Saturday, March 01, 2008

KOM Bridges the Digital Divide

The convergence of information technology, telecommunications, broadcasting and the delivery of Internet services at increasing bandwidths has the potential to revolutionize society economically, socially and culturally. Indeed, the Internet has ushered in the greatest period of wealth creation in history and has radically altered the way we deliver and receive information and the way we do business. However, it is estimated that more than 80 per cent of the world’s population has never even heard a dial tone, let alone surfed the Web and the gap between the information haves and have-nots is widening.

Announcing Knowledge Oasis Muscat’s (KOM) new season of Digital Nation seminars ( which are scheduled to start 7:30pm Tuesday 11 March at the Muscat Inter-Continental Hotel with a session on Bridging the Digital Divide, KOM’s Director General, Mohammed Al Maskari (pictured) warned of the danger of excluding people from the information revolution: "Across the globe, people lack jobs, food, health care and drinkable water. However, today, being cut off from basic telecommunications services is a hardship almost as acute as these other deprivations, and may indeed reduce the chances of finding remedies to them," he said.

The divide will grow as those with access to computers gain the skills to maximize the benefits of the Internet and those without become increasingly marginalized. This will impact on educational achievement, access to goods and services, participation in community life and employment. As Al Maskari, argues: “Increasingly, in the future, what we earn will be based on what we learn. We need to make sure that those opportunities are open to all.”

Lack of access to information technology and the Internet is seen as one of the measures of social exclusion. “Look at what’s happening in Europe and the US,” comments KOM’s Director General, “communities are finding that banks are developing online services but closing local branches. Supermarkets are moving to out of town sites and launching online delivery services. Those who don’t have transport or Internet access are reliant on more expensive local shops or no provision at all. We should be aware of these trends.”

Several solutions to the digital divide have been proposed including local training centres, cyber-cafes, telecottages and digital 'champions' to develop ICT projects in Oman’s rural areas. “The 11 March panel will discuss these issues as well as matters related to telecommunication infrastructure and competition and the urgent need to develop local web content,” says Al Maskari.

Karim Rahemtulla, MD, Infocomm and sponsor of Digital Nation remarks: “If you look at what broadband or ICT in general can bring they are better education, better health care and greater economic development. However, if we’re to reap the benefits of broadband and ICT then we need to look at how we get more people online and I believe initiatives like KOM’s Digital Nation series go a long way to helping us tackle these difficult matters.”

The Digital Nation series is sponsored by Ericsson, Infocomm, Nawras, Omania e-Commerce and United Media Service. Digital Nation seminars are open to all and free of charge. Further details on the quarterly program can be viewed at:

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