I am with Media Lab Asia (www.medialabasia.org) and we are exploring the
use of 802.11 technology for rural networks. However, we envisage these
as small village telcos that will be set up by rural entrepreneurs.
Decades of experience with Universal Service Obligation etc makes it
clear that the big telcos are not be interested in providing
telecommunications to rural markets. I recently met someone from
Malaysia who said that his country has around $300 million earmarked for
USO but there has been little progress till date. The story in India is
also the same.

A better alternative may be to follow the growth of cable networks in
India. Most cable networks in India were set up by small local
entrepreneurs. Since cable networks were unregulated, they grew at an
astonishing rate and soon outnumbered the number of telephone
connections in India! It may not be possible to replicate this success
in the telco sector which is far more regulated than the cable networks
in India but there is a good chance that local entrepreneurs would be
far more interested in providing telco services in rural areas than the
big telecom companies. This may be a win-win for everyone -- small
entrepreneurs, large telecos and national governments -- because these
village telcos may most likely operate their services under franchise
from a larger teleco, thus providing connectivty to the disconnected,
additional revenues to larger telecos and help governments fulfill their
USO dreams.

Another advantage of this "bottoms-up" approach is that it creates a lot
of employment opportunities in rural areas. The example of India's
Public Call Offices (PCOs) is another good example that comes to mind.
These manned PCOs created a lot of employment in rural areas and brought
telecommunications closer to the rural masses. These PCOs are also
popular in urban areas and the manner in which these yellow and black
signs have sprouted up all over India in the last ten years has been eye
opening.

I look forward to hearing from other members on this list on this
subject. I am particularly interested in hearing if others on this list
have tried to apply 802.11 technology for rural connectivity and their
experiences so far.

Venky
www.medialabasia.org



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