Digital charity

Eyebrows would have been raised no doubt if, in the early years of the Internet and wider information and communication revolution, someone had suggested that connectivity should be extended to charity. Information was viewed as an elite commodity; its sharing was subject basically to the laws of the market. However, the greater flow of information and communication has democratised the economic landscape itself. Access to them is empowerment, and empowerment is a social goal and ethical necessity, not a luxury. The digital divide both among and within nations militates against the sense of equity that should be apparent in the sharing of information and access to communication, as in the division of goods and services.

The 7,370 StarHub customers who have donated their unused mobile phone talktime, as well as unused data and SMS message allotment, are among those who understand the value of communication in the creation of a just and fair society. Their gift of connectivity will reach 500 beneficiaries from five charities, a small number in itself but part of a valuable trend of finding innovative ways of helping the disadvantaged. In the digital sphere, their numbers are not negligible: About 13 per cent of local homes - some 150,000 households - have no computer, Internet access, or both. In a wired nation such as Singapore, it would be unconscionable for society not to take the plight of the digitally disadvantaged seriously.

The authorities are playing their part through schemes such as one whereby some low-income households will receive a tablet computer and a high-speed broadband connection for $6 a month. Charitable Singaporeans can expand on such efforts, the goal being a society that never forgets that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Today, that truth applies not only to food, clothing and shelter, but to access to the Internet as well.