Internet Society Newspaper V3 N1, 1994 Internet prospects in the South: simple questions, complex issues.
By Daniel Pimienta and Senaida Jansen Foundation Networks and Development (FUNREDES) [email protected], [email protected]

The last years have shown a spectacular move of the Developing Countries into the networks. Depending on the region, Fidonet or UUCP have been the preferred entry protocols and everywhere the trend is to migrate, whenever possible, towards TCP-IP. If measured in term of new countries having gateway to the Internet the move has been impressive and one could expect that the same patterns which apply in the industrial world will come very shortly in the South (relative stronger growth of commercial nodes, use of navigating software to access the growing resources of the Internet, weakening of the subsidized patterns for research networks, and later, conveying multimedia objects...).

However, a closer look in the field shows that the reality is more complex and that the rudimentary measurement tools in use presently are not capable to sense it adequately.

What will happen specifically in the South in the coming five years? Rather than presenting a forecast on the subject, we decided to present a selected set of simple questions whose answers will shape the future of the Internet in the South.

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACT

QUESTIONS:
-Will the dominating trend for charging the end-user gain force also in the South? Will the tariff patterns converge around the world? Will the new fashionable concept of "sustainable development" be translated into models where subsidizing networks is considered a sin?

-Will the natural propensity to communicate with the historical colonizer continue to be reflected in the network traffic (e-mail and information) over the next five years? Will the proportions of national/international and south/north traffic increase seriously within that time-frame?

-Will the growth of end-users become evenly spread by sexes?

-Will the people from agriculture, health and social sciences become fluent Internet users and start using the technology for the benefit of these crucial development areas?

-Will the South networks be organized in user groups capable of participating efficiently in the reinforcement of national institutionalism, with appropriate articulation between public and private sectors?

ISSUES:
-Wide and open access to the Internet vs economic limitations of the majority of would be users.
-Strength of the economic and social impact of networking. -Emergence of new forms of cooperation. -Regional integration as a tool for development. -Integrality of social impact.
-Priority to development.
-Role of the females in the development. -New form of institutions to answer the needs of the South.

NATIONAL INFORMATION POLICIES, POLITICAL CHANGES AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

-Will the emergence of the electronic library encourage the creation and organization of information in the South? Will the generalization of interactive information access be accompanied by sufficient bandwidth increase? Will the information specialists of the South get sufficient skill in time to handle the challenge? Will the small and medium enterprises get organized quickly enough to integrate the information as a key business asset?

-Will the Internet become a natural channel for permanent technology transfer and allow the South to keep up with the upcoming changes?

ISSUES:
-Reinforcing of national information policies. -Requirement for wise management of costly resources such as telecommunication (and, in particular, the organization of batch access).
-Sustainable development.

We believe that:

  1. The answers are not determined by simple cause-effect models.
  2. The system theory approach is obviously necessary, but not sufficient to understand the coming changes.
  3. The impacts of users' global choices will probably be decisive and the chaos theory appears to be the most appropriate tool for forecasting (in the sense that small events may have tremendous effects and that long time stable and strong evidence may disappear rapidly).

This premises makes us conclude that, besides large impact probable from technology improvements, the future of the Internet in the South will strongly depend on the decision of the very end-users (in the South and in the North). The best strategy to influence the future of the Internet in the interest of the South is then to be found in the EMPOWERING AND ARISING AWARENESS OF THE SOUTH END-USERS. Thinkers and decision-makers of the South must come into the arena soon to give themselves a chance to build the tool their way. The responsibility of institutions and people from the North to:
a) help South end-users join the Internet, b) be tolerant to different styles of use, is the counterpart key factor.

Heavy clouds can be perceived in the Southern skies, however tremendous opportunities come together. One of the original opportunities is the coming of a real and non-hierarchical dialogue between the North and the South, thanks to the Internet...

PS: In 1994, FUNREDES is preparing a meeting to brainstorm and
then report on the global impact of the Internet in the South in the next five years.