Monthly Archives: October 2009

Digital Independence Takes A Step Closer…

In 2007, it became clear to me that access to technology – especially computers and Internet connectivity – is critical to the future of reading.

There’s no question now that if reading does have a future – and it must – then that future is digital. We spent 550 years since Gutenberg developing a complex ecosystem in which people wrote content, which was then turned into dirty marks on shredded trees and distributed to the people who read it.

It’s hard to realize that, against this 550 years of history, the Internet went mainstream only about 15 years ago. So we’re really only at the very beginning of creating a new ecosystem which will replace the “Gutenberg” ecosystem.

That’s why we’re having all the thrash, controversy, legal action etc. around Intellectual Property, patents and so on. We forget it took developments like the international signing of the Berne Convention (spearheaded by French author Victor Hugo – which I wrote about in an earlier post) before authors’ and publishers’ rights were truly recognized and protected.

One of the key issues moving forward is: If digital technology is truly to replace paper, then how do we make sure that everyone has access to it?

We’re going through changes on a historic and global scale. I felt we needed a beacon to illuminate a long-term goal to which we could all aspire. And that was why in 2007 I wrote the Digital Declaration of Independence which always appears at the head of every post on this blog:

We hold this truth to be self-evident: That every human has an equal and unalienable right to the means to create, distribute and consume information to realize their full potential for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – regardless of the country they live in, their gender, beliefs, racial origin, language or any impairments they may have.

I took as my model the US Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t a goal which would be reached in just a few years, but was truly long-term. After all, the 1776 Declaration stated that all men (!) were created free and equal, with certain inalienable rights. But it took more than 200 years before the United States could elect a black President, and it could take a while yet before we see a woman President (unless Sarah Palin performs a miracle – in which case I’m heading back to Europe :-))

Although it is a long-term goal, there are at least some signs that some governments are beginning to realize the importance of universal high-speed access to the Internet.

CNN reported last month that Finland became the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access a legal right. The move by Finland is aimed at bringing Web access to rural areas, where access has been limited.

According to CNN:

“Starting in July, telecommunication companies in the northern European nation will be required to provide all 5.2 million citizens with Internet connection that runs at speeds of at least 1 megabit per second.

The one-megabit mandate, however, is simply an intermediary step, said Laura Vilkkonen, the legislative counselor for the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The country is aiming for speeds that are 100 times faster — 100 megabit per second — for all by 2015.

“We think it’s something you cannot live without in modern society. Like banking services or water or electricity, you need Internet connection,” Vilkkonen said.

“Universal service is every citizen’s subjective right,” Vilkkonen said.

CNN reported that the United Nations is making a big push to deem Internet access a human right, and in June, France’s highest court declared such access a human right. But Finland goes a step further by legally mandating speed.

The news network also pointed out that the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national policy to promote high-speed broadband, according to a study released in August by the Communications Workers of America, the country’s largest media union.

Forty-six percent of rural households do not subscribe to broadband, and usage varies based on income, the study found.

In February, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to submit a national plan to Congress. The FCC says that expanding service will require subsidies and investment of as much as $350 billion — much higher than the $7.2 billion President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package has set aside for the task.

There’s a long way to go. But at least there are the first signs of movement towards the digital future…