "social" concerns may well be more important than the "wire" concerns. Colombia has the world's highest biodiversity density, one of ten world "hotspots," and precisely because of this characteristic, the region has been kept underdeveloped and protected by strict conservation measures, meaning that roads, phonelines, electricity, and other infrastructure services are minimal.

At INET'98 when telecenters were analyzed for Africa and Latin America, the diagnosis was that "wire concerns" were attended properly, yet the social aspects, such as acceptance, usefulness, and networking had weakened the technical advances to the point that these cases were classified as failures. In the Third World, the line between a failure and a success generally lies in having most social aspects being correctly addressed.

In Colombia we have over 400,000 Internet and electronic mail users and have installed over 1,700,000 fixed telephone lines in the past five years. From a very small telephone service in the countryside in the 1970s Colombia has grown to over 10,000 telephony centers providing local, regional, national, and international communication services, from the remotest areas in Colombia to anywhere on Earth. Cable television, fiber optics, satellite dish services, and of course, the Internet, now come in to thousands of homes around the planet and in the farthest corners of our country. In Colombia one finds homes that have television sets but no dinner tables; one day schools may have computers and Web access yet no road access -- this perhaps would still be sustainable development.

Social scientists tend to use terms such as "widespread," "public access," "communal," "cooperativism," and the like when referring to the social acceptability of technological advances, including, of course, the Internet. The Internet has already proven difficult to implement and may require new social methodologies and research approaches to provide correct diagnosis of the social impacts and their solutions.

When developing nations try to extend the Web reach with "wire" solutions through programs such as the Sustainable Development Networking Programme in Colombia, we must be very aware that Internet websites are "user friendly"; we then have to actually make friends (customers!), keep their interest, and furthermore have them transform on ground their reality in a sustainable way! If we must also have these friends share a common computer, in a small and perhaps hostile environment, this increases the chances of failure and hence decreases our chance of obtaining sustainable development.

A more ample explanation of this will be detailed at INET'99. I will provide success and failure cases, statistics, methodologies, and bottom-up views on how to approach the issue of the social impact of the Internet and its required connectivity expansion.



Technological fixes of whatever nature are nothing but a drop of water in the sea of reality. [1]

When new Internet networks are being developed at the community level, a main goal is the expansion of connectivity. However, new connectivity brings about changes and challenges to the social medium it arrives on. The difficulties in obtaining universal access to the Internet are basically of a technical kind or of a social nature, one more troublesome to solve than the other depending on the stage of progress of societies. It is not new for the Internet Society to divide these problems between "Developed Countries" and "the Rest-of-the-World." This distinction allows for the topic of this paper, because for the former countries technical concerns are primary, while for the latter, technical concerns are not necessarily the worst problem -- instead, technical problems may be easier to solve than social ones. As social considerations arise, they require longer, more dilated processes of negotiation with grass roots segments of society to avoid negative impacts on the target population; even to avoid the complete failure of the project. Solutions need to be addressed to allow Internet growth in Third World countries without social disruptions. Solutions are available.

"Wire" issues versus "human" issues

When the issue of connectivity expansion sprouts from developed countries, the major concerns relate to bandwidth, improved phone line or satellite connections, more computer availability and access, better telecommunications security, managerial maintenance, Web designing, Web hosting, and e-commerce, along with all the major hardware and software aspects related mostly to physical, technical, or technological barriers -- "wire-related" concerns. However, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) emphasizes the need to address the social aspects as widely as technical difficulties:

"Contrarily, when the issue of connectivity expansion is tabled to solve basic social needs and help improve living standards in Developing Countries, as the United Nations Sustainable Development Network Program (SDNP) intends, the problems to be solved, most commonly, are in-depth social analysis to alleviate or totally avoid the social discord that may be caused. Along with the "wire-related" determinants, the social aspects must, necessarily, be widely considered." (ITU, 1995)

For developing nations, connectivity expansion must be viewed, precisely as stated by the ITU, under the frame of the social arena it is embedded in, always bearing in mind that the outcome must be real changes in the livelihoods of the target populations. Connectivity for the sake of connectivity is less desirable if it is not tandem with social development. At last year's INET 98, a keen social view in regard to this was put forward:

"The author argues that the Internet can only become a tool for social development if it is applied in a way that addresses the complex challenges of improving the lives of the least-privileged and most-needy millions around the world. Social development here means an improvement in the living standards and general well-being of all members of any given society. Accordingly, if the Internet is to be socially beneficial, it needs to be used for alleviating poverty, improving access to healthcare and education, conserving and fairly distributing resources, and strengthening participation in decision-making processes. Thus the success of the Internet should be measured less in terms of sheer numbers of connected individuals and more in terms of accessibility and contribution to social progress." [2]

To obtain the above-stated goals, it is necessary to evolve the previous relations the Internet users had with connectivity (from a game to a work tool to a commercial utensil), into the knowledge that it is a powerful social instrument that can improve the living standards of its users. The "new Internet relation" that needs to be established between suppliers of technology and those receiving it, requires the use of what social sciences call a "bottom up" methodology, to understand the social fabric of a community and their grievances towards connectivity. Notwithstanding, the sole understanding of a social environment will not by itself lead us too far, unless it is complemented by continuous training to provide the correct socialization of the new technology.

The Third World's socialization of telecommunications

The advancement of telecommunications requires a new social outlook. Once Morse Code, Marconis, then telegrams, subsequently telephone lines, then Faxes, and today the Internet, have all been aspects of life that have introduced changes in human behavior, in our social interactions; they have all had a social impact. Fortunately today we are aware of the need to preview these impacts and provide for buffers. One of the ways of better understanding the social impacts of telecommunications advancement, and hence provide for a better chance for them to spread widely, is by socializing them (in the anthropological sense of the word, not the Marxist sense). The socialization of an instrument or a new technology means a community must be fully aware and understand what will occur upon arrival. This is procured by consulting the community with appropriate methods, including approval from the leadership in defining the following steps to take. This is fundamental for the flow of the project, be it e-mailing or transfer of technical capacity or the pursuit of sustainable development.

One main aim in "developing countries" is the increase of capacity to transfer technical skills towards communities. This includes better Internet skills as much as transferring better production techniques for, say, agriculture or fisheries. In our current field of interest however, the quest is to obtain incremental benefits from each new connection point and to maintain the interest in networking. It is necessary to bear in mind, permanently, that the expectations, the aftermath result, must be effective changes on terrain with real, sustainable development occurring at the grass roots level.

When striving for sustainable development by electronic means, the "social" concerns are necessarily more important than the "wire" concerns. The more marginal a community, as they divert from the origins of Internet, that is Western culture, the more the social considerations increase in importance. Let us see a Polynesian example :

"While making Maori and other indigenous people's information available on the Web valuable, attention needs to be paid to providing indigenous peoples with access to the Web [...] . The Web currently represents major European languages well; however, cultures that use non-standard scripts face problems in faithfully reproducing their language on the Web [....] While on a strict communication level these issues may not loom large, many Maori feel that the Web does not represent their culture because the language is not represented correctly." [3]

In this particular case, one finds evidence that even if full connectivity has been reached in social minorities (an ample success in itself), the cultural barriers can undermine full access to the Web, making connectivity only faintly successful. The social realities of the most fragile peoples and their ecosystems may have been left aside. An ulterior goal, such as obtaining sustainable development, of the economy and its people may have been dissipated instead of allured by technological changes.

As with the Maoris of New Zealand, the Amazon ecosystem and its social milieu may help my audience (in itself as diverse as the Internet's) visualize the concept of modifications for the Web due to social constraints. In the Amazon, home of no less than 200 dialects, in a region called "the world's lungs," one would expect the power of the information carried via the Internet or the open possibility of electronic communications, would help preserve the local cultures and their traditional knowledge. The possibility of bringing in global environmental expertise and the opening of communication among these peoples could help coordinate and disseminate knowledge on the preservation of tropical rain forests and its social minorities. However, to make this possible, an enormous effort must be made with the Internet tools made available to users, to help the diversity of cultures reach an understanding. This can mean language requirements in the keyboards, software requirements such as better sound and image transmission, different screen spacing, different timing for screen movements, allowing for social signatures, and an innumerable possibility of troubles that will arise only when the communities are confronted with the existing formats and technologies.

In my home country, Colombia, with nearly 25% of its land in the Amazon forest and with the world's most biodiverse environment (known as "world hotspots" for environmental protection), access to international expertise can mean no less than the sustainability of its future generations and the world's environmental equilibrium. Due precisely to its environmental characteristics it has been difficult to open nonelectronic means of development like roads, phone lines, electricity, and other infrastructure services that are limited. Some of the options the government has put in place to develop (hopefully in a sustainable way) the region, is by providing not private access but public access to government services like telephone lines, with projects that are basically similar to what has been named TeleCentres.

Generally when development programs are put in place using the Internet, as presented in INET 98 when African TeleCentres [4] were analyzed, the diagnosis was that "wire concerns" were attended properly, yet the social aspects, such as acceptance and usefulness, had weakened the technical advances to the point that many TeleCentre experiences were classified as failures. In the Third World, the borderline between a failure and a success generally lies in having harvested social aspects correctly. Two very accurate socialization concerns were stated at INET 98, which apply to many community targets:

"First, the Internet usually offers a highly individualized means of communicating, as opposed to more collective forms. A traditional village gathering seems very far removed from the communicative practices prevalent on the Net. Second, the interaction is computer mediated as opposed to face-to-face, shaped by the technical tools used. These tools are in many ways restrictive when compared to the richness of face-to-face interaction, although they also allow for new creative forms of interaction." [5]

Other related aspects such as language, signs, facial expressions, typing limitations like keyboard letters or ideograms, even the concentration and silence generally required in computer use, may deter users. These aspects at times are not considered by engineers who work on terrain, but are fundamental to the success of a project once it is in place. Not attending these concerns may render a project non-operative by the community receiving it. Aside from the failure, the community may have experienced an impact that was unnecessary.

On the other hand, and contrary to the above quote, particular social conditions also provide fertile ground for new electronic sprouting. The Internet provides for new liaisons (professional and emotional!) that may have never occurred if it were not for its accessibility, as we find in a Bangladesh example:

"Most of the medical schools have no computers or only one. There was an acute scarcity in the supply and flow of current information related to health and medicine. A computer-minded physician came forward and initiated the establishment of MEDINET, a non-profit and locally appropriate solution of networking to provide electronic exchange and Internet access to the medical-related professionals and institutes of Bangladesh." [6]

An example of new social horizons of the Internet has been experienced in Colombia, as our civil violence and the social unrest of migrating populations in recipient cities and towns has increased. In Colombia's United Nations SDNP Web site (http://www.rds.org.co), we have opened a space for "Displaced Communities" and have so far linked nearly five existing Web site pages from humanitarian groups to human rights activists specialized in this topic. One can now download the place of origin, ages, qualifications, and other information regarding these marginal peoples, which have helped researchers and the government in better decision-making. The Web has allowed for free flow of information and precise knowledge of previously untouched topics. Here the Web serves those whom, by facts of life, may never be able to connect to the Internet, although they are currently benefiting from its accuracy and coverage.

Our SDNP Web site also provides information that we have yet to socialize down to city Mayors, leaders, activists, developers and investors, such as meteorological forecasts, maritime alarms, mapping facilities for city planners, market prices of produce, electricity consumption, and environmental alerts, among other value-added links. We have a large asset of information that is of enormous importance for locals, who need to be made aware of its existence and location, and subsequently taught to disseminate and use on ground projects. The potential use of the Web and its available information is not restricted to societies, but is also a personal developmental tool.

I find it necessary to open another window in favor of the Internet concentrating less on the social aspects and more on the personal development aspects, for in all cultures the individual evolves at his or her own velocity. I would like to include the following quote with which I agree entirely:

"The Information and Digital Ages have also brought non-linear technologies as opposed to the technologies of the transportation and communication age. In a linear world we are more fully dependent on rigid structures of time and space. We must work, play or travel together, for example, in designated spaces and specified times, in order to engage in joint activities. In a non-linear medium such as the Internet, we are not dependent on the restrictions of time or space to undergo the function we choose. For example, one can go onto the Internet any time of day or night to do as one wishes, whether it is to send an e-mail, engage in chat, post to a newsgroup, read a listserve, transfer a file, do some research or surf the web. Whatever the activity the Internet is "open" for use. If you want to go down to your local library to do some research or read a book, you are restricted by their hours of operation." [7]

Here we are with a technological development that cannot be stopped: better information via means of agile communication systems. This contributes to global unity and sustainable development, to social and personal progress, so it is in itself a social need.

The expansion of telecommunications: a social need

Having mentioned the necessary social aspects involved in telecommunications expansion, I must also address the importance of connectivity. The increase in connectivity worldwide is enormous, no matter how diverse the source is:

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in February 1997, Bill Gates predicted that the Internet will have as many as 500 million users in the next 10 years
According to Lucent Technologies, the number of Internet users worldwide increased from 30 million in 1994 to 134 million in 1998 -- representing an increase of 45 percent a year. Lucent expects that by the year 2001 there will be 250 million users: About 4 percent of the world's population. [8]

An optimistic report from Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi Inc. mentions seven million cybernauts in Latin America and says the total will increase fivefold by the year 2000. [9]

The International Data Corp. (IDC) is more conservative and states two million cybernauts in Latin America as we approach the year 2000. [10]

In the Third World, telecommunications development has kept a pattern, as described below:

"In most developing countries, telecommunications infrastructure has long been low on the agenda, and other development goals have received higher priority. As a result, the telecommunications infrastructure is often seriously underdeveloped, and the cost of using it is generally more expensive in developing countries than in developed ones." [11]

Colombia is in the described range, in regard to its government expenditure in the communications sector, which has remained at a low average of 1.96% of GDP for the period 1990-1997 (in constant pesos of 1975). On the other hand, Colombia has opened this sector to privatization, from television to long distance telephone service, through to optic fibre and trunking. This has introduced a fresh new injection of capital into the development of the sector, bringing about growth at an interannual rate during the next 10 years as follows: subscription TV, 27.2%; online services, 22.2%; access to the Internet, 19.7%; beepers and trunking services, 20.7%. [12]

The estimates are that in major cities more than 30 new enterprises have surged, from private and public investors, competing in what previously was a state monopoly. Due mostly to competition between providers, only three years ago in the capital city, Bogotá, a user had to wait up to 24 months to have a new line installed or fixed when now it can be completed in 72 hours. Competition has provided better services and more availability than ever before, with optic fibre technologies to satellite access being offered at competitive prices for the Internet. In Colombia today, no less than 400,000 Internet connections exist in the country, with expectations of an increase of 45% a year. [13]

Keeping up with the privatization trend, the government expects to use its US$80 million fund obtained from the privatization of television in a Social Telephony Plan completing no less than 7,114 lines in places that today lack or are deficient in telephone services [14]. This is expected to raise the telephone density from 1.67 telephones per 1,000 inhabitants, to 4.0 telephones per 1,000 inhabitants by the year 2007 [15], with an annual increase in density of between 11.23 and 16.26 [16]. In 1995 our national state telephone company -- Telecom -- then a monopoly, covered 632 municipalities of the 1,039, bringing today's coverage expectations to a high, if the government keeps its promise [17].

Colombia's National Plan for Telecommunications for the decade has four major objectives:

  1. Expand communal telephone services to all geographical points that do not count with the service.
  2. Penetrate urban and suburban locations, supplying the second poorest segment of the population with 75% coverage and the poorest with 25% coverage.
  3. Increase the access of nonurban households to telephone service.
  4. Provide telephone access to databases for schools, hospitals, and public libraries.

One of the most interesting plans within the National Plan is the program called COMPARTEL, an acronym standing for Sharing Telephony. The main goal of this program is to allocate what internationally has been called TeleCentres, providing for long distance telephone service, fax communication, and Internet access, inclusive of the hardware, software, and computer equipment [18]. By December 1997 Colombia had 5.43 million telephones lines installed, with 77.3% in the 23 largest cities -- the capital city alone holding 34% of the total, leaving the remaining 22.6% of lines installed in the rest of the country [19].

The Ministry for Communications has a draft project allocating the distribution of the frequency bands, the procedures for allocation, and the means of payment that the new operators will have to make use of when operating with the electromagnetic spectrum. The draft project is designed to assign the frequencies according to regions. The Colombian territory will be divided into rural or urban areas, named Zones A and B. The band frequency between 1427 and 2500 will be exclusively for fixed telephone services, while band frequencies between 1910 and 3700 will have mobile accessibility. [20] This opens a new means of using the electromagnetic spectrum, on the one hand with private capital and on the other for rural areas that previously were not set within any plans of telecommunications expansion. Much the same as Compartel, which puts out an initiative for expanding telephone service to rural areas, both of these actions will introduce changes in people's behavior and will require some type of introductory program and buffer for the impacts. The Compartel plan opens on a grand scale what is the core of my paper: the communication dilemma -- the need for socialization of connectivity and telecommunications.

When dealing with the advancement of telecommunications, as we see from the above-mentioned plans and programs, the social sciences will play a major role. Social scientists use "blanket terms" such as "widespread," "communal," "cooperative," "of public access," even "global," "universal," and the like, when referring to the social coverage of technological advances, including of course the Internet. In Colombia the National Plan presents two similar concepts, namely: Universal Access, meaning every person having access at a reasonable distance from home to a telephone; and Universal Service, meaning every home having at least one telephone line. The government's ambition is to reach Universal Service by the year 2007 with COMPARTEL Plan development in its third category, by installing five telephone services with voice mail, fax, electronic mail, and Internet access, in municipal cities or at locations containing between 3,000 and 7,000 inhabitants with less than 50 telephone lines available [21].

In Colombia it is not uncommon to find homes that have television sets but neither dinner tables nor sofas, so there seems to be an ample potential for the acceptance of Internet connections. In Colombia one could imagine a possible future scenario of towns with no road access but with Internet access. More so, the SDNP in Colombia may one day count with computers in schools with connectivity to the Web, though no road access to the schools is available. Certainly less environmental impacts are appreciated, and better access to information could be made available through connectivity. However, to actually achieve a higher stage of development by use of the Internet, an increase in the socialization of information and its dissemination is compulsory. Internet connectivity should only expand as fast as the rest of the development factors involved in sustainability and economic progress.

The main requirements of sustainable development need to be in place (i.e., roads, electricity, housing, schooling, etc.) to provide fertile ground for the Internet, but "technology may only help in solving these problems, if used properly" [22]. The vicious circle needs to be cut short: no telecommunications expansion without progress, but no progress without telecommunications expansion.

The bottom line question remains, as to whether connectivity is desirable in itself, or should a particular social intention be set prior to its advancement. It is not for me, I believe, to answer, but it is best to investigate at the source, from the same people who will live through the process of expanded connectivity.

Establishing the appropriate links

As I evidenced above, there is a strong rise in telecommunication networking and there probably will be a rise in social difficulties as well due to this; accordingly, there is evidence of the benefits of connectivity expansion. A middle range solution needs to be tabled to provide for fewer inequities yet better communication systems.

Technological solutions are currently available, at a price, to solve communication differences between people. Technical solutions come with wires, optic fibre, satellites, software, and hardware, but when social problems arise, these take longer, more dilated processes of negotiation with grass roots segments of society to avoid negative impacts on the target population; even to avoid the complete failure of the project. How then to provide for the appropriate links and methodology to develop the Web and minimize the impacts?

It seems to me that five major steps need to be considered when developing Internet networks, especially in Third World countries, by using what is commonly called a "bottom-up" methodology, that is, from the grass-roots level upward toward the decision-making level. The suggested steps that should be taken into account before starting a project, are the following:

1. Project definition

The main objectives of a project need to be set forth from the start, requiring an analysis of the underlying intentions and the economic benefits of the outcome. The objective being to establish communication networks per se (e.g., increase sales in telecommunication services, hardware, or software) versus the satisfaction of an ulterior purpose (e.g., information provision, networking, point-solutions to basic needs) must be addressed from the very beginning. As an example, Microsoft Inc. has a different Mission Statement to the Association for Progressive Communications - APC which is as follows:

"The Association for Progressive Communications is a global network of non-governmental organizations whose mission is to empower and support organizations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability."

What is the aim of the project and who will benefit from it? This must be made pristinely clear from the start.

2. Technical assessment

The next step is to evaluate the technical needs of the project: its dimension, its location, location characteristics, technological possibilities. The African telecommunication infrastructure is different from the Latin American, the North American, and the European and so demands an appraisal of a different nature. The available bandwidth, telephone line access, satellite services, even the government structure and laws are key concerns at this level. An economic estimate of the costs springs from this approach.

3. Community evaluation

At this third stage of project planning, it is necessary to explore the social cohesion, the cultural milieu, the environment, and the traditional means of communication that exist in the community that will be receiving the new technology. I am suggesting a methodology used in the social sciences, particularly Anthropology, devised to understand social networks. Essentially it comprises two main requirements, in at times a lengthy process:

  1. A social science background, meaning that the personnel involved in the research should have theoretical knowledge in understanding a diversity of cultures and their complexities
  2. Fieldwork, demanding a "participatory research procedure" that requires first-hand experience living among the community to attend to leadership mechanisms and personal, family, and community developments

The outcome of the community evaluation should allow the project to advance within the framework of an established social and environmental habitat to then precise the risks and appropriate mechanisms of approaching the target population. Likewise as above, an economic estimate of costs springs from this step.

4. Pilot project

Having gone through the first three stages, the project must be implemented on as a small scale operation and examined. As in the Colombian Compartel Plan, perhaps an initial estimate of five telephone services -- including the Internet, for populations between 3,000 and 7,000 inhabitants, may be either too low or too high; at least one local trial is required before setting about establishing 201 Compartel centres as is planned.

5. Project expansion

Once the pilot project has been scrutinized and evaluated, a new plan must be devised, in a smaller or larger scale. A new set of goals, technical requirements, social difficulties, personnel, and costs should be tabled. At this stage of events, the project has a much fairer chance of evolving in the correct lines and costs. It will also diminish its impact and provide a better chance of success.

In addition, other requisites may arise when developing Web networks, as the SDNP in Colombia recognizes, in the sense that Web sites need to be user-friendly, make friends (customers!), keep their interest, and furthermore have the clientele transform on ground their reality in a sustainable way. This is a major task for a Web designer and manager, but if additionally we must have our clients share a common computer, in a small and perhaps hostile environment, this increases the chances of failure and hence decreases our chance of obtaining sustainable development. The following quote presents some point-solutions for equal opportunities in the expansion of telecommunications, several ideas that should be considered permanent issues.

"[It is important to] develop access points and demand in secondary cities and rural areas, by training users in these areas and supporting them with equipment and installation subsidies; by addressing the needs of those without computers through the establishment of shared community telecenters and promotion or support of wireless link alternatives when necessary; by promoting -- for the nonliterate and less educated -- certain improved interfaces such as text-to-voice output, touch screens, WebTV, voice recognition, and improved machine translation facilities for major languages; by supporting the use of special equipment for the disabled, such as Braille keyboards and voice cards for the blind." [23]

In Colombia, it took an entire government administration to set in place the technological equipment for electronic vote counting after elections. What we see today is that four hours after the closure of the voting, 80% of the votes have been counted and six hours later 98% have been counted. To some this may not mean much. To Colombians it means less violence, more confidence and peace... this is enormous progress that interconnectivity has introduced.

It is necessary then to begin establishing the appropriate links between the community and the Internet with seminars, courses, and correct project planning. If a project has been conceived well and monitored correctly it has a much higher chance of success. The conception of a project must include adequate social awareness and the correct socialization programs and techniques.


With the expansion of the Internet worldwide, it is necessary to understand that there are different approaches to the problems wanting to be solved. At times technological changes may suffice to positively transform the reality of people, yet at other times, and especially locations (i.e., Third World countries), it is very important that the social environment of the target population be addressed in tandem with all other technical concerns.

The expansion of the Internet worldwide cannot and should not be a goal in itself. It is very important, especially in Third World countries, that the Internet be used first of all, to help improve the living standards of the country and its people. Government policies in this regard must be set in place to help guide the Internet expansion initiatives towards concrete problemsolving.

The expansion of the Internet can become a tool for continued inequality among peoples, countries, and regions. Even if the underlying interest is to provide social services for the most needed, the opposite effect may occur as access to the Web can widen the gaps of illiteracy, elitism, cultural homogeneity, and break social cohesion or traditional knowledge. It is fundamental that there be an acknowledgment of the importance of the social dimension when thinking of Internet expansion to avoid social impacts that are unnecessary.

Government and non-government organizations should establish appropriate means of coordinating discussions on better public access to the Web. The Web carries an enormous capacity to improve access to key information and to improve communication, which in turn may mean more democratic societies, better public participation in decision-making, and the provision of expertise that may lead to sustainable development.

In all projects involved with telecommunications expansion, it is necessary that communities be consulted from the design stage onwards, and later should include socialization schemes that decrease impacts and make the project more socially acceptable. An existing methodology, based on a "bottom-up" approach, can be applied so that the social aspects are covered adequately.


[1] Juan Rada, "A third world perspective" in Günther Friedrichs and Adam Schaff (eds.) Microelectronics and Society: For Better or for Worse, 1982, p. 216. Quoted in David Lyon, The Information Society: Issues and Illusions, 1988, p. 14. In turn quoted by Ms. Paula Uimonen at INET 98, as cited below.

[2] Paula Uimonen (<uimonen@unrisd.org), United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Switzerland. INET 98 Paper . The Internet as a Tool for Social Development.

[3] Alastair G. Smith (<Alastair.Smith@vuw.ac.nz), Victoria University of Wellington, NEW ZEALAND, INET 98 Paper. Regional 1: Breaking Linguistic and Cultural Barriers. Fishing with New Nets: Maori Internet Information Resources and Implications of the Internet for Indigenous Peoples.

[4] Mike Jensen (mikej@wn.apc.org), Internet Connectivity for Africa:
The Status of the Internet and Related Developments, OnTheInternet. September/October 1997
Volume 3, Number 5.

[5]Paula Uimonen, INET 98. As above.

[6] Abul Kalam Azad (<akazad@medinet.agni.com), Dhaka Medical College, Bangladesh.

[7] Riley B., Thomas, Government Computer Column, May 1998. Internet: Giving Fire to the People.

[8] Revista Semana, Octubre 26 de 1998.

[9] Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi Inc.

[10] International Development Conference.

[11] Paula Uimonen, INET 98. As above.

[12] Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Colombia (Communications Ministry of Colombia).

[13] Revista Semana, Octubre 26 de 1998.

[14] Periódico La Cronica, December 28, 1998, Colombia.

[15] Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Colombia (Communications Ministry of Colombia).

[16] Departamento Nacional de Planeación de Colombia, National Planning Department of Colombia .

[17] Revista Semana, Octubre 26 de 1998.

[18] Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Colombia (Communications Ministry of Colombia).

[19] Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Colombia (Communications Ministry of Colombia).

[20] Periódico La República, December 23, 1998.

[21] Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Colombia, Plan Compartel (Communications Ministry of Colombia).

[22] Demands, Hopes and Expectations in Internet Use. Association for Progressive Communications -- APC.

[23] Mike Jensen, Policy Constraints to Electronic Information Sharing in Developing Countries.

[INET'99] [ Up ][Prev][Next]