Universal Access to Internet: Dream or Reality?

Connectivity is a key challenge for developing countries. Until
recently, the only question was how to provide quality phone services at
affordable costs throughout the entire country. In the coming years, we
will have to address in addition, the question of how to offer fully
relevant Internet services, to support development of local activities.

How to remove the main barriers to Internet diffusion?

Main barriers to Internet penetration are identified as: lack of Telecom
infrastructure, limitation of population income, not adequate enough
content and applications, lack of local expertise and population
awareness....Alcatel is participating in a lot of field experiments, all
demonstrating that most of these limiting issues could be fixed,
provided a relevant approach is followed. For example, funding of
network infrastructure construction is quite solved when project
profitability is proven thanks to offering useful end-user services with
high local added value; so, it becomes possible to attract potential
investors; moreover, Internet illiterates and lowest income people could
afford connectivity thanks to community centers. So, universal access to
Internet can be no more a dream!

Usage is the key enabler!

Real Internet diffusion on a large scale will only happen in developing
world, if "usage" is not a mere duplication of those existing in
industrialized countries; if not, Internet will only address a small
part of the population corresponding to large business corporations and
people with the highest standard of life and education skill. As soon as
relevant Internet services and applications are offered to address
specific local needs and daily concerns of potential end-users through
an innovative way of using Internet, then revenue will be locally
generated securing return on investment and making the project fully

More usage --> more traffic & revenue --> more investment capability.

So, Internet usage has to be reinvented to comply with specific needs of
developing countries!

Internet, as a public utility?

Internet represents for developing countries an efficient way to
contribute to offset their endemic deficiency in basic infrastructures
of health, education, agriculture, transport, industry, logistics or
services. A development model is so proposed showing how ICTs could
initiate and sustain "virtuous circles" of economic, social and
political development, and consequently fight poverty.

Pending Pilot Projects

* A virtual market place in Dakar, Senegal - Internet payback for
information supply

As in many areas in developing countries, market places are not
transparent enough in Dakar region: high price fluctuation in very short
time, artificial shortages and speculation....

An enriching experience is that of Manobi <www.manobi.net> in Senegal
proposing a professional tool to all actors of the value chain in order
to manage food prices in real time. Thanks to its Internet platform,
Manobi offers marketing and supply assistance services for small
producers, fishermen, wholesalers and carriers; for example, a "virtual"
market place has been set up for the fruit and vegetable sector.

Collectors note the prices of various products on the town markets and
supply the information to a data base that the sector's professionals
consult, from wherever they are, using WAP mobile phones. All the people
involved can then refer to this information to negotiate sales in a far
more open fashion, which leads to a better distribution of the profit
margin between middlemen and producers.

This experiment clearly shows the wide set of benefits for local economy
and food security management; not only small producers are benefitting:
the cost of the service is quickly paid back by the increase of
operational margins and there is no more waste of foods.

* The cyber-pediatrician in Saint-Louis, Senegal - health care using

In Saint-Louis, one pediatrician serves more than ten thousand children.
Here, the experimental project uses the Internet as a bridge between the
patients (a group of one thousand infants) and the doctor.

The weight of a child can be considered a key health indicator. It is
measured twice a week by "weight collectors", local women equipped with
scales to weigh babies and a laptop computer to collect data. The
measurements are then uploaded to the pediatrician's database via the
Internet. Within five minutes, the doctor is able to detect which
children have odd weight curves and require further attention. When that
happens, he sends an e-mail to the weight collector, who in turn informs
the family that the baby needs medical attention.

This pilot project, led by Afrique Initiatives
<www.afrique-initiatives.com>, shows how the Internet can help leverage
very scarce healthcare resources to benefit the general population. In
this example, families pay a small fee to access the service, and today
the waiting list is already very long. It is proof that people are
willing to pay for services when relevant, even if they are poor. It
shows that the Internet can help fill the gaps when there is a definite
lack of infrastructure, and when high-level skills (such as those of a
pediatrician) are scarce. Finally, it demonstrates that local content
and service providers can design and implement this type of application,
since there is a market for it.

For more information, please contact:

Jean-Marie Blanchard
Business Development Director, Alcatel MAI

This DOT-COM Discussion is funded by the dot-ORG USAID Cooperative
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