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W3C seeks partners to explore role of mobile in bridging digital divide

Multidisciplinary Forum to Address Access, Literacy, Sustainability Challenges

Today W3C invites participation in a new group chartered to explore the potential of mobile technology to help bridge the digital divide. The Mobile Web For Social Development (MW4D) Interest Group will study the issues that rural communities and underprivileged populations face in accessing information and communication technology.

The MW4D Interest Group provides an multidisciplinary forum for discussing these issues, and in doing so, contributes to the W3C mission of making the Web available to all.

"Study after study has highlighted the positive impact of mobile technologies in developing countries," said Ken Banks, co-Chair of the MW4D Interest Group and founder of "Mobiles are opening up financial services to the poor, creating employment opportunities, and providing access to health care and valuable information services. We do need to solve important challenges such as lack of standards in end-user devices, network constraints, service cost, issues of literacy, and an understanding of the real information needs of rural communities. To do so requires an multidisciplinary approach, a step we take through the creation of this new group."

This step is part of a growing set of W3C initiatives related to social development. The launch of the group coincides with the W3C Workshop on the Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social Development, 2-3 June in São Paulo, Brazil. The goal of the Workshop, highlighted in a recent press release, is to identify the challenges of providing e-services on mobile phones to people in developing economies.

Mobile Technology Holds Promise to Bring Web to More People

According to the GSMA and ITU (GSMA Report 2006, 2007 ITU Report), at the end of 2007, more than 3 billion people had access to a mobile phone and 80% of the global population was covered by a GSM network. These figures make a strong case for using mobile phones as the platform for health, education, business, and government services in rural environments. However, there remain significant challenges to providing access to these communities and in leveraging local content and application development.

The new MW4D Interest Group will study these challenges, identify the most promising ways to address them, and propose a road map for progress. In order to succeed, the MW4D Interest Group requires expertise in diverse fields, and thus invites participation from people and organizations who are experts in mobiles technologies, Web technologies, usability, sustainability and entrepreneurship. W3C seeks participation in particular from NGOs with field experience and expertise, and academics from developing regions in order to capture, in a bottom-up approach, the needs and requirements of the targeted population.

W3C launches this new group under the auspices of the European Union's 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7), part of the Digital World Forum project. This work is part of W3C's Mobile Web Initiative, which aims to identify and resolve challenges and issues of accessing the Web when on the move.

Marie-Claire Forgue | alfa
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