Last mile & first mile, access & production

what’s stopping the wireless revolution?

Despite significant advances in technology, more than two-thirds of the world’s population remains without access to communication facilities. The use of wireless technology could transform this situation, bringing low-cost, accessible information and communication technologies to those who have so far been left on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide.’ However, in many countries, particularly in the developing world, governments have been slow to reduce restrictions that limit the use of this technology.

Reading an excellent resource on last mile wireless access published by PANOS today, it occured to me to point out the error in pointing to technologies such as Wi-Fi and WiMax as purely last mile access mechanisms. To be sure, wireless technologies including 3G mobile telephones will take the web and internet to places where PC based, wired network access can’t even hope to reach.

However, the important point that many forget is that no longer are we simply talking about internet access, but of content production as well. MMS, SMS, mobile audio and video, New Media and Citizen Journalism, for exmaple, are all supported by some form of wireless broadband network access. In this light, WiFi and the related concert of large footprint access frameworks are better seen as first mile production and last mile access solution.

In fact, the true potential of last mile access is only realised by how much the communities use the internet and web. New wireless access frameworks are creating wholly new ways of producing and accessing content. Herein lies the potential for peacebuilding – enabling many-to-many and one-to-many communication in the vernacular as well as English, using multimedia as well as text, to ensure the widest spectrum of community participation possible.

This then is what is most exciting about new last mile access frameworks – the transformation of knowledge production from a cart-wheel model – where knowledge flows from the centre outwards – to more democratic constallations of community driven knowledge production and sharing.

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