Today, we are able to finally sit down with Nikolai Holmov to take a look at global mobilization as it relates to overcoming the Digital Divide. Nikolai is a member of Royal Institute of International Affairs — Chatham House, one of the world’s most prestigious think tanks, and the author of OdessaTalk.com. My reason for getting with Nik is that he is able to offer a better view into how governments and major corporations are looking at these issues and try to boil it down to useful points for mobile developers.
Everything is interconnected — where we are discussing the “Internet of Things” — we are also talking about people and the organizations with which they are associated.
Mark: To preface our discussion, how would you collectively qualify world government interests and concerns about the Digital Divide?
Nikolai: In a few simple words — Power and commerce.
Both the projection of power and commerce (or the lack of it) and also the threats to order, be it sovereign or regional and associated business. Overcoming the digital divide is clearly a means to expand commerce and power. But, maintaining it for some means retaining power even if at the expense of commerce and societal development.
There is also the issue of control when it comes to the Internet is a global question when asking who and how much?
Naturally there is also an increased risk relating to criminality both organised through and carried out on the digital platform from a governmental and corporate view. Arguably a case could be made that complete disregard for copyright and intellectual property rights were a foundational stone in the solidification of eastern European economies initially.
It would be reasonable to anticipate a similar path in other regions as the digital divide is closed.
Mark: What region do you see as being the most difficult to achieve ubiquitous Internet access?
Nikolai: There are obvious cases such as North Korea, where despite the potential to easily provide coverage, there is a desire to do exactly the opposite. However, arguably the longest lasting legacy from the Afghanistan debacle will be G4 coverage across the entire sovereign territory. Thus considering both terrain and domestic infrastructure difficulties there, it would suggest there is no region where ubiquitous Internet access cannot be achieved. Perhaps the better question would be one of ubiquitous access to the Internet once the infrastructure is in place. Which sections of society will be allowed access and which will not?
Mark: Describe what you see as the broad economic benefits to be gained by both developed and developing markets if they were to effectively bridge the Digital Divide.
Nikolai: Quite obviously, should the digital divide be bridged between developed and developing markets the Internet offers swift penetration and immediate demand. Naturally this raises questions over delivery of services, products and subsequently their method of delivery.
As an extension to that, although maybe not quite so obvious, is the effect this may have on corruption particularly amongst traditionally cash economies as most transactions require banking details and credit cards. In a round about way, it may in its own way, force cash into the global banking system that currently fuels murky economies.
More generally the Internet also provides a further medium regarding transparency for those prepared to follow the threads of government and corporate dealing. Ultimately it would allow the horizontal institutions and civil society a very swift medium in collating and corroborating information in that regard. That in turn may force more transparent and accountable procurement.
Mark: While we will sidestep government concerns over the digital divide, do you see any major areas of concern businesses – big and small – should have over the proliferation of internet access?
Nikolai: The major threats would be both legal and criminal. Criminality is nothing new to the Internet and there is no real need to go into the matter whether it be card scamming, organised crime, fraud, copyright and intellectual property rights etc.
With regard to the legalities, then there are likely to be issues regarding data protection, big data, privacy and all the other issues the governments and legislators wrestle with nation by nation. The complexities of staying legal should be a concern.
Mark: Planning for the long-term, what kinds of things do you think aspiring businesses might look at doing to take advantage of the kind of growth in mobile/internet access we can expect to see?
Nikolai: Having painted in broad brush strokes above, I will continue to do so and keep it simple. Much will depend upon the patterns of use that develop as new users in new markets develop and ultimately those patterns are as much shaped by demand as the are by the ability to meets those demands by way of actual delivery.
As markets often develop in parallel with their society there is perhaps something to be said for developing a strategic plan with the international development agencies who work on the ground with society and the businesses within. Is it not foolish to ignore a direct source that may indeed have funding to assist in both software and app development and distribution and promotion on the ground?
Okay, so that’s the “very short version” of the kinds of discussions we have every few weeks. At first, a lot of this may seem far afield from what may be of relevance to mobile app developers. In some cases, the kind of app development you engage upon may impact the degree of relevancy. Developers of utility oriented apps will find more actionable points of interest than developers of most types of games, for example. I will elaborate on some of these points in tomorrow’s post.