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Unformatted text preview: 139 Embracing Open Access in East Africa: A Common Internet Infrastructure Policy Agenda for Human Security and Economic Development 8 Joshua Goldstein is a masters candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. E MBRACING O PEN A CCESS IN E AST A FRICA : A C OMMON I NTERNET I NFRASTRUCTURE P OLICY A GENDA FOR H UMAN S ECURITY AND E CONOMIC D EVELOPMENT Joshua Goldstein In East Africa, development practitioners, economists, and local entrepreneurs believe the Internet can be a catalyst for economic growth and human development. However, these three communities lack a common agenda to make increased access a reality. This article attempts to find common language among these communities, and suggests they support a policy framework called Open Access, which aims to provide Internet access to the most people at the lowest cost through market- based solutions and limited public financing. I NTRODUCTION Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) is an increasingly popular buzzword in the East African human security commu- nity. 1 This community, which includes the overlapping professional worlds of humanitarianism, development, human rights, and conflict resolution, uses the term ICT4D to underscore the notion that the Internet, and other digital technologies, can be a powerful tool for reaching a wide range of socio-economic goals. For example, farmers can converse directly with 140 Joshua Goldstein their transnational suppliers instead of through inefficient intermediaries; children can use computers to learn basic skills and drastically increase their access to information; and journalists can self-publish via blogs in places where mainstream media show no interest. Currently, however, East Africa is cut off from the Internets global economic and information opportunities. The effectiveness, scope, and sustainability of ICT4D solutions in East Africa are necessarily limited by the prohibitive cost of providing Internet access there. While most of the world is connected to multiple submarine backbone fiber cables that offer the cheapest option for getting online, East Africa is one of the only regions in the world without a connection to fiber and is thus forced to pay exorbitant prices for satellite connectivity. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency that regulates and standardizes telecommunications, East Africa has an Internet penetration rate of only 3 percent, the lowest rate in the world, yet individuals pay on average between $250 and $300 per month for access, the highest cost in the world (ITU 2003). Governments and incumbent telecom companies in East Africa are unmotivated to change this status quo because they cur- rently form a cartel that profits from the rent-seeking activities of limited competition and closed access....
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- Fall '11