Global Mobile

New Paper on "Internet Freedom" & "21st Century Statecraft"

Hot off the inter-presses today is a new paper from NDN & the New Policy Institute by yours truly looking at the State Department's "21st Century Statecraft" and "Internet Freedom" initiatives. The paper is more overview than analysis-- something I decided was necessary after reading the July essay on digital diplomacy in Foreign Affairs that I took down in a blog post and then delicately deconstructed for Foreign Policy. From the executive summary:

Not intended to be comprehensive or critical, this paper attempts to define and clarify these initiatives and the arguments supporting them, and offer a platform for further debate. These are new, evolving but crucially important issues, and informed conversation about the role of technology in our world is critical if these technologies are to be a positive force in history.

I mean, right? The hope is that this paper will be a resource for people new to these issues, and a fact-based starting point for further debate.  So here it is. Enjoy.

This Week in Global Mobile | September 10, 2010

After a brief end-of-summer break, I'm honored to be re-joining the NDN team as a Policy Associate in the Global Mobile Policy Initiative. Over the next few months I'll be picking up right where we left off, blogging about the ever-increasing potential of 21st-century technology throughout the world, and I'm excited to be a part of the growing Global Mobile program.

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

  • In an effort to connect active military members with their families back home, Google has teamed up with Blue Star Families to distribute a digital literacy curriculum to military kids, making it easier and safer for them to communicate electronically with their parents serving abroad. 
  • Michael Scott Moore digs into the U.S. Senate's Internet "kill switch" plan and compares it to similar forms of e-censorship employed by governments throughout the West.
  • FrontlineSMS:Legal was launched on Wednesday, using mobile technologies in dispute resolution by bridging access to legal solutions using local networks throughout the developing world.
  • Despite his 84 years, Fidel Castro has emerged from seclusion as an Internet addict, consuming between 200 and 300 Internet news items daily.
  • Organizing for America just released new iPhone and iPad applications which allow users to view interactive maps, share canvassing information, and connect with nearby volunteers.
  • A Japanese journalists held hostage in Afghanistan bewildered his captors by showing them his phone's Twitter app -- and he used it to tweet his way to freedom.
  • Time explains how young Kashmiris are using video and social media to record and distribute videos of violence in order to unite towards independence.
  • As Google's gKenya Conference took off this week, the tech giant and Chinese firm Huawei announced the release of a $100 Android-based mobile phone -- the cheapest smartphone to hit the Kenyan market.
  • According to the FCC's recently-released  biannual report on broadband connections in the U.S., mobile data service subscriptions rose 40% in the first six months of 2010.
  • Google launched Health Speaks, a crowdsourcing initiative in East Africa intended to translate high-quality online health information into local languages to increase accessibility and health quality.
  • Tech company Virtual City rolled out a mobile-based system to track produce from the farm to the supermarket in a bid to improve EU satisfaction in goods imported from Africa.
  • Americans streamed 650% more live video this year than during the last -- amounting to 1.4 billion minutes per month -- according to a new report by ComScore.
  • The U.S. Government plans to work with various institutes to finance a digital library of scholarly research stretching from Morocco to Libya in order to "increase scientific cooperation between between North Africa and the Middle East."
  • Juniper Research estimates that 90 billion mobile banking text messages will be sent in 2015 -- roughly two texts daily per user.
  • The United Nations High Commission on Refugees partnered with various organizations in Africa to provide an SMS-based service which allows refugees to reconnect with family and friends using their mobile phones and an anonymous database.
  • Tweens on Twitter: A hilarious quote from a Twitter employee reveals, "At any given time, Justin Bieber uses 3% of our infrastructure. Racks of servers are dedicated to him."

In the Paper: Mobile Phones Transforming the Developing World

In today's Washington Post, I'll highly recommend Cecilia Kang's review of the ways mobile phones are beginning to transform the developing world.  Snippits:

The Grameen Foundation, a Washington-based group known for helping women with the smallest of business loans, has two dozen people in a technology lab here developing mobile Internet applications to help spread its microfinance model. It's warning farmers in Uganda about banana crop rot through text messages and collecting data on spreadsheet applications on smartphones.

And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has dedicated $12 million to help village farmers in Tanzania, Cameroon and Rwanda save money through electronic mobile phone deposits. It has launched a $10 million contest in Haiti to fund the best mobile banking ideas to channel earthquake relief to people who would otherwise stand in long lines at overwhelmed bank branches to collect cash. (Melinda Gates is on The Washington Post Co. board of directors.)


A bank branch transaction costs $2.50 in the Philippines but if done on a mobile phone can be reduced to 50 cents or lower, according to CGAP. The cost to set up a village shop as a bank agent is relatively low, the group said, and studies in Africa show that mobile banking agents at village shops are generating more cellphone banking transactions than Western Union on the continent.

Mobile phones have also spurred new programs in health, agricultural and educational development.

In the past two months, Grameen has registered 500 expectant parents in the Kassena-Nankana area of Ghana, near the border with Burkina Faso, to receive free, regular phone calls and text messages guiding them through pregnancy. At week seven in the pregnancy, a parent receives a text reminder to take a malaria vaccination. At week 37, the parent is told that contrary to myth, eating fruit such as mango and proteins such as eggs is nutritious and won't harm the fetus.

Read the whole thing here.

21st Century Statecraft, a Poor Choice of Words, and How Much that Matters

I know I'm not the only one glad to have Evgeny Morozov back from the Belarusian forest and his poking, prodding skepticism back in the blogosphere-- I missed having his posts as fodder to disagree with, and my blood pressure has felt a little low in recent months. His critique last week of Haystack, the much-ballyhood secret censorship-evading software developed by Austin Heap, though almost too snarky to take seriously, leveled serious criticism and raised good questions about a project that has received a lot of press and praise. But his latest contribution, The 20th Century Roots of the 21st Century Statecraft, is a little lite.

Morozov's basic critique is, first, that the tech folks in the government are a little too chummy with the tech industry people. Fair enough. It is surprising that more people haven't ended up in hot water for the very close relationships between a few select tech firms and the federal government. It may yet cause problems-- both political and, as Evgeny points out, for the implementation of our foreign policy.

In the second half of his post, though, things get weird. Evgeny warns of ill-defined "spillover effects" that will follow from pursuing "21st Century Statecraft" and "Internet Freedom." Because Twitter won't solve all manner of non-digital foreign policy problems, he argues, these new strategies are likely to corrode the rest of foreign policymaking, and the State Departments new "utopian agenda" will distract from the real business at hand.

This doesn't really make much sense, and I think Evgeny senses this, as he keeps backing away from his snarkier rhetoric, to the position that the real problem is a failure to communicate.  That is, his main issue seems to be that "Internet Freedom" and "21st Century Statecraft" are just bad labels. Which they are, I'd say. The phrase "internet freedom" has been widely hijacked to mean everything from Twitter-fuelled regime change to net neutrality; a more apt definition for the State Department's stated ambitions would be "freedom of expression on the internet." Bad name? Yeah, probably. Utopian agenda that will overwhelm all other forms of diplomacy? Nuh uh.

All this is made weirder by the fact that, in closing, Morozov pines for "A much more important and far-reaching global debate about the future of foreign policy in the digital era." With her speech on Internet Freedom in January, Secretary Clinton probably did more to broaden the debate about foreign policy in the digital era than anybody else could have.  Yes, State's work has spun off a lot of tangential, even unhelpful side conversations-- that's to be expected. But I'd say the sort of side-swipes Morozov takes at State in this post are equally unhelpful in advancing a broad global debate about international affairs in a digital age. Language matters, but getting hung up on a few bad labels doesn't get us anywhere.

Global Mobile Goes Global

Mobile Phone CakeGlobal Mobile has been quiet this week, and we'll be quiet for another week while I'm away from Washington and my blogging tools, exploring the world in the first person.

It bears noting that Global Mobile will celebrate its first anniversary while I'm gone.  So light a candle, have a cupcake, and revisit what we were talking about one year ago next week.

See you soon!

This Week in Global Mobile | August 13, 2010

At times its difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile 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 Google and Verizon released a joint policy proposal urging the FCC to protect the open Internet, although it controversially asks for no regulation over all things wireless. Read Sam’s reflections here.
  • Rwandan genocide survivor Samuel Dusengiyumva is leading an initiative to give every school-aged kid in the country a laptop, seeing a knowledge-based society as the way to heal Rwanda.
  • Serbian authorities launched the “Digital Schools” initiative, which allots 650 million Serbian dollars ($790,000US) towards digital labs and classrooms in primary schools.
  • Melissa Ulbricht takes a look at the success of the Freedom Fone and how it helped create participatory radio in Africa.
  • Crowdmap is a new service provided by event-mapping platform Ushahidi which allows people with virtually no coding experience to rapidly deploy Ushahidi in emergencies.
  • A Red Cross survey showed that 74% of Web users “expect response agencies to answer social media calls for help within an hour.”
  • To combat charity fraud in Singapore, a new service allows mobile users to text a shortcode to receive instant verification on whether a charity is authorized to solicit and accept donations.
  • The Guardian’s Micah White discusses how “clicktivism” is ruining leftist activism by reducing social movements to numbers, ads, and mouse clicks.
  • A new storybook iPad app is the first of its kind to include a sign language to make the story accessible to deaf children.
  • A new project led by DARPA and the NIST puts smartphones in the hands of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to assist with real-time language translation.
  • A new report indicates that, setting aside Americans under age five, the U.S. now has over 100% mobile penetration (be sure to read this great analysis clarifying the relationship between mobile penetration, ownership, and subscriptions).
  • Google’s Korean headquarters were raided by police for gathering and storing user data taken from wi-fi networks.
  • Worldwide mobile device sales grew 13.8% in Q2 2010, driven by lower prices caused by higher competition in the market.

Verizon & Google Propose a Legislative Path to Preserve the Open Internet

Well, everything our trusted news outlets told us last week was wrong.  Google and Verizon weren't cooking up a back-backroom scheme to undermine the open internet, nor were their talks about placing shipping containers full of Google servers in Verizon's parking lots, as a NYT op-ed suggested (I couldn't tell if it was serious speculation or a joke at the expense of the rumor-hungry tech media). 

Verizon & GoogleAs it turns out, their announcement, which is only the latest in a year of cooperation between the companies on this issue, is simply a suggested legislative framework for Congressional action on net neutrality-- and a very moderate one, at that. In March, Tom Tauke, EVP of Verizon, gave a speech here at NDN in which he made the argument that Congress needed to write new legislation, clarifying the government's role in regulating the internet. With their joint proposal, Google & Verizon have waded deeper into the specifics of how that legislation could be written.

The proposal offers clear support for the fundamental principles of net neutrality: ISPs would not be allowed to discriminate against any legal content, applications, or devices, and would be required to be transparent in their network management practices. The FCC would hold regulatory authority over the internet, enforcing consumer protection rules on a case-by-case basis, and would have the power to execute on their widely-lauded National Broadband Plan. The proposal does, however, have two important carve-outs, which I will address in turn:

Wireless. Mobile broadband is exempt from the proposed net neutrality rules, with the exception of the transparency requirement. The wireless market, they argue, is both more competitive and less mature than the wireline broadband market, and because of that, ought not be subject to new regulation. I think this is compelling.  The U.S. wireless market is legitimately competitive, unlike the wireline broadband market. I, for one, have but a single unsavory choice for broadband at my home-- and that's in a major city-- but everyone has at least four options of wireless carrier. And wireless truly is changing rapidly: 3G networks, rolled out in the middle part of the last decade, completely changed the way we use our mobile devices, and as 4G networks spread in the next year or two, I think we'll see yet another revolution. 

This blog is always keen to point out that the future of the internet lies on mobile devices, and eventually, the mobile internet will be virtually indistinguishable from wireline broadband. It's important that the Google & Verizon proposal doesn't rule out future regulation of the wireless space. In the proposal, the GAO is tasked with monitoring the wireless space to ensure it remains competitive and open, and consumer protection groups must remain vigilant as well. But for now, the market is working well, and consumers have options. While that persists, and while we see where wireless innovation leads us, I think it wise to avoid new regulation.

"Differentiated Services." This is a more complex carve-out, and one that raises more questions than it answers. Google & Verizon describe a network parallel to the "public internet" that could host such services as "health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options." The proposal explains that "Such other services would have to be distinguishable in scope and purpose from broadband Internet access service, but could make use of or access Internet content, applications or services and could include traffic prioritization."

Critics of the plan worry that, despite assurances, this parallel network would serve as a loophole for ISPs to prioritize paid content at the expense of the free, open, "public" internet. That is a legitimate concern, and your support for this element of the plan will probably track with your trust that ISPs will be transparent and supportive of the broad principles laid out in this proposal. But I think the more important question is whether there is a role for the kind of services they describe, and whether there is a need for those services to run on a network separate from the "public" internet.

Global Mobile is a big booster of the role the global network could play in healthcare, education, energy, and other sectors. Connection technology could play a huge part in reducing healthcare costs, as has already been demonstrated around the world. Access to the world's information will clearly be a crucial part of a 21st century education. And the smart grid-- a necessary facet of energy reform in this country-- will rely heavily on the broadband network. Is there a need to prioritize these types of information, and separate them from the "public" internet? Well, we don't know because we haven't tried.

The proposal puts the onus on the FCC to monitor these "differentiated services" and ensure that they're not being used as an end-run around net neutrality rules. As in the mobile space, careful vigilance will be necessary to ensure this carve-out isn't being exploited as a loophole. But provided these differentiated services don't hamper the internet as we know it, there is ample room for ISPs to experiment with new services over their network, and help healthcare, education, energy, and other sectors innovate their way into the networked 21st century.

Bottom line: This is a serious contribution to a debate that has not always been sensible and reasoned.  It's not the solution-- just a compromise suggested by two of many stakeholders-- and our policymakers will still have to make the final decisions. But I hope this proposal will provide critics on both sides a framework for more serious discussion.

This Week in Global Mobile | August 6, 2010

At times its difficult to keep pace with all the latest global mobile 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 Vodafone announced the launch of two Nokia handsets in Kenya, which come pre-loaded with text-to-speech software capable of reading aloud everything from texts to battery life data.
  • Our very own Sam DuPont published a must-read piece on the merits of digital diplomacy in Foreign Policy. Read it here.
  • Vonage released a new iPhone and Android app allowing users to make free mobile calls to anyone on the planet through their Facebook account.
  • The New York City subway plans to equip all 277 stations with mobile and wi-fi connectivity by 2016.
  • Saudi Arabia’s BlackBerry ban begins today, concluding a tumultuous week for the device’s manufacturer in which the UAE, Algeria, India, Lebanon, and the European Union also expressed security concerns over the company’s message encryption. Read Secretary Clinton’s reaction here.
  • Partnering with mGive, the U.S. State Department established an SMS short-code program to help Pakistan flood recovery efforts.
  • The Stanford School of Medicine is providing all incoming first-year medical students with iPads to improve the learning process, while BBC plans on doing the same for its U.K. production staff.
  • Apple patended the iBike, a bicycle designed to fully integrate with personal electronics.
  • Sweden and Denmark top The Economist’s just-released “Digital Economy Rankings,” which for the first time place particular emphasis on ICT connectivity, affordability, and quality.
  • Japan mobile manufacturer Sharp plans to introduce 3D smartphones later this year, viewable without special glasses.
  • On Wednesday, Ushahidi’s crowdsourced event-monitoring platform was employed by during Kenya’s constitutional referendum vote, drawing in over 1,000 reports during the peaceful elections. Read our coverage here.
  • Burkina Faso intends to cover the entire country with a 3G network within ten years.
  • Outrage (and confusion) surrounded yesterday’s net neutrality community when Google and Verizon execs met, apparently to discuss tiered-pricing and content-prioritizing (both Google and Verizon denied the claims). The FCC entered the fray by calling a sudden end to closed-doors meetings with industry giants.
  • ABI Research released a study predicting that 60% (3.8 billion) of global mobile phones will have full Internet browsers by 2015.
  • The FDA just cleared WellDoc’s DiabetesManager system, a mobile health monitoring suite billed as the first of its kind to receive FDA approval to enter the market.

21st Century Statecraft & Digital Diplomacy

On Friday I responded to an ill-informed Foriegn Affairs article that levelled mostly unfounded criticism at the State Department's "21st Century Statecraft" initiative. Apparently I wasn't the only one irked by the article, and the editors at Foreign Policy asked me to expound upon my response, and offer a different perspective of digital diplomacy.  So I did.  Here's your teaser:

This summer, techies across Africa are racing to develop mobile-phone "apps" that make their users' everyday lives just a little bit better. The best among them will be chosen as the winners of the "Apps <4> Africa" contest, sponsored by the U.S. State Department and three local technology communities: the Nairobi-based iHub, Kampala-based Appfrica Labs, and the Social Development Network, which works throughout East Africa. Judged on such criteria as their "usefulness to the citizens, civil society organization or government of East Africa," the winner will receive "a small bit of fame and fortune" and the tools to keep honing his or her craft. What the United States hopes to get out of the project is a little bit of grassroots, bottom-up development driven by nothing more than African ingenuity and the continent's mobile-phone network.

This is "21st Century Statecraft," a new diplomatic initiative that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has fully embraced over the past year. Forget the grandiose name; the idea behind it is actually a modest, practical one: In today's interconnected world, individuals and organizations -- not just countries -- can play a defining role in international affairs, and the State Department needs to capitalize on this new landscape. Ultimately, Foggy Bottom plans to infuse its mission with an understanding of how the global communications network ties the world together; for now, the initiative consists of a series of smaller projects designed to use the Internet, mobile phones, and social media to promote U.S. foreign-policy goals.

But to read the whole thing, I'll have to encourage you to visit Foreign Policy. Enjoy!

Monitoring the Kenyan Consitutional Referendum

Just hours ago, voting concluded on the constitutional referendum of Kenya. And as is increasingly the case in elections around the world, the crowdsourcing information-gathering Ushahidi platform was again used to monitor the event., (uchaguzi is decision in Swahili), a collaboration of various civil society organizations and over 100 volunteers, synthesized over 1,000 SMS, e-mail, and Twitter reports during the election, sent in by certified monitors and citizens alike. 452 reports indicated “Everything Is Fine,” while “Tensions High” and “Security Issues” were reported a combined 434 times. Over 75% of all reports were verified by official sources. Check out Uchaguzi’s end-of-day report for a full briefing.

With dark memories still burning of the 2007 post-election violence, in which over 1,300 people died following a disputed election count, security at today’s vote was intense. 60,000 police officers were stationed throughout the country, with an additional 10,000 election observers spread out over the 27,000 polling stations, according to the Election Observation Group’s (ELOG) Facebook page.

But perhaps the most important eyes watching over the referendum were those of the 10,000+ viewers world-wide who actively engaged with Uchaguzi through the Internet and the mobile Web. Early this morning, for example, project manager Erik Hersman posted to the Uchaguzi Situation Room blog, asking viewers to help the team update 13,000 polling stations’ data. This allowed people across the planet to participate in today’s Kenyan referendum monitoring process.

Although all signs point towards a peaceful, well-covered vote, Ian Schuler cautions against writing it off as a success too soon, reminding us via Twitter that “reports in 2007 at this point would have been positive too. Trouble was w/ tabulation.” So while all looks good with Uchaguzi, perhaps the real test of its influence will depend on the election’s outcome. What’s guaranteed is that, as was the case today, mobile phones and connectivity will play a crucial role in the coming days.

While you’re waiting for the votes to be counted, check out Jonathan Shuler’s terrific video introduction to the Uchaguzi project and these behind-the-scenes photos of the Situation Room . Also, read up at BBC and Christian Science Monitor for essential background info on Kenya’s constitutional referendum.

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