It can be easy to take the World Wide Web for granted, until you ponder it and think of a few questions: ‘How widely is Internet access available globally?’; ‘Is there really one Web?’; ‘Can Web content censorship or control, regardless of individuals’ wishes, be justified?’
Even in its current relative immaturity, no matter where you are from, sampling the Web can be an experience like wandering into a giant bazaar in which you only understand some of the language and principles – and, just as in a bazaar, the goings-on encompass commerce, political interaction, and the spread of ideals, interspersed with liberal amounts of frippery, nonsense, and filth.
Nevertheless, the Web and Internet provide considerably powerful vehicles for freedom of expression, such as blogs, comment, and e-mail, and access can certainly be a route to educational and economic betterment. In modern times the lack of such access is a direct non-benefit that is causing portions of world population to miss out on such prospects, whether via individual economic circumstances or lack of infrastructure.
Addressing the first of these situations, Microsoft recently announced the launch of a pay-as-you-go personal computing offering for customers in emerging markets. This offering is designed to make PCs more accessible by dramatically reducing the entry cost, and to enable customers to purchase prepaid cards that then allow software to be used as and when it is required, in much the same way as many people budget their use of mobile telephone technology.
The business model involves Microsoft in various partnerships with telecommunications providers, global hardware providers, banks, and retail outlets in the various regions where this offering will be available. Microsoft states that a successful pilot has been carried out in Brazil, and that a second phase of trials will take place in China, Hungary, India, Mexico, Russia, Slovenia, and Vietnam, and the company is exploring ways to enable its financial partners to underwrite PC purchases and prepaid cards on the most affordable terms for people with lower incomes.
In the same way that relief agencies aim to provide long-term relief for famine, via aid programmes that distribute seeds and encourage farming, it is uplifting to think of a measure of self-sufficiency being facilitated via computer access to information. However, it is also concerning to consider the increasing likelihood of there being non-economic barriers to the accessibility of that information which is currently available generally via the Web.
One of these is the prospective spread of censorship over content, for reasons that include political and religious interests. This has concerned Amnesty sufficiently for it to initiate a unified campaign called irrespressible.info, which will counter the various occurrences of what it sees as repressive abuse of rights to expression and access via the Internet.
Another development that seems counter to the ideals of the general availability of Web-based information arises from the prospect of telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) differentiating information accessibility, either in terms of performance, or even total availability, based on their commercial relationships with the originator of particular content.
Given the millions of individual Web sites that exist, and the impossibility of all of them having concurrent commercial agreements with carriers around the world, this would surely result in large parts of the Web effectively being partially switched off to many users. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the originator of what has become the Web, has already expressed significant concerns over the prospect of such a radical departure from the principles that have led to the growth, and success to date, of the medium, and that hold such promise for the future.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)