Hi all!

Thanks for your insights! I agree with many of the sentiments coming
out of this thread. Bandwidth is important, but only after issues of
meeting real communication needs and developing the human capacity to
use ICT.

Peter Burgess notes, "Having the ability to communicate LOCALLY is
enormously valuable, and should be done better than yesterday, but it
need not be done using broadband!"

Guido Sohne says, "I also agree that connectivity is not the whole
issue. More the tip of the iceberg."

Pam McLean adds, "The first urgent necessity is simply to be able to
communicate."

The issue, from my view, has got more to do with _services_ than
bandwidth. There's an old adage that goes, "It's not what you got, it's
what you can DO with it that matters!" This rings true with ICT in
developing countries. The challenge remains for communities to turn this
tool into something that serves their individuals and institutions in
the most productive and effective means possible. This means
identifying models that deliver high quality communication and
information access at the least bandwidth cost.

So the question, "How Much Bandwidth is Necessary?" begs the point. What
are we attempting to accomplish? What services are we attempting to
provide our customers? How much are our "intended victims" <grin> able
to pay for bandwidth? And finally, what KIND of bandwidth do our
customers require?

If we need to check email on Yahoo, then we need real-time interactive
Internet bandwidth. If we need to get 400 messages a day from one
location to another, we might do well with someone using an intermittent
wireless connection. If we need to exchange 200 messages a month with a
distant village, we might have someone carrying a USB memory key to an
ISP in town. If someone needs to get a letter to another, they need a
word processor and a printer. If we need to deliver multimedia
documents to schools around the district, we might use DVDs or rewitable
CDs.

For example, the WiderNet Project's eGranary Digital Library delivers
over 1 million high-quality digital multimedia documents (books, videos,
Web sites) to African universites using large hard disks and, soon,
cheap satellite radio broadcasts. See
<http://www.widernet.org/digitallibrary/>

There's an old adage in the computer science community: "Never
underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of magnetic tape." 
There's a myriad of ways to deliver digital messages and documents and
our task is to find the most appropriate way to do so within the
economic, social, and political context of our friends and colleagues in
the developing world. This challenge will be met through better
technologies in a small part, but the development of services that
deliver real change will come through bending and twisting and shaping
the current services into new services that meet user needs.

My particular expertise is in university ICT development. Here's a clip
from a paper I'm working on regarding the importance of services on
university campuses. Note that only the last service requires Internet
bandwidth, the rest provide real productivity and organizational
improvement using only the LAN.

- - - - - - - - -

Many universities get caught up in ICT measurements that are numeric and
technical: numbers of computers, numbers of connections, bandwidth
speeds. But the real measures of a holistic ICT endeavor are
productivity, participation, and people-centered services.

By "services" we mean things like:

*       Corporate messaging systems that include sharable and integrated
email, calendar, address lists, task lists, etc. for staff and
administrators

*       Reliable basic Web-based email system for ALL students

*       Web services for departmental intranets, course delivery, and
public Internet.

*       File sharing/collaboration capabilities for departments and
administrative units

*       Printer sharing capabilities for departments and administrative
units

*       Consolidated security/authentication services for campus (one
trustworthy login to all university ICT services)

*       Common people directory for intercampus communication

*       SQL database services for departments

*       Web database applications for common university functions:

-       student registration
-       results processing
-       ID card manufacture
-       personnel and payroll
-       student financial accounting 
-       electronic forms
-       academic transcripts

*       support for course material creation

*       course management software (WebCT, Blackboard, KEWL)

*       and, phew!, finally. . . access to the broader Internet

- - - - - - - - -

Unfortunately, many in the donor community are more interested in the
"sexier" issue of connectivity. It's easy to get enamored with the CPUs
and VSATs and mbits and Internet cafes. But research in this area shows
us that the physical stuff -- the hardware, software, and network
connections -- only consumes 30% of the typical budget of the whole
successful ICT enterprise. The remaining costs are user and staff
training (roughly 30%) and staffing (roughly 30%) and
infrastructure/security.

The issues for most developing countries remain human capacity,
management, and infrastructure. All very expensive and not too terribly
sexy.

Sure there is a burgeoning Internet cafe phenomona (I've visited over 60
in Nigeria and Ghana), but this model does not scale. It provides
services to those who are computer literate, mobile, and able to afford
the connectivity costs, but it ignores the bulk of the population. And
many of the cafes I've looked at are not generating a revenue stream
that covers their startup, staffing, and equipment replacement costs,
meaning that they are not sustainable the way they are currently being
managed.

Sandra Roberts hits the nail on the head. 

> Telecentres and community multimedia centres have not fared very well in
> Africa, this is due, in part to exorbitant connection costs, but also
> because they need dynamic leadership. Management and technological
> skills, yes, but leadership which is adaptive to the various conditions
> which a telecentre/ CMC will face during its lifespan. Unfortunately
> practical barriers include high staff turn over - people with the skills
> to run telecentres could get relatively high paying jobs elsewhere, and
> have more security than telecentres can offer. The practical reality is
> that many telecentres are donor dependent and have no plans to become
> self sustaining, or possibly have plans and haven't implemented them.

I suspect that the future form of digital communication in developing
countries will look less like fixed-structured Internet cafes and more
like boys and girls on mopeds carrying solar-powered handhelds from
customer to customer, delivering both messaging services -- and the
computer literacy required to participate -- in a single package (while,
at the same time, BEING bandwidth.)

But we won't know this until we have a cadre of African technologists
and communication specialists who are so steeped in the technology that
they can shape it to fit their future...

Cheers!

-- Cliff





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