Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

December 24, 2003

Holidays in Denver

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 11:12 am

Susanne and I have just arrived in Denver to visit her parents for the holidays. We’ll be here for the next week, hanging out with her golden retrievers and enjoying the unusually balmy weather (well, balmy for Denver in December, anyway). Meanwhile, I learned last week that Benton would close its office for the week between xmas and New Years, so suddenly I’m finding myself with a proper two-week winter holiday for the first time since college. So how will I be spending my free extra week? Haven’t a clue yet. Susanne will be working much of that week, so I’ll be on my own for a few days. Perhaps I’ll get to work on writing that great American novel, but more likely I’ll end up catching up on housekeeping, or maybe tinkering with my blog to get a better RSS feed working.
Anyway, have a happy Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year, everyone… -ac

December 21, 2003

WSIS Photo Gallery

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 10:29 am
Lausanne and the Alps
View of Lausanne and the Alps

Hi everyone…. Yesterday I finished working on my WSIS online photo gallery, and I’d like to invite all of you to visit:
The site includes several exhibits from the summit, including the opening plenary session, President Mohammed Khatami’s press conference, and the UNESCO Knowledge Forum. I’ve also set up exhibits on Lausanne and Geneva, which just happened to be hosting the annual L’Escalade festival the weekend after the summit. (The photo on the right was taken in Lausanne, in case you’re wondering.)
Hope you enjoy the photos. Happy holidays! -ac

December 17, 2003

Back from WSIS

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 8:23 am

It’s Wednesday morning in Washington DC, and I’ve been back from WSIS for a few days. My brain is still on Geneva time, so I’ve been going to bed by 9pm and up by 5am, which has allowed me to get into work by around 7am and catch up on all of the emails that accumulated during my absence.
It’s been really interesting watching all the Monday-morning quarterbacking that’s been going on since the summit wrapped up. In general, most of the news stories I’ve seen seem to take the position that the summit was a mixed bag. I thought one headlines from the Guardian newspaper was particularly entertaining: UN Summit Fails to Bridge Digital Divide. Like there was anything that could have happened at the summit, even under the most idealized circumstances, that could have literally bridged the digital divide then and there.
Meanwhile, the BBC World radio service is running a 15-minute segment on the information society; I managed to do an interview with them, and get quoted twice in the interview, at the 3:10 and 11:20 mark. (Since it’s a RealAudio file, you can click and drag the play arrow to exact points in the recording, in case you only want to listen to me and ignore what everyone else said.) I’m not sure how long the recording will be on their website, so enjoy it while you can…
Lastly, some of the folks who were heavily involved in the civil society work at the summit have compiled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Summit. Rik Panganiban and Ralf Bendrath, the authors of the document, offer some keen insights on what went well and what didn’t.

December 12, 2003

Desai to Civil Society: What Summit Were You at??

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 1:33 pm
Utsumi, Couchepin and Desai
Yoshio Utsumi, Pascal Couchepin & Nitin Desai

At the closing press conference for the World Summit on the Information Society, UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General Nitin Desai voiced pointed skepticism over civil society’s lambasting of the Summit’s treatment of protesters and alternative media. Civil Society representatives had released a statement criticizing the authorities for the way they’ve handled the protestors: “We strongly condemn these violations of the right to assemble and freedom of expression that have cast a shadow of hypocrisy over the summit.”
Desai, however, shot back when asked about this by’s David Steven. “I think these people were attending a different conference,” he said. “I’d like to see what they’re talking about, who they’re speaking for.” Yoshio Utsumi of the ITU, meanwhile, cited how civil society had a place at the table throughout the entire preparatory process. “All stakeholders could express their views.”
President Couchepin of the Swiss Confederation praised the event as “a success” whose declaration and action plan will form “the constitution of the information society.” Regarding the failure of the summit to successfully address Internet governance and the approval of a digital solidarity fund, Utsumi added, “We couldn’t set up clear measures, but we all agreed to continue to work to the Tunisian phase” of the summit, which takes place in November 2005. Desai seconded this, saying that the UN needed to “maintain the momentum” generated in Geneva in order to work out a final plan of action for Tunis.
When asked about the lack of free expression in Tunisia, which will host the next summit, panelists demurred. “It’s not up to Switzerland to judge,” Couchepin said. Nitin Desai added, “The standard of access within the conference will be the same” as other UN conferences. Tell that to the dissidents standing outside the Tunisia summit’s security cordon, I thought. A representative from Tunisian state television then jumped in and insisted that people should stop harping on Tunisia for its record on free expression and dissent. “I think we need to put an end to this childish debate,” he declared, before being asked by the moderator if he actually had a question to ask the panel.
He did not. -ac

Senegal President Declares “World Digital Solidarity Day”

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 11:46 am
Festus Mogae, Abdoulaye Wade and Themba Dlamini
Festus Mogae, Abdoulaye Wade & Themba Dlamini

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, accompanied by the president of Botswana and the prime minister of Swaziland, declared December 12, 2004 as the first annual World Digital Solidarity Day. The announcement was made to celebrate the decision by countries participating in the World Summit on the Information Society to include language supporting the principle of a “Digital Solidarity Fund” in the summit’s final declaration. The details of such a fund, though, have yet to be worked out.
“We are asking all — particularly the young of the world, to whom this day is addressed — to take initiative,” President Wade said. “Cities, civil society, associations should prepare regional meetings” to plan for the event, which will take place next year at a city in Africa, yet to be determined.
“There’s a global agreement of the desirability of IT in the development of all nations,” added President Festus Mogae of Botswana, lending his support to the announcement. “The next thing is how to go about it.”
“We are hear to witness and give affirmation that we’d like to see ICT promoted,” Prime Minister Themba Dlamini of Swaziland said, adding, “The [Digital Solidarity] Fund will go a long way in helping us in the developing world.” -ac

Highway Africa: WSIS News Keeps on Comin’….

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 11:01 am

While I try to catch a second wind and suck down another cup of coffee, I just wanted to pause for a moment and offer muchos kudos to the Highway Africa News Agency, organized by the South Africa Broacasting Corporation and Rhodes University. Comprised of a group of university student journalists from all over Africa, HANA has been plugging away day after day offering some of the best insider coverage of the World Summit. And I’m not saying this because HANA’s Megan Knight has been offering me squatting space in her corner of the media room. Seriously, check out the HANA website and enjoy the coverage while it’s lasts, which ain’t much longer (5pm and ticking here in Geneva)…. -ac

UNDP’s Malloch Brown to Microsoft: Seek Dialogue over Open Source; CTCNet Pan-American Alliance

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 8:51 am
Jose Maria Figueres, Mark Malloch Brown and Jean Philippe Courtios take questions
Jose Maria Figueres, Mark Malloch Brown & Jean Philippe Courtios

After brief presentations by former Costa Rican president Jose Maria Figueres and Microsoft’s Jean Philippe Courtios, UN Development Program Director Mark Malloch Brown, took advantage of a speaking engagement at Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential forum to raise the issue of open source.
“I profoundly believe that [open source] shouldn’t divide us” when it comes to bridging the digital divide in the developing world, he said. Directing his comments to Microsoft and to Bill Gates in particular, he continued, “I really count on you to be a part of the fight for freedom on the Internet. UNDP will give no quarter on this issue.”
“I also think media ownership is a threat,” along with corporate monopolies, he added. But to Malloch Brown, the biggest threats are governments themselves, and they cannot be allowed to quash ICT freedoms. “Every country should make their own choice to select their own software to best suit their needs,” he said.
Malloch Brown then compared the need for a compromise on open source to the way a compromise was struck when it came to providing affordable prescription drugs in the developing world. Not long ago, health care costs for individuals in the South were as high as $12,000 per person, he noted. Today, the price has come down to well less than $1,000. Eventually they reached a compromise with pharmaceutical companies that allowed the cost of drugs to plummet, yet remain high enough to ensure that the companies would be able to continue pharmaceutical innovations.
He hoped a similar process could occur regarding open source; that Microsoft would offer more discounts and revise their intellectual property policies to strike a fair compromise. Both Microsoft and the open source community should work together to bridge the digital divide and not allow the situation to degenerate any further.
“UNDP will be happy to hold all the coats when they go into the room and box this all out,” he added, provoking laughter from the audience.

Kavita Singh
Kavita Singh of CTCNet

Jean Philippe Courtios, CEO of Microsoft’s Europe, Mideast and Africa operations, responded: “I’m very pleased to hear from Mark that it’s all about open choice,” he said. Courtios added that countries should be able to choose the software tools that are appropriate for their particular needs.
Following this roundtable, Kavita Singh of CTCNet (left) joined representatives from Brazil and India to discuss strategies to connect communities for lifelong learning. Kavita described her organization, a US-based network of more than 1,000 telecentres. Members of the network benefit through online and offline professional development, as well as through re-granting: CTCNet distributed over $1 million in grants to US community technology centers last year.
CTCNet has now signed an agreement with like-minded telecenter networks in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. The partnership, formalized here in Geneva, will allow the organizations to share resources and collaborate with each other, benefitting telecentres across the Americas. -ac

Friday at WSIS: A (Relatively) Quiet Morning

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 6:03 am
Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe speaks at WSIS

It’s just before noon in Geneva, and things are moving at a much slower pace today. After yesterday’s jam-packed schedule of speeches, press conferences, workshops, demonstrations (as in products, not protestors), lectures and debates, today seems to be mellower than the others. Apart from the official release of the WSIS declaration, most major announcements have already occurred. And now that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has had his chance to speak in the plenary (a vitriolic diatribe about Anglo-American racism), much of the major press has left as well, leaving the media room full of technology reporters, hammering away at their keyboard while inhaling free food (ham sandwiches and coffee) from their private lounge. Speaking of reporters, yesterday I was interviewed by Nick Jesdanun of the Associated Press, who wrote a story about much of the skepticism that’s floating around here regarding the potential impact of the WSIS declaration. Nick quoted me talking about how the negotiations over the declaration basically passed the buck on some of the biggest issues being discussed.
This afternoon I’ll swing by the Microsoft Unlimited Potential forum, and hopefully get some more time on the ICT4D expo floor. There are a lot of great exhibits set up in the expo, so I’ll have to bring a big stack of business cards and make the rounds for a couple of hours… -ac

World Summit Award: Showcasing Creative Content from around the World

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 5:11 am
Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, President Ion Iliescu of Romania and President Robert Kocharian of Armenia
Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, President Ion Iliescu of Romania & President Robert Kocharian of Armenia

This Wednesday, WSIS played host an evening gala event honoring the winners of the World Summit Award. The winners were selected from a pool of over 800 nominees presented to a grand jury (including myself) at a meeting in Dubai this October.
The occasion was a star-studded affair, with several heads of state in attendance to give out awards to the winners. The prime ministers of Bangladesh and Senegal, along with the presidents of Armenia and Romania, were among the presenters. In the tradition of the Academy Awards, the event ran past its scheduled timeslot — though in this case it only went over by 20 minutes and not two hours. Most of the members of the grand jury also attended, making the event a nice family reunion for those of us who bonded over the course of five days in Dubai. The reunion continued back at the Ramada Encore Hotel — regrettably a long hike from the Palexpo, probably closer to Tunis than Geneva — for a long evening of finger food, wine and dinner. This was the last official gathering of our group, so Alexander Felsenberg of Germany proposed that we work to find a way to have a reunion on an annual basis. I hope we’re able to work it out; the awards process was a great experience and it’d be wonderful to continue the friendships generated in Dubai…. -ac

December 11, 2003

Khatami’s Press Conference: Blogs and al Qaeda

Filed under: WSIS — Andy Carvin @ 2:02 pm

President KhatamiIranian President Mohammed Khatami spent 45 minutes with reporters this evening to talk about the summit and a range of international issues. Because I managed to finagle a media pool pass, I was able to take part in the press conference. UN security set up a metal detector outside the conference room, and we slowly queued through as they searched every possession we had. A bomb sniffing dog made a brief circuit around the room as journalists joked about getting caught hiding sausages in inappropriate places.
When I made my way through the metal detector, the Iranian press director saw my civil society badge. Initially it looked like he was going to give me the boot, but when he saw my media pool pass, he merely asked me to wait until a few more “real” journalists went inside, so I wouldn’t ruffle any feathers, being the civil society bloke that I am. I probably would have waited until almost everyone got inside, but another civil society person with a giant cast on his left foot was asked to wait by the security detail. When the Iranian press director saw his predicament, he told security to let him in, and begrudgingly aquiesced to allow me to follow him.
Once inside, the press conference started very quickly. President Khatami arrived, sporting the traditional garb of an Iranian mullah. He smiled graciously to the group and waved to a few journalists he recognized in the crowd. As the questions started, though, I realized my wireless translator was malfunctioning; I tried to get another one but a security guy motioned me to stay seated. So for more than half the conference, I sat there listening to Khatami spouting political wisdom in Farsi, having not a clue whether he was talking about the Summit, computers, George Bush, Israel, or his favorite pilaf recipe. I used the time as best I could, snapping dozens of pictures with my digital camera, fiddling with the light metering to compensate for the security detail’s no-flash rule.
KhatamiSuddenly, my translation receiver came back to life, just in time for me to hear Khatami explain that it is the job of the Iranian executive branch to serve as the protector of freedom of expression. Other branches of the Iranian government may have other “attitudes” when it comes to the issue, but he felt it was the job of his office to strive to protect it. Of course this made me wonder how he had responded to previous questions about online censorship in Iran — I guess I’d have to wait until the made-for-TV movie. Khatami added, however, that no journalists should be held prisoner for what they write, though some journalists have been held for other “criminal acts.”
The topic soon switched to al Qaeda, which he described as “a source of great nuisance for us.” Ditto, I thought. “We have a hostile relationship with al Qaeda,” he added.
Cara Swift from got to ask a question about Khatami’s personal use of blogs and other online tools. “Some of our deputies have their own websites,” he replied. “I don’t use weblogs but I don’t use many good things…”
“My daughters are very active using the Internet,” he continued. “Our youth and adolescents are using blogs very extensively, the Internet, the Web…. And there’s a lot of access to the Net in our universities. This collective communications is very satisfactory.”
As the press conference ended, a group of Farsi- and Arabic- speaking journalists surged towards the dais. Khatami stayed for five minutes to take more questions. I crammed my way into the group and got some good photos, gleefully snapping away at this most avuncular of mullahs…. -ac

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