Tuesday 17 November 2015

SumVoices: Sweden Makes Strides Towards An Internet For Everyone

Our last installment of SumVoices featured Iraqi photojournalist and social media trainer Bahr Jasim. This week--from the home of our popular Sweden and VIP Sweden nodes--we bring you the insight of Swedish librarian, Internet Society Sweden member and Internet access advocate Helén Palm.

Sweden, Helen Palm, Internet Society Sweden, SumVoicesMany years ago my then-boyfriend came home from a course he went to at the employment office and said, “I've tried something today that I think you might like. It's called the Internet.”

And how right he was. The Internet has become a significant part of everyday life, both at work and during leisure time. There I can find everything from recipes to academic papers. Almost everything can be obtained now by a few taps on the keyboard.

Nowadays you have to have access to a computer and a broadband connection to participate in civil society. Most public services are available online and, in most cases, can be done at home at your computer. Without the Internet, it becomes more complicated to manage your daily affairs. Therefore, it is important that as many people as possible can learn new technology and become digital.

The Digidel campaign in Sweden has been very successful in this work. The network was started in the spring of 2011 after a national campaign for increased digital participation. It aims to increase digital inclusion and accessibility of digital services in Sweden, through collaboration and shared knowledge work. Many actors such as libraries, banks, health care facilities, folk high schools, adult educational associations, district administrations and regional councils have participated in this campaign on local, regional and national levels. That is what has made it a great success. According to the Digidel team’s report, over 500,000 Swedish citizens have already been reached. But there is still a lot of work to do and the Digidel campaign will continue for at least two more years. E-services from local and national authorities will be presented, tested and marketed in a multitude of locations, open to all. Many EU countries, including Sweden, are involved in Get Online Week, which is a broader European campaign for digital inclusion. That is both good and necessary so we can narrow the digital divide.

Sweden has also promoted freedom and openness on the Internet through its annual Stockholm Internet Forum conference. When I attended in 2014, the Internet’s ability to provide developing countries with economic and social development was also an important part of the conference. Several countries have regimes that strongly want to control the flow of information. The concept of transparency can be interpreted very differently depending on where in the world you live. The Stockholm Internet Forum will also go on for at least two more years and is a good way for participants from less developed countries to meet and exchange ideas and thoughts.

After Snowden’s revelations, there has been lively debate about how much the state should be able to see of what ordinary people are involved in online. In my opinion, an open Internet allows everyone to participate on equal terms. It has technical, economic, social and political benefits. But it can be severely hampered by excessive regulation and control from government agencies or private organizations. Everyone should be able to have confidence and trust in the Internet's basic services.

In developing countries, it is important to have cheap cell phones and access to the web without too much cost. Many people cannot afford the Internet even though there are larger networks in the countries they live in. For a good education in school, including for students from poor areas, it is important that there is access to information and opportunity for higher education. The Alliance for Affordable Internet, for example, is working hard in different parts of the world to make Internet access a reality and, specifically, that the price for Internet will be 5% below the average monthly income in each country. But it will of course take time.

Helén Palm, Librarian, Sollefteå

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