Global Mobile

Over four billion people on earth now own a mobile phone, and in many parts of the world, mobile networks are leapfrogging the traditional landline infrastructure. It is our argument that the rapid, widespread adoption of simple, powerful handsets, combined with the spread of a high-speed mobile network has tied the globe into a single communications network, creating the foundation for a mobile revolution.

Global Mobile is a new program of NDN and the New Policy Institute that seeks to better understand how the global information and communications network is changing societies and improving lives around the world. We are dedicated to exploring the ways this network can create economic growth, improve public health, enhance education, change media, and strengthen democracies around the globe.

This new program builds on years of work by NDN on the role of technology in politics and the American way of life. For our latest work on this subject, keep up with the Global Mobile blog. Below are the highlights of our work in this space.


Information and Communication Technology in Mexican Civil Society 1/20/11: By Sam duPont This paper is an investigation into how Mexican civil society-- the civic organizations and social movements that exist separate from government and the private sector-- has employed network technologies to enhance and improve its work of creating positive social change

Connection Technologies in U.S. Foreign Policy 9/10/10: By Sam duPont This paper is an overview of the State Department's use of new technology in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, with a focus on the "21st Century Statecraft" and "Internet Freedom" initiatives.

Digital Diplomacy 8/3/10: By Sam duPont Writing in Foreign Policy, Sam duPont interprets the U.S. State Department's "21st Century Statecraft" initiative as a bold attempt to take advantage of the potential offered by new connection technologies.

Harnessing the Mobile Revolution 10/8/08: By Tom Kalil Tom Kalil, now Deputy Policy Director of Science and Technology at the White House, authored a paper for the New Policy Institute (an NDN affiliate) last year, analyzing the power of mobile to create economic growth, better public health, and stronger democracies in the developing world.

Tapping the Resources of America's Community Colleges 7/26/07: By Dr. Rob Shapiro This modest policy proposal by Dr. Rob Shapiro, Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, recommends offering free computer training for all American workers through the computer labs of our nation's community colleges. This proposal was adopted into legislation authored by House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson, and will likely become law in the near future.

A Laptop in Every Backpack 05/01/07: By Alec Ross and Simon Rosenberg Alec Ross, now Senior Adviser on Innovation to the Secretary of State, co-authored this paper with Simon Rosenberg, in which they argued that connectivity to the global information network has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and called for a “A Laptop in Every Backpack” to prepare our children for this new world.


Public Diplomacy and Social Media in Latin America 3/29/11 NDN & NPI co-hosted a forum with SAIS to discuss how social media and other new technologies are affecting diplomacy, politics and governance in Latin America. Under Secretary of State Judith McHale delivered the keynote address.

Advancing Internet Freedom: Tackling Barriers to the Global Free Flow of Information 7/20/10 On July 20, 2010, Global Mobile, NDN, and the New Policy Institute hosted a conversation about practical approaches to internet freedom and the global free flow of information.

Freedom in the 21st Century: Connection Technologies in Open & Closed Societies 4/12/10 On Monday, April 12, Alec Ross, Senior Adviser on Innovation to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, will deliver a speech at NDN & the New Policy Institute on the role of connection technologies in open and closed societies.

Transparency, Accountability, Collaboration: Open Government in the U.S. and the U.K . 2/19/10 Global Mobile hosted  a lunchtime conversation about the changes the open government initiatives in the U.S. and the U.K. are ushering in with Andrew McLaughlin, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House and James Crabtree, an editor at Prospect Magazine in Britain.

"Twitter, Iran, and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution" 7/15/09: In this discussion of the role of Twitter in politics and media, we hosted Nico Pitney, the Huffington Post reporter who brought the voices of Iranian protesters out into the open, and Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky of Gavin Newsom's groundbreaking gubernatorial campaign in California.

New Policy Institute & NDN Help Promote Breakthrough Report on mHealth 6/26/09: NDN co-hosted the release of a new paper jointly published by the UN Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation examining the potential for mobile technology to improve healthcare delivery in the developing world. Speaking at the event were Alec Ross, Tom Kalil, and former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth. Simon Rosenberg hosted the discussion.

Douglas Alexander on Conflict, Fragility, and International Development 4/27/09: British MP Douglas Alexander joined NDN at the Harvard Club of New York for a frank discussion of the role of local politics in international development. As Secretary of State for International Development, Alexander runs DFID, the British development agency, and he spoke on the relationship between conflict, fragility, and development, particularly in Afghanistan.


Global Mobile A look at how mobile technology is changing our world, and improving economic development, health, education, and every other part of societies around the world.

This Week in Global Mobile | July 2, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile tech developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the ever-growing global network of connectivity:

  • On Monday the White House announced its plan to double the amount of wireless broadband spectrum available for use to 500 megahertz in order to free up a crowded space and spur wireless innovation. Click here for the WH blog post, here for the Presidential Memorandum, and here for the WH fact sheet.
  • The State Department launched "Apps4Africa" to spur mobile innovation in East Africa. The competition rewards entrepreneurs who develop mobile applications which show how "technology can be part of the solution" on issues related to transparency, health, and education. Read the State Department's blog post for details.
  • Yesterday U.S. Representative Lofgren (CA-16) introduced the One Global Internet Act of 2010. The bill promotes "the global free flow of information" in response to foreign governments like China "breaking the global Internet into a fractured patchwork of national interests." Read CNET's summary of Chinese censorship here, and click here [PDF] to view a summary of the Act.
  • Gmail, Google Maps, and Chrome are now available in Swahili and Amharic, extending the web of connectivity for developing countries in Africa and helping to "foster integration by enabling East Africans to communicate, learn and work together with greater ease." Coverage here.
  • Today, Obama announced $795 million in broadband grants as part of a continued rollout of the Recovery Act. Here's the announcement, and here's the roster of awards.
  • Reporters Without Borders opened an "anti-censorship shelter" in their Paris headquarters which allows bloggers to post freely on a secure connection which masks their identity. Check out coverage here.
  • In the wake of growing protests following the killing of civilians by security forces, Kashmir has banned the use of SMS in the region. Check out this report, and don't miss our blog post for a deeper look.
  • The Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum, held two weeks ago, just released the 2010 Asia Declaration on Internet Governance, which identifies openness, accessibility, and cybersecurity as critical 21st-century issues.
  • Today the U.S Government released four new mobile phone apps, including a TSA application which sends up-to-date security checkpoint wait times directly to your mobile phone. Check out the whole line-up at's re-vamped website and new mobile apps store here.
  • A new initiative by the Internet Bar Association uses mobile technology to help resolve serious land ownerships disputes taking place in rural Afghanistan. Check out the program's website, and head over to our blog post to learn more.
  • In South Africa, Google Trends is being used to track the outbreak of influenza in the hope that public health officials can use the information to respond proactively to the threat of the flu. Play around at Google Flu Trends to learn more about this impressive and potentially life-saving database.
  • Yesterday the U.S. government launched, a comprehensive digital resource for learning about new healthcare policy, options, and availabilities in your area.
  • Internet giant Google has been sailing in rough waters in China. This week the conflict between the two escalated as tensions rose over Google's decision to forward Chinese search requests to the Hong Kong domain to skirt Chinese censorship. Here's a great review of the current situation, which could have dramatic consequences for Internet policy in the region.
  • PayPal just launched Mobile Express Checkout, allowing users to make financial transactions easily from the comfort of their mobile phone. Check out TNW's report here.

Happy Fourth of July!

Mobile Technology and Land Dispute Resolution in Afghanistan

We're all familiar with "mHealth," "mCommerce," and "mGovernment," but what about "mLand Management"? While the name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, it's exactly what Ruha Devanesan, the Executive Director of the Internet Bar Association, intends to introduce to Afghan communities in the near future. IBO's latest program, the Internet Silk Road Initiative, seeks to "use technology to bring the the rule of law to developing countries in fields where legal intervention is necessary." Specifically, it empowers citizens to use their mobile phones to report land disputes and monitor the progress of arbitration panels.

Speaking last week with a panel of experts hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace, Devanesan proposed the Silk Road initiative as a means to tackle the "complex land situation" in Afghanistan which is riddled with unsettled property disputes. Land ownership is as important in Afghan society as it is a source of conflict, exacerbated by the recent return of thousands of refugees who find their property occupied by others during their absence. This is compounded in light of the fact that 80% of Afghans rely on the land's resources as their primary source of living, and the recent discovery of a trillion dollars of lithium and other resources in Afghanistan only magnifies the issue. Most importantly, explains Devanesan, landowners "face inaccessibility to the judicial system," which itself is plagued with disorganization and a lack of proper administration, and many Afghans are too afraid of the threat of interference by the Taliban or warlords to bring their disputes to the proper authorities.

The Internet Silk Road provides a "bounded crowdsourcing" resolution to this pervasive issue. Led by Devanesan, the initiative trains Afghans to visit land disputants and send information about the conflicts via SMS to a central command center, which will forward them on for arbitration. The disputants then receive news on the final decision directly on their mobile phones. These dispute-reporters, who work in the field and are "trained in dispute resolution, land ownership, and Shari'ah law," record GPS coordinates, take photos of boundaries, and note information about the properties, sending them to the Silk Road's main hub for processing. Every dispute, including these photos and relevant information, is kept in a digital repository available with free and open access.

The primary goal of this initiative is not to solve these disputes, many of which are rooted deep over the course of generations. But the service it provides should facilitate the conflict resolution process by increasing transparency in the judicial process and making more data available both to arbiters and to the public. Whether or not the adjudication process takes advantage of the information depends largely on the quality of the database the Internet Silk Road seeks to amass. The quality, of course, depends on the citizens' willingness and ability to embrace mobile technology in order to tackle their social and economic problems.

Samhir Vasdev

Policy Associate, Global Mobile Technology Initiative

Samhir Vasdev is a Policy Associate and contributor to the Global Mobile blog. Samhir is completing his final year at Georgetown University, majoring in political science. He's interested in the way 21st-century technologies intersect with politics, governance, citizenship, and development, particularly in developing countries in Africa. He's thrilled to have the opportunity to continue exploring this powerful space with NDN and the New Policy Institute.

On May 21st in NYC, Join Us for An Event Looking at Electricity 2.0 - Unlocking the Power of the Open Energy Network

On May 21st, NDN and New Policy Institute Green Project Director, Michael Moynihan, will host a presentation with NDN's new Senior Advisor, Alicia Menendez, in New York.  This presentation will examine the electricity industry and why the uptake of renewables has been so slow. Moynihan argues that the answer lies in the outdated and complex structure of Electricity 1.0, a closed, highly regulated network created a century ago, is fundamentally incompatible with clean technology and renewable power. America must upgrade to Electricity 2.0, an open, distributed network capable of fostering innovation and a clean technology revolution.

Clean energy has captured the imagination of people from Silicon Valley, who invested $5.4 billion in the sector last year, to President Obama, who highlighted it in his State of the Union Address. However, it has yet to fulfill its economic promise and displace legacy fuels in America’s electricity sector, especially when compared with the significant progress made in other countries. Today, non-hydro renewables account for just 3.5% of electricity in the US. 

Joining Michael on the 21st will be our new Senior Advisor, Alicia Menendez.  If you haven't had a chance to meet Alicia this will be a good time.  And check out this recent appearance by her on Fox News. 

We hope that you will be able to join NDN in New York.  Please RSVP if you can attend. 

Electricity 2.0 paper available here.

Electricity 2.0: Unlocking the Power of the Open Energy Network
Friday, May 21st
8:00 AM, breakfast will be served
The Harvard Club of New York, The Mahogany Room
35 West 44th Street
New York, NY

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