Connect the Blue Continent
Rationale for affordable broadband access in the Pacific Islands: Regional security
The vast distances between islands in the Pacific region create logistical problems for collaboration between islands. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat places ICT connectivity as a priority for improving regional cooperation. Our research has shown regional security is influenced by communication between diverse cultural groups, transparent government, and collaboration. It is our contention that affordable broadband access to all communities can contribute to improvement in each aspect and therefore to regional security.
Communication between culturally diverse groups
The history of the Pacific region has created innumerable diverse cultural groups, holding to an array of traditional and modern-influenced cultures. Present isolation of many groups may, for some, be preferred to ensure traditional cultures are not ‘ruined’ by outside influences. However, the reality is that the languages and traditions of many groups are dying out and the valuable cultural knowledge of those societies is being lost. Collaboration between cultural groups and interested parties results in better knowledge preservation. Broadband access enables self-organised special interest groups to emerge which can make a significant contribution to cultural heritage and inter-cultural cooperation.
Transparency and accountability of government
Public access to the Internet is instrumental in the engagement of citizens in their political culture. Access to parliamentary decisions, comprehensive policy information and open media are cornerstones of informed democratic functioning. Accessible broadband-speed Internet facilitates public participation in governance and enables citizens to engage politically, regardless of their distance from political centres.
Simultaneously, with a forum for sharing of political information, governments are further encouraged to ensure transparency as they become subject to review (and criticism) from other regional governments. Higher levels of political information sharing show other governments effective approaches to issues they may face (such as challenges to accessible education).
The nature of disparate nations, each with minimal resources and infrastructure, creates an ideal situation for regional collaboration. As it is, there is neither the capacity nor need for each island to have expansive infrastructure (for example, extensive air travel networks). However, this lack of connective infrastructure makes inter-island collaboration and communication difficult and impedes growth of the region.
Suggestions have been made by some for a regional cooperative approach, in the style of the European Economic Community. Presently multiple representative bodies exist in the Pacific, yet there is no single body with representatives from each nation. While important, these bodies do not strictly regulate cooperation through the whole region. Most programs target a few nations, depending on prior colonial connections with powerful nations (ie USA, France, UK), resulting in unequal rates of development, with the risk that independent nations may be disadvantaged.
The opportunity exists to better connect governments and communities between islands through accessible broadband speed Internet. Most central governing groups (parliaments etc) have Internet access but slow and unreliable connections create logistical issues. Those groups without Internet access fall out of the regional communication loop. Some jurisdictions are already experiencing development lag as a result of poor ICT infrastructure.
Provision of accessible broadband-speed Internet is an essential step to establish cooperative regional governance and development. Collaboration creates an environment for knowledge sharing, particularly in terms of building climate change resilience, natural resource management, education and health knowledge sharing, and maintaining cultural diversity.
These are some of the reasons why it is a priority to invest in affordable broadband infrastructure, systems development and skills capacity development across the Pacific Islands communities – to Connect The Blue Continent.
Authors: Elizabeth Hart, Chris Sampson
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N.G. Tavana, ‘Traditional Knowledge is the Key to Sustainable Development in Samoa: Examples of ecological, botanical and taxonomical knowledge.’
Dari E. Sylvester and Adam J. McGlynn ‘The Digital Divide, Political Participation, and Place’
Social Science Computer Review 2010 28: 64 originally published online 12 June 2009 http://ssc.sagepub.com/content/28/1/64
Australian Government ‘Declaration of Open Government’ 16 July 2010 http://agimo.gov.au/2010/07/16/declaration-of-open-government/