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 sustainable: 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 Internet 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: <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> Jean-Marie Blanchard Business Development Director, Alcatel MAI ------------ This DOT-COM Discussion is funded by the dot-ORG USAID Cooperative Agreement, and hosted by GKD. http://www.dot-com-alliance.org provides more information. To post a message, send it to: <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> To subscribe or unsubscribe, send a message to: <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>. In the 1st line of the message type: subscribe gkd OR type: unsubscribe gkd For the GKD database, with past messages: http://www.GKDknowledge.org