Closing the digital divide – the $100 laptop

It’s been a busy week in Tunisia.

During the lead-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, the UN and the European Union both expressed interest in making the governance of the Internet more of an international affair, especially decisions about top-level domains currently tweaked by California-based nonprofit ICANN. This call was quickly picked up by such freedom-of-information cheerleaders as China and Iran, resulting in a great deal of bad publicity. Everyone backed off, and the US maintains control. (See Wired News for more on ICANN and domain names.)

Of course, this summit is being held in Tunisia, itself not exactly a bastion of a censorship-free, unfiltered Internet. A report from the Open Net Initiative on Tunisia’s filtering practices states:

The state employs the SmartFilter software, produced by the U.S. company Secure Computing, to target and prevent access to four types of material in particular: political opposition to the ruling government, sites on human rights in Tunisia, tools that enable users to circumvent these controls, and pages containing pornography or other sexually explicit content.

(Not incidentally, I’m working on a paper for an International Communications class on how/why American companies help China filter/block/censor the Internet.)

So how well is the WSIS session on “Expression Under Repression” going today? Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman are hosting the session and reports include the presence of a “phalanx of secret police” in the hall, but it sounds like the exchange of ideas is ongoing.

Trumping all this, and providing Digital Divide watchers with a great shining lime green beacon of hope, is the $100 laptop:

$100 laptop

Here’s the BBC report on the demo of the prototype.

Andy Carvin has video here.

It’s a $100 laptop, durable, no assembly required, easy to use, designed for kids, multipurposed, and apparently, easy to find.

This is what it looks like when technology changes the world. We’ll see how far this gets, or if any of the big computer manufacturers answer the challenge and put together versions of their own. That would be nice, actually – a bidding war to sell the cheapest laptops to developing nations.

[tags]wsis, icann, $100 laptop, digital divide[/tags]