What's happening to the digital divide?

You may not have realized it, but 17 May was World Information Society Day, a moment set by the UN to remind the world of the vision set out at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005 to build "a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society".

The drivers behind the rhetoric are, of course, relevant to the global air transport community. The WSIS vision, after all, was for societies where information and communication are the main drivers of development.

Some have, some don't

The most complex issues are to be found in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the ITU, the average monthly price for fixed line broadband service in sub-Saharan Africa is US$ 762. Twenty-eight sub-Saharan countries remain unconnected to any international fibre connection, although more than US$ 2 billion of network initiatives are planned for the continent. (The one bright spot is the success of mobile - with penetration doubling between 2003 and 2005.)

There are about 33 million Internet users in the whole of Africa - less than four percent penetration, against over 38 percent penetration in Europe and 60 percent in North America. Of those 33 million, more than 12 million are north of the Sahara, five million in South Africa and five million in Nigeria - leaving less than 18 million split between another 50 countries, where penetration rates are as low as 0.2 percent.

To meet this challenge, ITU, the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Development, the World Bank, the African Union, the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunication Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa are joining to launch Connect Africa, the first of a series of regional initiatives to help achieve the WSIS connectivity goals. Connect Africa will be launched in Kigali, Rwanda at the end of October.

Connect Africa aims to accelerate partnerships and the roll-out of ICT infrastructure and connectivity. The initiative will also help expand efforts to develop an enabling environment across the continent, through policy and regulatory modernization and harmonization, strengthened cybersecurity and enhanced support for migration to next-generation networks.

What has this to do with SITA and .aero?

SITA, as sponsor and manager of the .aero domain, is owned by more than 600 members - all involved in one way or another with moving people and goods between all countries in the world, both rich and poor. SITA has 1,800 customers in over 220 countries and territories. It employs people of more than 140 nationalities, speaking over 70 different languages and has a presence in 175 countries.

In Africa, just as in other parts of the developing world, the benefits of access to the global communications network - and particularly access to the Internet - are well understood. After all, the speed and pace of digital development - particularly in terms of infrastructure and Internet governance - is an important consideration for many of SITA's customers /shareholders.

For practical reasons, SITA has a long history of providing local employment wherever possible. The company remains committed to making all of its services available to as broad a base of customers as possible. In particular, both through its work with customers - and its support for focused institutions such as the ITU, ICANN and the Internet Society - the .aero initiative is playing a central role in helping bring the power and benefits of the Internet to the global air transport community - and to their customers.