Joanna Williams

Social Issues: Digital Inclusion and Feminism in Brazil

As Brazil engages in a development path for the new Millennium, universal Internet access has become a top priority. Digital Inclusion is a process in which everyone is expected to participate in a New Society of Knowledge, strengthening all aspects of Brazilian democracy and creating potential solutions for the country’s profound need to bring all classes of the social spectrum closer together.

According to the 2000 Census, only 10.6% of Brazilian homes have computers. More recent data from the Federal Government indicates that 13.9 million Brazilians have Internet access. Of these, 90% are middle class and higher. The Brazilian population is currently estimated at around 182 million people.

The current Brazilian government plan is to create up to 6 thousand telecenters by the end of 2007. Congress has just approved a close to US$100 million budget to develop and improve 1,000 telecenters in 2005. The budget will be executed by the Ministry of Science and Technology, in coordination with the Institute of Information Technology, which is connected to the President’s Office. The Government is also exploring new ways to finance the sale of computers with web access to Brazil’s most impoverished population.

Feminism in Brazil

Due to the success of its electronic voting system, Brazil is in the vanguard of a handful of developing countries that can demonstrate how large a network of data retrieval points is required to serve every one of its citizens. The 86,765 locations used by the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to collect votes during an election show the magnitude of the telecenter network necessary to include all Brazilians on the Internet. That represents a significant commercial and social opportunity for the private sector, Government, and non-government agencies. Low-cost wireless communication technologies such as Wi-Fi and Wi-Max are expected to facilitate the implementation of such a nationwide telecenter network.

The opportunities to create commercial telecenters are available in segments of society that can afford to pay for the services. Cyber-cafés are examples of privately owned telecenters. The very poor are best served by non-profit organizations in partnership with governments and the private sector. Telecenter sustainability, however, is the main challenge for every one of these models. A network of telecenters eases the challenge by integrating efforts, distributing knowledge, and creating commercial opportunities otherwise not possible for a single telecenter.

A visionary leader, in the figure of the President of Brazil, is required to guide the nation in the construction of this mega project that engages and benefits every citizen. Brazilian society should expect such a program on the scale of Space Exploration, as the rewards are potentially more promising. A New World is being built in cyberspace, and Brazilians have the opportunity to lead, as it requires will and coordination much more than financial resources. Brazilians have the intelligence and skills. Vision and leadership suffice the endeavor. Awareness is the first step. Cyberspace is the future for humanity. The country of the future might, at last, fulfill its destiny.

Marco Figueiredo is a high-performance computing researcher at NASA and the founder of Gems of the Earth, a non-profit organization that promotes digital inclusion in small rural communities in Brazil.