Wednesday, October 06, 2004


UN task force reviews adequacy of global funding for information technologies
A United Nations task force today began examining the adequacy of funding worldwide for information and communication technologies (ICT), particularly in developing countries.
Chaired by the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, Mark Malloch Brown, the Task Force on Financial Mechanisms was born out of the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) last December in Geneva.
At the event, financing of ICT for development was one of two key issues left unresolved, the other relating to Internet governance. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal had proposed the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund to bolster ICT in developing countries, while numerous western countries favoured using existing funding mechanisms instead.
The task force was set up to probe the matter further with a view to making a recommendation to the Summit's second phase, to be held from 16 to 19 November 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia.
Consultations during the one-day meeting in New York will involve representatives from the private sector, civil society, regional banks and commissions as well as individual experts. Inputs will also be mobilized through virtual discussions on WSIS-online.
Write: LuisB. October 2004

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Towards a Neo-Apartheid System of Governance in Latin America – Implications for the Community Informatics Guild
Governance today is being reconfigured by the evolving global demand for unskilled labor in the North and elite intransigence linked to limited capital inflows in the South. The emerging profile is one of dual economies wherein the wealthy dominate decision-making systems and strategic sectors while struggling to sustain a return on their investments, and the poor either emigrate or administer meager resources in the informal sector of their respective national economies. Remittance transfers now sustain this growing corpus of diaspora communities throughout the region.

This grim scenario is now widespread in the context of States under reconfiguration, moving toward a “ritual and virtual fiction” of e-governance orchestrated by shrewd and skilled elites who have responded adaptively to the challenges that information technologies represent to their historical leadership and hegemony while astutely orchestrating an “apertura democratica” that is more form than substance. Latin America with its pronounced income distribution inequities is the region where this process is quite visible. And its current intensification should belie illusions about enhancing democracy via top down, “government as online citizen administrative chores and tax payment systems” and kindred supply side information technology initiatives. E-government programs in this context may only exacerbate the current class and ethnic polarities.

Students and practitioners of “community informatics” need take this scenario into account when either designing research protocols or consulting with activist ICT non-governmental organizations who are committed to a rustic, ingenuous “better connectivity=enhanced democratic culture” strategy. The latter today too often ignores the power of national elites who have configured their regulatory regimes to favor quasi-monopolistic market dominance in cahoots with foreign IT hardware and software interests. At the same time, this innocence fails to lead to a critical perspective on the design and impact of official connectivity programs too often tailored without critical, public input in the Ministries’ chambers and much attuned to the interests of corporate hardware and proprietary software suppliers.

Today, many government subsidized connectivity projects languish in schools, libraries and public health centers where community “buy-in” is scarce, training limited, maintenance infrequent and content often irrelevant to the needs and aspirations of the local, young IT consumers. This growing population has already been weaned at the town or village cyber cafe, a regional network of mom and pop connectivity shops whose self-sustaining human and technical resources are largely ignored by the State programs. This profile of the Latin American connectivity and ineffective use pattern, suggests community informatics in this region of the South requires distinctions and caveats in any general arguments meant to apply globally, an urgent priority for forthcoming conferences on the topic.

As we slouch toward the second World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis, November 2005), Latin American States emerge from a lengthy and costly reconfiguration of public assets. Now largely privatized, these resources allow national and regional elites and capital groups (plus their foreign allies) to sustain their historical controls via modern IT-anchored mechanisms, whereby partnerships with “privatized” public entities and foreign capital partners effectively concentrate power in the key media, telecommunications and energy sectors of the respective national economies; such societies already being dramatically polarized between rich and poor. As a result, the emerging privatized Latin American State may be a ritualized fiction that sustains a democratic drama while power is increasingly concentrated and constrains any radical democratizing process (recent events in Venezuela are indicative).

In these States there is no civil service, little or no due process, limited transparency re public contracts and government budget disbursements, an elite-controlled media and telecommunications sectors, and the remittance economy has become the social safety net for the poor. The scale of the latter today permits these same elites to applaud the growing remittance flows while attenuating pressures on national social service budgets whereby “the poor appear to be able to pay their own way”. Add to this the discourse about decentralized municipal authority and it is not difficult to perceive the ruse that camouflages the concentration of effective power in these countries. Plans for the delivery of key government services via online portals may portend a “virtual State” where the programming protocols of the servers remain in the discretionary hands of a few. This is not the model of e-governance some of us may have in mind.
Write: By Scott S. Robinson. Universidad Metropolitana, México, D.F. October 2004
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Hackers re-invent political protests
The fashionable city of Milan has become the staging area for a new breed of online social protests. Via della Pergola is only a 15 minute walk from the centre of Milan. But in a sense the street could not be farther away from the glitz that you find downtown. Here, you can find Pergola Move. It is a rambling old set of buildings that is part cafe, part restaurant, and part youth hostel. But it serves mainly as a meeting point for a loose collection of Milan's social activist groups.
Activists have been squatting in these buildings since 1990. Now, they pay rent and use the facilities for their work. Among those working here is Blicero, a computer hacker with a group called Reload. He says the members of Reload decided early on what they meant by hacking.

"For us it meant basically dismantling stuff, reducing them to components, and trying to put them back together in a way that looked like something we liked more.
"We thought that this was perfectly parallel, perfectly integrated with the idea of people who were involved with social struggle," said Blicero.

"We felt that social struggle was about taking apart social reality and building it up again in a way that is socially more interesting, or socially more right for what we think."

Social points
Reload calls it Reality Hacking. The group uses the internet, for example, to stream its own radio content.
It used the online station to get people to participate in this year's May Day marches.
Reload then teamed up with another hacker group named Molleindustria, which means soft industry.
Together, they created an online May Day march. Virtual activists could march by choosing their own character complete with different hair colours and outfits.
But predictably, many had their characters march naked.
Molleindustria also supplies simple computer games for Reload's activist projects.

The games are politically and socially charged
In Tamatipico, you try to keep your assembly line worker happy by making sure he gets enough rest, enough food, and enough time in front of the television. If your workers not satisfied, he will go on strike.
Blicero says that games like Tamatipico are first and foremost, fun.

"If you have fun, it tends to drive your attention to the thing that you're doing, and maybe stop and think about a couple of things that are happening," he said.

"I think the whole point is to make people aware of what they're actually living.

"And to have this, you have to create images, fantasies, idea, fun, things people can recognise easily and interact with easily and get near to you, talk to you, and then decide whether you're talking bullshit, or things that make sense.

Growing up
For some, like computer game expert Matteo Bittanti sips, what Reload and Molleindustria are doing is a new way of thinking about games.
Mr Bittanti is the driving force behind a series of books on video games currently being published in Italy.
To him, Molleindustria games work like a great film - you're entertained, but you come away with something more.

"I got a feeling the video game industry doesn't want to grow up," he said.

"They keep making very lame games. I mean the medium is so powerful, you can do so many things with it.

"And yet, you always end up with the same games, shooting people. I think you can do smart games that actually sell well, you have a whole generation of new game designers that have great ideas.

"And the technology's cheap, you can do very easy games that have a global view and can actually influence people."

Others, like Noah Wardrip-Fruin, co-editor of the computer game book First Person, say these games are just that, games.
He argues that people who march in a virtual May Day parade are not involved in serious political activism.

"They aren't actually putting their physical bodies online. In a way, it's just a more dramatic way of them signing an online petition.

"And the same with people who are doing things like cyber-hippie work or things like that where they do these sort of minor attacks on military computers and things like that.

"But I think there's definitely more potential than that."

And the Reload collective is thinking ahead. It is offering workshops, and courses on hacking and on creating online radio stations that need just one microphone and one computer.
It is also exploring ways to use the internet to link up with other social activist groups, not just in Italy, but across the globe.
Source: BBC News. October 2004
Write: Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production

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South Gains Ground in Intellectual Property Debate
Countries of the developing South successfully lobbied the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to incorporate development goals and consumer rights, to counterbalance the interests of powerful nations and corporations, in a resolution adopted Tuesday.
The decision by the WIPO general assembly”is a breakthrough move by the U.N. body, which has been often accused of caring more for the rights of intellectual property owners than of users, especially those in developing countries,” said a statement by Consumers International, the worldwide federation of consumer organisations.

The proposal that was approved with a few modifications was introduced by Brazil and Argentina with the backing of Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Iran, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Venezuela.

The resolution by the general assembly not only represents a victory for the developing South, but also ”a change in culture and direction for WIPO...(which) will never be the same,” said U.S. activist James Love with the Consumer Project on Technology.

WIPO, which did not become part of the U.N. system until 1974, administers the international treaties on intellectual property and copyrights. It is unique in that it is made up of representatives of the private sector as well as the member states.
”For generations WIPO has responded primarily to the narrow concerns of powerful publishers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, plant breeders and other commercial interests,” more than 500 prominent scientists and intellectuals from around the world stated two weeks ago in a document titled ”The Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organisation”.

Consumers International observed that the resolution that was approved by the WIPO general assembly contains many of the ideas expressed by the Geneva Declaration.

The member states cannot ignore certain complaints that have been made public, said Argentine representative Alfredo Chiaradía, who called for WIPO to become a more receptive, transparent and inclusive forum for all of its members and all sectors of civil society.

The final resolution adopted by WIPO includes the developing nations' proposal to establish a ”development agenda”.

The organisation also decided to set up a working group to examine how the new guidelines can be applied, which will hold meetings open to observers from inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, and is to present a report on Jul. 30, 2005, to be submitted to the next general assembly, scheduled for September 2005.

WIPO also committed itself to organising a joint international seminar on intellectual property and development with other multilateral organisations like the U.N. Trade and Development Conference (UNCTAD), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

In the final version approved by the general assembly, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was also included in the list of international bodies that will help organise the seminar, although it did not figure in the original proposal set forth by Argentina and Brazil.

Industrialised countries were initially hesitant in their reaction to the proposal, arguing that WIPO already deals with development issues through cooperation programmes with specific countries or regions, to which it has earmarked around 500 million dollars for the 2004-2005 period, 85 percent of which is covered by revenues from patent registration and copyright systems.

But Uruguayan representative Guillermo Valles underlined that the development focus advocated by the countries that backed the initiative is not limited to technical assistance or cooperation.

”A WIPO development agenda would obviously need to take into account any possible negative impact on the users of intellectual property, on consumers at large, or on public policy in general, not just the promotion of the interest of intellectual property owners,” said a delegate from India.

The group of developing nations argued that it is essential to reform the existing intellectual property treaties to ensure that they favour real transfer of technology to developing countries, and especially to those defined by the U.N. as ”least developed countries”.

Anna Fielder, Director of the Consumers International Office for Developed and Transitional Economies, said”The WIPO decision to move on this resolution is good for creators and consumers alike. We particularly welcome the willingness to look at increasing access to knowledge and technology in developing countries.”

The resolution also proposes an evaluation of the possibility of suspending negotiations on new treaties that would strengthen protection of intellectual property and place a burden on the fragile bureaucracies of developing countries.

James Love said that”For years, WIPO has pushed to expand the scope and level of intellectual property rights, and told developing countries that this would help their development.”

But ”Today WIPO supported an entirely different approach, which emphasised free and open source software, public domain goods like the human genome, patent exceptions for access to medicine, the control of anti-competitive practices, and other measures that have been ignored by WIPO for years,” he added.
Write: By Gustavo Capdevila. October 2004
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African countries ‘denied ICT investment'
Half-hearted attempts at ICT liberalisation have denied African countries investment dollars from within and outside the continent, says Ernest Ndukwe, chief executive of the Nigerian Communication Commission.
Speaking today at the Telecoms World Africa Conference in Cape Town, Ndukwe, along with other delegates, said Africa needs to deregulate the ICT sector and called for a uniform plan to ensure a common regulatory regime and to set standards.

“Governments should never be protective of the incumbent operators to the detriment of new entrants that will establish a more competitive environment,” he noted.

Akossi Akossi, secretary general of the African Telecommunications Union, said several attempts at drafting a master plan have been made in the past, but they “came to nothing”.

“In the mobile arena, we already have one standard across Africa, namely GSM. However, this has not been emulated in other ICT areas. We need to improve infrastructure, particularly supplying broadband for Internet access and interconnection of telephone systems.”

Akossi said there needs to be a policy forum whereby regulators, governments and the private sector can come together on a continental basis to create the mechanisms that will allow a standardised telecommunications framework to be put in place.

“One obstacle has been the arbitrary changing of communications ministers and their departments in many countries. Often when these staff changes take place there is little in the way of continuity to ensure that policies worked on will be completed,” he said.

“Technology knows no geographic or political boundaries,” said Yvonne Muthien, MTN's executive director for corporate affairs. “Base stations in SA can be used for making phone calls in Botswana and those in Rwanda can be used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and parts of the Sudan.”
Muthien said a common policy framework for Africa would help to alleviate some of the confusion around using services that are based in another country.

Yasmin Carrim, MTN's group executive legal affairs, said an efficient regulatory framework helps attract foreign and domestic investors as it allows them to predict the future value of their investments.
“An inefficient framework leads to court cases and other forms of legal action that are costly and this is a big deterrent to investors. The regulator must also be perceived to be fair and that perception is vitally important,” she said.
Write: By Paul Vecchiatto. October 2004
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Battle between cultural diversity and 'Free Trade' takes shape at UNESCO
The intergovernmental conference finished early, at noon on Friday 24 September, with the rapporteur's summary of the debate. Governments are invited to submit their formal comments by 15 November. It is not fully clear whether NGO comments will also be accepted and included in the Secretariat report. The next intergovernmental will be two weeks long, commencing 31 January 2005. Clearly this will be the critical meeting for negotiation on the text and the one around which CRIS should mobilise.

Governments have appointed a bureau and a drafting committee; the latter will be an important focus for lobbying. It includes USA, France, Switzerland, Finland, Japan, South Africa, India and others. The oral report of the rapporteur was a rather bland summary and seemed to ignore all of the NGO interventions. Main points were that the draft formed a good basis for discussion that the preamble and the principles need to be fine tuned, the definitions section is rather wordy and there were differences of opinion on how this should be approached included the definitions of culture. Some delegations wanted greater attention to language and/or religion. In the main issues of the draft there were different views on Options A and B and an aspiration to find a "third way" that would achieve greater consensus. The relevance of Annexes A and B were questioned; these could well be dropped entirely. There was a tension between countries that see the convention as primarily asserting a right to defend their national culture in the face of globalisation and those that see the convention as significantly about cultural diversity within countries. Many delegations spoke positively about the importance of involving civil society. There were several reservations about creating new institutions such as the proposed observatory however others noted that the absence of any dedicated monitoring mechanism would substantially reduce the effectiveness of the treaty.

A final list of participants was distributed and should be available electronically shortly. It has full contact details, including emails, for most delegates including government representatives. This will be important for lobbying. 132 governments were represented at the meeting. International organisations listed as present were UNESCO, WIPO, UNCTAD, WTO and UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, plus 4 regional bodies. 20 NGOs were listed although a smaller number took part in the daily NGO meetings convened by the UNESCO-NGO Liaison Committee.

The UNESCO-NGO Liaison Committee took the lead role in convening NGO meetings. In addition to focusing on issues of procedure the Liaison Committee see itself as having a role in developing substantive common position statements. It issued two sets of amendments during the week and will revise and refine these before submitting formally to the UNESCO Secretariat. The UNESCO-NGO Liaison Committee is elected from the 300 or so NGOs with consultative status at UNESCO although it seems to have consulted with a smaller selected list in developing its pre-conference position. Its position was rather closely based on INCD drafting.

At the final meeting of the NGOs we agreed a number of issues around process and tactics. NGOs are strongly encouraged to submit their own proposals to the UNESCO Secretariat by 15 November (although they should be published earlier if they are to influence government positions). The Secretariat will be asked to include NGO responses as an Annex to the compilation document for the next conference. There is a need for an open list for NGOs to share papers and proposals. I offered to assist with getting this set up. Decision to be taken by the Liaison Committee next week, it was also agreed to call on the sponsoring governments (Canada is sponsoring the January/February 2005 meeting) to provide financial support for south participation.

As a general conclusion I would say civil society participation was rather weak and rather narrow - few participants, lack of experience among many, predominance of artist/producer groups, and almost complete absence of south participation. Even INCD were not sure they would get into the meeting since they don't have formal consultative status with UNESCO. The UNESCO-NGO Liaison Committee has a very broad constituency including business perspectives such as that of the Independent Publishers Association. INCD is also trying to bridge civil society interests with the small producer end of the private sector. There is certainly an opening for CRIS to play at least an equal role with groups like INCD and the Coalitions and I am sure a communication rights perspective will broaden the basis of debate.

On the substance of the convention it seems to me the outcome will be significant but it could as easily be negative as positive. A weak convention, subsidiary to other treaties, with no powers of sanction and no monitoring and enforcement bodies could still provide the diplomatic fig leaf to bring culture into GATS. This, as the International League on Human Rights state, would be worse than no convention.
Write: by LuisB. October 2004
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PalmOne licenses Microsoft Exchange for mobile e-mail
PalmOne Inc. has licensed technology from Microsoft Corp. to make its devices work directly with Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server, the companies said Tuesday.
With the support for Microsoft's Exchange Server ActiveSync protocol, users of PalmOne devices will no longer need to install third-party client and server software to be able to access e-mail, calendar and contact information on a server running Microsoft's Exchange Server 2003 software, said Steve Janiak, a senior product manager at PalmOne.

The first PalmOne device to include the Microsoft technology will be a new Treo smart phone, scheduled to be available before the end of the year, Janiak said. PalmOne's license is not specific to one device or type of device, and the company may include the technology in other future products aimed at business users, he said.

Janiak does not expect PalmOne's support of Exchange Server ActiveSync to drive the vendors who currently link PalmOne devices with Exchange servers out of business.
"We think that Exchange ActiveSync is going to expand the market more than that it is going to shake other people out," he said. Users of Good Technology Inc. and Seven Networks Inc. products will probably continue to use those products because of the additional management, security and other features, he said.

The agreement with PalmOne marks the first such licensing deal for Microsoft. Support for mobile devices, previously a separate product, was included in Exchange Server for the first time with the release of Exchange Server 2003 in October last year. PalmOne and Microsoft are rivals in the handheld operating system (OS) space: PalmOne sells devices running Palm OS while Microsoft backs its own Windows Mobile software. For Microsoft, PalmOne is just another company with which it both competes and partners, albeit through different parts of the giant software company, said Chuck Sabin, a senior technical product manager at Microsoft.

"Even though PalmOne may compete with some of the manufacturers that are delivering Windows Mobile devices, from an Exchange Server perspective we have the need to support a broader range of devices," he said. Terms of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.
Source: IDG News Service. October 2004
Write: by Joris Evers