IGF 2009 

Workshop: 
Issues Regarding the Mobile Internet

Berners-Lee encourages development for large, small devices

Workshop description: 
The uptake of Web-enabled mobile telephony in the developed and developing world and the dramatic decline in the cost of processing power continue to have impact. Billions of people heretofore not connected online will be empowered by this, but only if the regulatory framework is supportive and only if standards are in place to assure interoperability. This new environment raises telecommunications policy and cross-regulatory issues as we deal with issues such as the new opportunities brought by m-commerce and m-finance.

Panelists and key speakers included: Tim Berners-Lee, chair, World Wide Web Consortium (U.S.); Nii Quaynor, minister of telecommunications in Ghana; Stéphane Boyera, World Wide Web Foundation; Leslie Martinkovics, director global policy and regulatory affairs at Verizon; Yoshiko Kurisaki, ICVolunteers.

November 15, 2009 - Tim Berners-Lee spoke on the first day of IGF as the leading voice on a panel concerned with the development of the mobile Web. The discussion centered on tailoring content for mobile devices, acknowledging technological needs in developing countries and understanding how to include the unconnected population in the future of the mobile Internet.

“The mobile Web is about sending the open Internet platform to mobile devices,” Berners-Lee said. “It is really important to make your information space something that can be explored on all devices, little or big.”

Tim Berners-LeeAbout three-fourths of the people in the world have no online connection. Berners-Lee said because of mobiles' economic and social advantages most new Web connections in the developing world will continue to develop via mobile devices in the coming decade.

Panelist Nii Quaynor, minister of telecommunications in Ghana, spoke out about limited coverage in Africa. “Networks in Africa are fragile, and coverage is not total in several African countries,” Quaynor said. “The user-interface may become a principal access instrument for people in Africa. There has been a focus on developing applications for UI’s.”

Quaynor agreed with Berners-Lee that it is important to repurpose information for different environments - both in terms of Web page formatting and in creation o the content itself. Many people communicate via texting, and Berners-Lee said people using this technique are not likely to have Internet capabilities in the immediate future. The panelists discussed the importance of making mobile Web content useful and appealing for people of different cultures.

Panelist Yoshiko Kurisaki emphasized the need for policymakers to understand users of the mobile Web before developing appropriate protocols and content management systems. Kurisaki is a coordinator for ICVolunteers, an international non-profit organization specializing in the field of global communications in particular languages, communication technologies and conference support.

“Technology alone does not change a society,” Kurisaki said. “But if it is used appropriately by the people, it has the potential to change the society for the better. The focus should be on the people who are at the far end of the digital divide.”

Kurisaki also touched on the need for stakeholders to acknowledge the possibility of community-based mobile devices—citing previous success stories in developing countries where community radios or television sets brought people together and made technology more affordable.

“What we have to see is that technology’s happy landing in society is a process,” Kurisaki said. “It’s a moving target. It never stops. Policymakers need to learn from the real projects and systems.”

Leslie MartinkovicsLeslie Martinkovics, director of international public policy and regulatory affairs at Verizon, discussed his company’s plans for developing the 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) Internet. He said 4G connections will provide higher speeds, enhanced security and support for real-time applications, among other benefits.

“Broadband infrastructure is an absolutely vital component,” Martinkovics said. “Broadband investments create jobs, stimulate demand for richer content and fuel the growth of a dynamic global Internet.”

By 2013, Verizon plans to provide the 4G LTE network to 32.6 million subscribers globally. Martinkovics outlined 2009 statistics, projecting them to 2014. In 2009, there are about 4 billion mobile phone accounts globally - most without Internet connectivity. Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to reach 600 million by the end of December 2009. Martinkovics illustrated projected growth by citing an Ovum study that projected there will be more than 2 billion mobile broadband users online by 2014.

Panelist Stéphane Boyera, manager of Mobile Web for Social Development (MW4D) and a manager with Berners-Lees' new World Wide Web Foundation, said there are additional challenges with growth of the mobile Web, including making information accessible in native languages and reaching out to those who are illiterate. “The Web is not yet accessible and usable by all,” Boyera said. “The vast majority of those living at the bottom of the pyramid have specific needs and requirements. How do we address their needs?”

Boyera and Berners-Lee both touched on the fact that more content must be available for underdeveloped countries. They noted that while the Web now includes more than 1 trillion documents, most of this content has been developed in Western countries. Both speakers addressed the need to grow a content base that originates in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

“In Ghana, the government is less worried about connectivity and more concerned with their being enough content,” Berners-Lee said. “There is no realization that they could actually create it online, or that they could go to a street map and enter information. There is a culture shock that this is not America’s Internet.”

All panelists addressed the topic of open Internet platforms, agreeing that a successful mobile Web would likely include an open source Internet.

“We have always found in the past that the open world beats the closed world,” Berners-Lee said. “When America Online tried to put themselves online without acknowledging the Web, it didn’t work. Everybody else is always going to be bigger. The open platform is very important and we should push for it.”

- Senior segment producer, Shelley Russell
Additional reporting by Andie Diemer, Eugene Daniel,

Janna Anderson, Drew Smith and Dan Anderson

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