quinta-feira, 14 de agosto de 2008

Internet to the people

Those who read my post about Copacabana’s wi-fi free network might think that I’m against investing public money in free Internet access. That’s not the case. In fact, I’ve been discussing how Internet access can decrease social gaps, build bridges among different cultures, and help to improve our lives. This was basically the subject of my master’s dissertation, in 1998.

The main argument against the present wi-fi initiative in Copacabana is that I don’t see how those who are already “outsiders” of the digital world would benefit from this…and so, I think our money should be used more wisely.

But there’s no doubt that free Internet access is a need nowadays. It can diminish social exclusion, it can help people to access information, and eventually make information turn into knowledge, and doing so, somehow improve their lives.

There are many examples of how this can be done. Even here in Brazil, many cities have invested in public Internet access. Usually, instead of just providing a free wi-fi broadband network, these projects also provides public computer centers, where those who doesn’t have a computer can access the Internet. Public schools, libraries and other public spaces are generally the most common places where these computers are hosted.

In this month’s issue of Carta Capital there is an interesting report on this subject. Many brazilian cities are engaged in building public internet access spaces. And in some cases, this is having side benefits that one wouldn’t imagine, like diminishing illiteracy. In Sud Mennucci, a city near São Paulo that has free internet access in public libraries, it decreased illiteracy in 50%. There are also some initiatives to bring internet to rural villages. Some of these projects can be seen at the website Cidades Digitais.

Free wi-fi broadband access is useless if those who doesn’t have computers still have to pay to use the Internet. And so far, this is what’s going on in Rio de Janeiro.

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