U.S. Executives from Twitter, Google, and YouTube, among others recently visited Iraq as part of a U.S. State Department delegation. Executives met with government officials, educators, and other community leaders.
Their mission was to provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build on anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building.
During his visit to Iraq, Twitter chairman and founder Jack Dorsey blogged on the Internet that “cell phone usage [in Iraq] is massive and the velocity is increasing.” There are 17.5 million mobile phones with 85 percent penetration, he added. However, noted Mr. Dorsey, the infrastructure is overwhelmed. Often Iraqis carry at least 2 phones from separate providers in order to assure coverage.
Under Saddam Hussein, the Internet was censored and not easily available. Today, some 5 percent of Iraqi homes have Internet access and efforts to expand and improve Internet connections continue.
Optimistic projections are for Iraq to achieve around 60 percent broadband penetration in about 18-24 months, according to Raanan Bar-Cohen, one of the 9 U.S. executives who visited Iraq. In the meantime, a large unknown percentage of Iraqis go to Internet cafes to get on-line.
The fact that 9 American executives can take a week-long trip to Iraq is a real tribute to the improved security situation in Iraq thanks to the U.S. military and Iraqi security forces. Not too long ago, the threat of violence would have made such a visit out of the question.
Today’s improved conditions on the ground make it possible to put U.S. high technology to good use to help Iraqis develop a more stable society.