This current Mountain Partnership activity looks into the potentials of broadband technology for reducing the digital divide and promoting development in mountain areas. It is related to Millennium Development Goal 8 (vi), namely: “to develop a global partnership for development… in cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies—especially information and communication technologies.”
In an era of global communication and interconnectedness, many mountain regions—particularly in the developing world and in countries in transition—still have inadequate access (or no access at all) to communication infrastructures, services, and facilities. Yet modern communication technologies, when systematically applied and adapted to local conditions in mountain areas, could be catalysts for lasting development and social change. Low-cost networked information and communication technologies, such as the Internet, could promote political and community participation, increase working opportunities, disseminate information, and share knowledge and skills. Just as importantly satellite technology could provide social services, such as health care and education, on a cost-effective basis. Today, the costs of communication technologies are falling while their performance is improving at a phenomenal rate. So how do we tap the potential of these communication technologies to connect and develop the world's mountain regions?
Now, members of the Mountain Partnership—the voluntary alliance of countries, IGOs, NGOs and the private sector committed to sustainable mountain development—have recently joined together to start assessing the potential of broadband communication technology to provide rapid, cost-effective and efficient connectivity for the world's mountains. Broadband is the common term for a high bandwidth Internet connection—one that allows to transmit or download information up to 40 times as fast as a standard telephone and mode, and can be applied to a variety of communications including broadcast and cable television, wireless phones, Web access, instant messaging for real-time communication, information sharing (including exchanging data and files) and e-mail.
Mountain Partnership member EasyLan is a private sector satellite telecommunication company, based in Italy, which plans and develops digital integrated systems that allow communities to benefit from bandwidth telecommunications and services at reasonable prices throughout the world. In the context of the Mountain Partnership, EasyLan has teamed up with Italian academic institutions (University LUISS Guido Carli, the University of Tor Vergata), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Interim Secretariat for the Carpathian Convention (United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP), and the Mountain Partnership Secretariat to prepare a feasibility study that will explore the potential of using broadband technologies for sustainable mountain development.
The four-month study, coordinated by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (at FAO Headquarters in Rome), aims to understand the economic and technical prerequisites and the conditions for broadband application in mountains, to assess to what extent broadband technologies could support the development of mountain communities, and to assess the priorities and main needs of mountain communities, in terms of information and communications. Research is also focusing on what FAO and other UN agencies are doing to promote such communication technologies in mountain areas of the world. The study will also assess the constraints and opportunities of applying broadband communication technology in one of Europe's largest mountain regions—the Carpathians. Encompassing 7 countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, and Ukraine), the Carpathians are a major ecological, economic, cultural, recreational, and living environment in the heart of Europe. In recent years, mountain people in the Carpathians have experienced profound changes and challenges, given their countries' recent transition to a market economy, the increasing integration of civil society, and dynamic economic development. It is clear that access to adequate communication facilities and services is a pre-condition for the sustainable development of these mountain communities.
This current Mountain Partnership activity builds on a special roundtable discussion on the subject of broadband for mountain development at the Second Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership, or “Cusco Conference” (Cusco, Peru, 28–29 October 2004). It is just one of the many joint activities on common areas of interest currently being undertaken by members of the Mountain Partnership to improve the lives and livelihoods of mountain people and protect mountain environments around the world. Visit the Mountain Partnership Web site at: www.mountainpartnership.org.