Closing Digital Divide
Paper to be published in
(March 11, 2001)
The dawn of the twenty-first century comes with a digital revolution and economic globalization with a New Economy. We are moving towards a global knowledge society where information, skills, and competence become the driving forces of social and economic development. Effective learning can be greatly facilitated by upgraded multimedia educational materials using broadband Internet applications. The use of these applications for global e-learning and telehealth/telemedicine must be efficient and cost-effective, enabling educational institutions to foster global citizenship and achieve "education and healthcare for all" at anytime, anywhere and at any pace. The Internet will be the main telecommunication media of tomorrow. Broadband Internet holds great promise for improving multimedia e-learning and telehealthcare capabilities in global scale, especially in rural and isolated areas that are not well served by commercial network providers.
A true revolution in e-learning and telemedicine requires high-speed access to the World Wide Web, and the flexibility to offer a variety of media. These might include two-way audio, full motion video-conferencing up to MPEG2 quality, television-quality netcasting, and high resolution image transfer for telemedicine. Such capabilities require medium to broad bandwidth. Developing countries need broadband Internet via international satellite and fiber optic cable. The objective of increasing quality of audio/video delivery, high interactivity, and system throughput can be seen as a global objective of closing digital divide for improving e learning and telehealth services.
As a result of the G-8 meetings held in Okinawa, Japan, in July 2000, important initiatives have been started, and the GLOSAS projects described here fall clearly within the suggestions for action in the Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society
The GLObal Systems Analysis and Simulation Association in the U.S.A. (GLOSAS/USA) is a publicly supported, non-profit, educational service organization -- in fact a consortium of organizations -- dedicated to the use of evolving telecommunications and information technologies to further advance world peace through global communications. GLOSAS fosters science and technology based economic development to improve the quality of life.
Over the past three decades GLOSAS/USA played a major pioneering role in extending U.S. data communication networks to other countries, particularly to Japan, and deregulating Japanese telecommunication policies for the use of e-mail through ARPANET, Telenet and Internet (thanks to help from the Late Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge) -- which is now called closing digital divide. This triggered the de-monopolization and privatization of Japanese telecommunications industries. This liberalization of the telecommunication industry has now created a more enabling environment for economic and social development in many other countries. Now over 180 countries have Internet access and more than 377 million people are using e-mail around the world. American and other countries' university courses now reach many under-served developing countries. GLOSAS has contributed by conducting innovative distance teaching trials with "Global Lecture Hall (GLH)" (TM) multipoint-to-multipoint multimedia interactive videoconferences using hybrid delivery technologies. Thanks to these efforts, Dr. Takeshi Utsumi, one of authors, received a prestigious Lord Perry Award for the Excellence in Distance Education in the fall of 1994 from Lord Perry, the founder of the U.K. Open University. The two year senior recipient of the same award is Sir Arthur C. Clark, the inventor of satellite.
With the support of generous funds from Alprint, the British Council, Finnair, Finnish Broadcasting Company, the Ministry of Education Finland, Sonera, Soros Foundation/Open Society Institute, the United States Information Agency (USIA), the United States National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Information and Development Program (infoDev) administered by the World Bank, and many others, GLOSAS and the University of Tampere conducted a highly successful International Workshop and Conference on "Emerging Global Electronic Distance Learning (EGEDL99)" in August, 1999 at the University of Tampere, Finland <http://www.uta.fi/EGEDL>.
The event brought together about 60 decision-makers and leaders in e-learning and telemedicine from 14 underserved countries who discussed practical solutions for the implementation of affordable global e-learning across national boundaries. They brainstormed and the workshop recommended the formation of the following three interrelated organizations;
The group also formulated specific pilot projects focussed on major regions of the world to reduce the growing digital divide between information rich and information poor populations, as realizing education and healthcare for all, at anywhere, anytime and at any pace.
|IV.||Global University System (GUS)|
The goal of the GUS is to improve the global learning and wellness environment for people in the global knowledge society where the global responsibility is shared by all. A central theme is the sharing and exchange of knowledge among educational, research, industry and trade sectors. The GUS will (1) seek open, egalitarian and culturally transparent methods to achieve improved learning and healthcare worldwide, cooperating closely with people around the world, (2) harness the emerging technologies of broadband Internet connectivity among institutions of higher learning in developing countries to provide learners of all ages with global e-learning across national and cultural boundaries, (3) nurture the intellectual development of youngsters around the world through creative competition for excellence with affordable and accessible broadband Internet, (4) coordinate and facilitate national and international regional systems which will support and complement the traditional institutions of learning and healthcare, by using conventional methods in tandem with advanced electronic media.
The GUS has group activities in the major regions of the globe. They are developing their pilot projects in;
Each of these regional groups, with partnerships of higher learning and healthcare institutions, will foster the establishment of GUS in their respective regions, with the use of an advanced global broadband Internet virtual private network which to be financed by the Global Service Trust Fund (GSTF) -- see below.
The major officers of the GUS are: P. Tapio Varis, Ph.D., Acting President, (University of Tampere, former rector of the United Nations University of Peace in Costa Rica); Marco Antonio Dias, T.C.D., Vice President for Administration, (former director of Higher Education of UNESCO); Takeshi Utsumi, Ph.D., Vice President for Technology and Coordination, (Chairman of GLOSAS/USA); Pekka Tarjanne, Ph.D., Trustee member, (former Director-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)).
|V.||Global Broadband Internet (GBI) (Figure 1)|
GUS will foster the development of e-learning and telemedicine pilot projects using broadband Internet technology in order to enhance their teaching/learning capabilities. The GUS will also facilitate connectivity among current e-learning efforts around the world and will provide support and guidance to selected pilot projects intended to serve as models for adoption around the world.
Each regional satellite hub of the GUS will be connected with its counterparts in developed countries with the use of digital satellites across continents and oceans. However, if possible, it is desirable to use optical fiber terrestrial line to avoid time delay latency for the round trip to/from geostationary satellite. This is because latency, especially if more than one satellite hop is required, inhibits effective audio conversation which is an absolute necessity for videoconferencing.
The each regional satellite hub will then be connected to regional constituent member organizations (elementary and secondary schools, institutions of higher education, libraries, hospitals, local governmental agencies, etc.) in mid-range (50 to 200 miles) apart from each other using microwave broadband (1.5 to 45 Mbps) Internet networks.
Those organizations will then disseminate the broadband Internet service further to similar nearby (up to 25 miles) organizations using wireless spread spectrum broadband (3 to 10 Mbps) Internet networks, which do not require licenses in most countries.
This is the so-called fixed wireless approach requiring line-of-sight, and hence, this technology can be used only between buildings. The users have to belong to the organizations using the buildings, hence prohibiting the use of the broadband Internet by individual outreach students at their homes. The buildings with broadband Internet connection will then also become relay points for the so-called third generation mobil wireless units which are now rapidly appearing in the market, e.g., 96 Kbps or up to 300 Kbps Internet access in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. This advanced mobil wireless unit with laptop/notebook will make possible e-learning for anyone, anywhere, and anytime with capabilities of Internet telephony, fax, voice mail, e mail, web access, videoconferencing, etc.
This is not only to help local community development, but also assure close cooperation among higher, middle and lower levels of education, e.g., for teacher training, and courseware development, etc. In a sense, the regional satellite hub is to be the major Internet Service Provider (ISP) of the global virtual private (exclusive) network (VPN) for not-for-profit organizations in the region, and the gateway to the outside world.
|VI.||Global Service Trust Fund (GSTF) (Figure 2)|
Deployment of this high-speed Internet for education and health applications in developing countries would be financed with a Global Service Trust Fund (GSTF) which will use available satellite and optical-fiber facilities to further the cause of worldwide digital divide for e learning, telehealth/telemedicine and other social services such as emergency warning and rescue.
The GSTF responds directly to several of the injunctions of the Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society to:
Objective steps must be taken to:
The GSTF directly addresses the digital divide at the international level. Although many countries (including some developing countries) are now geared to establish broadband Internet, their initiatives are mainly domestic. There is currently no international organization that provides such a network across national boundaries, continents, and oceans, for the use by non-profit organizations, e.g., e-learning, tele-healthcare, libraries, and local governments. This international gap is now a major cause of network congestion, and there is an urgent need to close it in a rapidly globalizing world society.
The GSTF would create strong incentives for an improved policy and regulatory environment in developing and transitional countries, increase bandwidth available free or at subsidized rates for educational and health projects -- that is projects investing in people -- requiring broad bandwidth, and would involve collaboration between the public and private sectors.
The GSTF will make available broad bandwidth free or at below market prices for qualifying education and health projects in developing countries. Ideally, funding would be sufficient to eliminate or greatly reduce the telecommunications cost for qualified education and healthcare applications. This might be done by a voluntary international mechanism akin to the "E-Rate" now benefiting schools in the United States.
The fund would come from two donor sources: (1) telecommunications companies with under utilized bandwidth (transponder space, fiber capacity) and (2) organizations possessing financial resources (foundations; multinational corporations, international organizations, individual donors, etc.). The latter could also include:
There would be some policy conditionality (telecommunications, education, health). This conditionality and operational criteria will be established in a participatory fashion by working groups convened by ITU, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Major stakeholders -- nations, international organizations, private companies, NGOs, etc. -- would be invited to help determine the minimum acceptable policy framework intended to create an enabling environment for the development of both broad bandwidth infrastructure and applications of this infrastructure to meet development needs.
The Coalition for this GSTF ideally would include a broad spectrum of commercial and governmental sources. These might include key international organizations such as ITU, UNESCO, WHO, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) plus commercial satellite system providers, fiber optic operators, equipment manufacturers and providers of tele-education and tele-health services. The Coalition would also include international development banks, bilateral aid agencies, foundations, and various types of companies contributing to the GSTF as well as organizations contributing education and healthcare knowledge.
A credible, reliable, and competent structure will be established to administer the GSTF. One possibility is that the World Bank would provide the secretariat, making use of the same legal infrastructure established for the Information and Development Program (InfoDev). The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is another possible host, and others could be envisioned, e.g., an independent neutral entity under the auspices of UNESCO, WHO, ITU, World Bank, UNDP, etc.
This activity, including a high-level meeting of global leaders to launch the GSTF, is now being adopted by the [Arthur C.] Clarke Institute of Telecommunications and Information (CITI) <http://www.clarkeinstitute.com/> and coordinated through GLOSAS/USA and the GUS.
The organizers of this project have already identified a number of potential pilot projects for the GSTF. These include several projects of the Global University System; the Millennium Satellite System for the Digital Divide; the Biosphere Project; Canal Futura Africano - A 24-Hour-a-Day Portuguese Language Educational Television Service for Africa; Conversion of Zimbabwe Open University to Decentralized Web-Based Learning and Satellite Web-Based Delivery for the South Institute of Information Technology in Pakistan. These projects are already in a relatively advanced state of preparation and could be implemented rapidly as GSTF funding becomes available.
The Tampere meeting was a study in contrasts, and clearly showed the enormous gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots". On the one hand, some of the players have tremendous resources with which to deploy broadband wireless technology; on the other hand, some must operate on a shoestring budget, and even lack adequate basic wireline services as a starting point. A major challenge will be to identify technology which will be appropriate (in terms of start-up and operating costs, maintainability by local people, etc.) in the "have not" situations.
Thanks to our highly successful event in Tampere, Finland, substantial momentum for our Global Initiative is now building up to have follow-up workshops and conferences to forge ahead the establishment of the GUS with GBI and GSTF by multilateral collaborations.
|IX.||Current Reference Websites|
Biographies of Authors
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