Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] Bringing Connectivity to Under-Served Communities

2003-10-31 Thread Gary Garriott

I have great hopes for this discussion as the topic is as relevant today
as ever and perhaps more so, given the recent backsliding in rural
infrastructure as a direct result of truncated privatization processes.

Here in Panama we have an interesting situation. I undertook a mission
on behalf of the UNDP country office to the remote Darién region to
learn why the public telephones (usually only one per village of 2000 or
more inhabitants) don´t work. To my surprise, I found that the basic
infrastructure is not only in pretty good shape but relatively
sophisticated as well (would support up to 9.6 kbps data). The problem
is in the last 100 meters between the rural radio tower/antenna and the
telephone booth where situations with relatively simple solutions cause
80-90% of the problems (like people getting their coins and other
objects jammed in the coin slots, short circuits in the interconnecting
cable because of attempts to rob service, infrequent visits by
supervisory personnel to remove full coinboxes). We are now working with
the multinational corporation that operates the system and various
development programs in the region to come up with a win-win project
design that would include community education in system care, basic
technical training, and local management.

Meanwhile, the government has levied a stiff fine on this multinational
for similar problems throughout the country. The company maintains that
rural telephones are unprofitable and cannot be easily maintained, even
though they constitute a lifeline for thousands of people. This is, of
course, only a specific example of a more generic situation, but it was
the inspiration behind the attached draft policy position. I would
invite comments on it as well as ideas from the community on which
organizations/donors might be interested in developing a regional or
even a global program to comprehensively address rural connectivity and
access issues.

(More information on PFNet mentioned in the position note is available

Gary Garriott
ICT for Development Advisor
Panama SURF - UNDP
PO Box 6314, Zone 5
Panama City, Panama
Tel. 507 265 8168/8153
Fax  507 265 8445 


Rural ICT Infrastructure is the Forgotten Frontier 

The Position 

In the rush to jump on the ICT bandwagon, the attention of all donors
and implementing agencies tends toward increasingly sophisticated and
networked health, education and governance applications in urban areas
where the latest hardware, reliable connectivity and available bandwidth
are taken for granted. Forgotten are the hundreds of millions of people
living in poverty and extreme poverty in rural and isolated regions
where fundamental physical infrastructure including the provision of
electrical energy is nonexistent. Except for one-off pilot projects that
tend to be special cases of donor interest and resources (and recognized
for their obvious public relations value), rural-based infrastructure is
seen as passé and uninteresting. UNDP and other agencies that invest in
poverty-reduction strategies should look more closely at implementing
strategic rural access and connectivity programmes.

The Context 

Most bilateral and multilateral aid agencies have limited their
activities on behalf of rural ICT infrastructure to assisting host
governments in writing universal service and access policies to be
implemented by the private sector winners of telecommunications
privatization processes. And yet the common experience worldwide is that
once a private franchise or concession has been awarded, the promises
made to extend service to rural areas are gradually forgotten as the
difficulties of installing and maintaining unprofitable rural
infrastructure mount.  A significant back-sliding in rural ICT
infrastructure is thus occurring as privatization proceeds.

The Need 

Reliable access to information may be just as critical in isolated rural
areas as in urban centers. The basic need to communicate with family,
friends and associates is fundamental, but so is the acquisition of
crucial health, agricultural and market information, not to mention
ready access to education and training resources. However, rural needs
are more easily satisfied with basic infrastructure supporting email and
file transfer rather than more sophisticated web-based technology and
applications. Very few policy-makers are aware that a range of
relatively inexpensive intermediate or appropriate technology solutions
exist to support lower end uses, such as email. Legitimate information
needs can be immediately met with simpler technologies while demand and
an information culture are built up to justify the same infrastructure
being enjoyed by urban areas with greater population density and
disposable income.

The Evidence 

The proliferation of UNDP-supported PFNet email stations using packet
radio technology in the Solomon Islands as a way to enhance the

Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] Bringing Connectivity to Under-Served Communities

2003-10-31 Thread Sudhakar Chandra
Dear GKD Members,

I got back from Kenya after serving there as a VSO [1] volunteer for a
year. I was teaching IT in a womens college in a rural place called
Tala. I also trained the staff on the more advanced subjects of the

First, let me talk about the state of connectivity in the country.

Connectivity in Kenya is pretty decent in the cities (Nairobi, Mombasa,
Kisumu and Nakuru). Literacy in the country is pretty high.  Many of
the younger people in the 15-35 age group are becoming increasingly
netsavvy in the cities. They browse the web in one of the numerous
internet browsing centres and have a hotmail or yahoo mail account.
Prices are competitive and range in the cities betwen 1 Kenyan Shilling
to 5 Kenyan Shillings per minute (1 US$ =~ 70 KSh).

ISPs charge somewhere in the range of 8000 KSh / year for unlimited
activity.  On top of this, dial-up users must pay applicable per-minute
telcom charges.

Even though there are many ISPs in the country and competition between
them is fierce, there are two problems:

1. All traffic has to flow in and out of the country through the Kenya
Telecom monopoly owned JamboNet [2].  This creates a single point of
failure and a bottleneck.

2. Only the bigger cities have local access / dial-up numbers.  If
someone is in not in one of these cities, they have to make a long
distance / trunk call.  The telcome per-minute charges on these vary
depending on how far from a POP the user is.

WAP is available on one (KenCell) of the two mobile phone providers.
But, I have not seen it being used in the circles I moved in.

There is a US AID funded effort to connect colleges and universities

Now, let me answer the specific questions

 1. What activities are endeavoring to bring connectivity to
 under-served communities?

I am not sure what other organized activities are being carried out in
the country.  I am aware of two - One that I worked on and another of
similar scope [4].  In my case, we got a subsidized 64k VSAT connection
through UUNet.  In addition to this connection being used by the
students of the college, we also created a internet browsing center on
campus for people from the community to use at a nominal fee.  This
enables the college to raise at least part of the cost of the internet
connection.  We also have a plan to set up a local wireless network to
share the bandwidth with the surrounding community.  There are many
formal and vocational schools in the surrounding community that have
expressed interest in this service.

 2. What are the goals of these efforts? To what extent are the goals 

The goal of this effort was to provide access to the relatively
marginalized community of Tala.  There is no connectivity in a
50-kilometer radius around this community.  Part of the goal is income
generation for the college as well as people using the wireless network.

The lack of wireless networking equipment in Kenya hindered the
achievement of the wireless network.  At the moment I am working with
another volunteer who is going to be going to Kenya in 2004.  I intend
to procude the equipment in the US and send it through the volunteer.

 3. Who is being served by these connectivity efforts? Are the benefits
 widely distributed? Do some groups win and some lose in these
 connectivity efforts?

I believe that the effort benefits the community widely.  The students
get connectivity, the community piggy backs on the connection at a
nominal fee.  It, in fact, spurs business because a privately run
cybercafe business can make quite a bit of money by using the wireless
network bandwidth to provide internet access at a fee.

 4. How do connectivity efforts seek to ensure that all groups benefit?

We involved the local town council, schools, parish and businesses early
in our efforts.

 5. What are the costs and constraints these connectivity efforts face?

A VSAT connection is prohibively expensive.  Such projects can't work
till it reaches a critical mass of people willing to work together and
share costs in getting connected.


[4] Chinni Tu
Key fingerprint = 8A 84 2E 67 10 9A 64 03  24 38 B6 AB 1B 6E 8C E4

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Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] Bringing Connectivity to Under-Served Communities

2003-10-31 Thread Cornelio Hopmann
Dear GKD Colleagues,

Jean-Marie Blanchard wrote:

 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
 awarenessAlcatel 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!

My apologies but this is a circular argumentation.

Jean-Marie starts off by saying at first that there is insufficient
infrastructure, continuing then that there is limited income, not enough
content and applications, no local expertise, no awareness. In any other
field of market-economy the straight-forward conclusion would be that
you try to sell a useless product and that therefore there is no demand
and hence there are neither sales nor much product to sell. (Unless
there is some strange conviction close to secular religion as if
Internet penetration as such constitutes something desirable - despite
that it's apparently of no valuable use).

Please don't misunderstand me: I was an Internet-pioneer already en
1988, long before the Internet-hype started and I'm still almost
fulltime engaged in promoting appropriate use of Internet in a
not-so-developed country, Nicaragua. Yet I would insist that -- as in
any market -- the starting point should be real needs (i.e. things that
can be better solved or addressed using among other
Internet-technologies). Better includes more efficiency - economically
- but by no means is limited to more efficiency. 

 In Saint-Louis (Senegal), 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.

Just counter-productive examples: your Tele-doctor is counter-productive
for Public Health Education because instead of providing the local
weighers with pen and each parent with a chart where they jointly put
the weight-measure and compare it against standard-curves - and by doing
this increase Health Awareness not only for the parents - you just
electronify the very old fashioned wise man, who - only God knows how
- is capable to predict which child is going to fall ill and which not.
And as the poor and illiterate paid the wise man a couple of thousand
years ago when he predicted seasons and eclipses, they now pay for
health-predictions ... where in both cases if they were not kept
ignorant they wouldn't pay a cent.



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