Mobile phones for greater access : But where is the content for peacebuilding?

Virtual Island has two ideas related to the use of mobiles in Sri Lanka. In the first, it is stated:

We need to identify what Sri Lanka needs to get connected and the milestones that need to be achieved to reach connectivity. A lot of people in Sri Lanka would benefit from an email address.

Manju Haththotuwa had this to say in a recent ICTA News Update:

“…offering a free email account to every citizen in Sri Lanka through our Nenasalas. Of course it is a beginning of a journey. We have still many challenges ahead of us, especially with improving the ease of use in Sinhala for ordinary people.”

Almost in answer to this statement, Virtual Island makes another good point:

…what would make the general population want to have email? Mobile phones have rapidly caught up and cost much more. Ease of access and instant connectivity make the mobile phone a better choice. Our present commercial setup and infrastructure has promoted the development of mobile telecommunication faster than any other medium.

Virtual Island in a later post goes on to point out the exponential growth of mobiles in Sri Lanka and says:

While everyone talks about penetration and last mile connectivity why not use whats available? Why not use gprs, edge or EV-DO modems for connectivity in there areas ? One could use their present mobile phone sim with these modems. Of course you wouldn’t do huge downloads but one could facilitate E commerce transactions such as ordering spare parts, up loading pictures of products or even checking their bank balance. Maybe I’m being naive but if its there why not use it, right ?

While I don’t think Sri Lanka has even begun to think of EV-DO – a technology increasingly prevelant in the US and other countries – we do have limited 3G deployment through Dialog and almost coast-to-coast mobile network footprints, underscoring the ideas of Virtual Island on how best to use the existing infrastructure, in tandem with ICTA’s vision for an email account for every citizen of Sri Lanka through the Gnanasela’s they’ve set up.

I’ve written extensively about the need to look at mobile architectures for peacebuilding, their use in defeating repressive regimes and possible future scenarios of mobile use in humanitarian operations.

I also keep coming back to the issue of content – creating vast access footprints is in a sense the easy part. Creating the content necessary for the grassroots and the hitherto marginalised communities best use network infrastructure meaningfully is quite another task. My fear is that while ideas that seek to promote ICT to the grassroots in Sri Lanka oftentimes take the form of technology provision (through hardware and software solutions), there is little interest in the creation of content that specifically makes use of the broad spectrum of access technologies (from PC’s in Gnanasela’s to mobiles and PDAs) in support of existing peacebuilding initiatives conducted by civil society, NGOs and the government.

An earlier post of mine explores these issues in more detail.

3 thoughts on “Mobile phones for greater access : But where is the content for peacebuilding?

  1. As you say access is the easy part – The internet is not designed for the sinhala language. The people who can read Tamil can get to read Devangari in unicode. But Sinhala in unicode is still in the doldrums, why can’t all these .net propeler heads here in Sri Lanka sort this problem out ??

  2. EVDO has a theoretical throughput of 2.4 megabits per second. This is as fast as many residential DSL and cable broadband connections currently available in the United States. Qualcomm has produced impressive demonstrations of EVDO’s capabilities; in one, a video conference was conducted with a participant traveling in a car at 60 miles per hour (96 km/hour). In another demonstration, a phone call was placed from a bullet train moving in excess of 150 miles per hour (240 km/hour).

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