Internet growth threatens freedoms

Fidelis Mnkandla

THE scramble for Africa was from 1880-1900 as the “civilised” world rushed to get a piece of the continent. A hundred years later another scramble is on and, when it began, who would have thought that in 15 years it would have completely changed the way we live  for better or for worse.Time will tell but what is undeniable is that our lives will never be the same. Bill Gates wrote a book in the early 1990s titled The Road Ahead. It was a futuristic view of how life would be with the increasing application of technology to daily life. The predictions have largely come to be true and Gates related the technology boom to the gold rush.
We are indeed living in the information age, with knowledge-based economies. What this means in simple terms is that a company can derive a competitive advantage in the market by the way it utilises the information at its disposal. In some ways this has always been the case; however, the power of computers allows us to manipulate data at a faster rate and with greater complexity in ways that would possibly not have been viable in the past.
The past decade has seen synergy in different spheres of technology that has redefined our lives in several ways. The centre of this has been the river of bits and bytes which is called the Internet.
And what has this all to do with the term “new country”, as the Internet can be described?  The “new country” is the Internet.
What is the internet?
It would be interesting to find out the general concept that people from different walks of
life would use to answer this question.
The Internet, in a way, is a place that you go to mentally and you can meet and chat with old friends, you can pay your bills and purchase provisions. You can do your work on this platform, as well as the old occupations of stealing and cheating. Yes, that’s all possible in our new country. Though you cannot touch it, it has a very real presence.  It is generally referred to as being “virtual”.
Who owns/controls Internet?
These questions invite a brief history lesson on the Internet.
The Internet began as a US government project under the Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa) in 1958 in response to the launch by the Russians of the Sputnik shuttle into space. As part of this response, the US found it strategic to lead in computer science and pioneered a computer network by the name Arpanet.  This was the mother of the present Internet.
This is the reason why the US seems to have a grip on a number of assets related to the Internet. However, due to evolution, the Internet has outlived its original purpose in a very big way and is obviously no longer just about the US. It is about the world and so in a literal sense there is a battle for the Internet, both physically and mentally, in the same way companies are fighting for space in our minds.
The Internet has expanded our spheres of influence in ways that could not have been fathomed before. As a double-edged sword, it challenges fundamental concepts such as freedom of expression and privacy.
Governments in developing countries do not have the resources and manpower to control the power of the Internet as a medium of communication. Fortunately for these countries, access to the internet is low.
The Internet is not going to go away, but grow in leaps and bounds and what is imperative is for people to have a say in the manner it is managed and controlled. This is necessary so that when rules and regulations are passed with regards  to the Internet, we have the ordinary person being able to contribute and ensure that their rights are not trampled.
lMnkandla is a Zimbabwean IT expert based in Botswana.