[GKD] Southeast Asia Tsunami and the Effective Use of Community ICTs

2005-01-04 Thread Michael Gurstein
Dear GKD Members,

I guess like everyone else, I've been watching the tragic events unfold
on television with a sense of sadness and powerlessness. Not much that
one can do from so far away except at this point to make a donation and
to make the kinds of noises that get governments to move away from

Fortunately my family and I weren't personally impacted so far as we
know, but the events took on a very direct force when we saw what seemed
to be video from a resort in Thailand where we had stayed 3 years ago
and which indicated that the bungalow where we were staying would have
been completely inundated by the wave.

And thinking of it and scanning the Net for information and for stories
I'm struck by a couple of things concerning the role (and lack of role)
of the Net in these events. The Net appears to be playing a very
significant part in responding to the needs of those at a distance--the
on-lookers for information, stories, ways of contributing and so on;
families and friends of those possibly impacted with attempts at
creating listings of the found and the lost and for those on the ground
to manage the concerns and queries of those farther away; and one
expects that behind the scenes much of the co-ordination and planning
that is being done by aid organizations is being done in ways that are
pushing the boundaries of Computer Mediated Communication and managing
at a distance.

But I guess I'm a bit surprised that the Net wasn't able (yet?) to
bridge the information divides between those who had some idea about
what might be coming (the scientists and those immediately impacted) and
those who might have been able to make some use of that information in
the places where the impact took appreciable time to be realized.

The problem here was not, I think, a Digital Divide, rather than
perhaps it is another example of what I've referred to elsewhere as the
gap between access and effective use
http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue8_12/gurstein/index.html. From
what I can gather most if not all of the communities impacted had
Internet access in one form or another. What they (and here I would
include those with the knowledge who couldn't use it as well as those
without knowledge) lacked, rather, was the social, organizational,
informational, and applications infrastructure which could have turned
Internet access into an effectively usable early warning system.

Those who had the information couldn't use it, and those who needed the
information couldn't/didn't get it. The degrees of separation
imposed by nationality, language and perhaps most important, domains of
knowledge and profession (and the related social linkages, network based
trust relationships, communication pathways and so on), just weren't
there--and one wonders whether that was simply a matter of it still
being early days in our Internetted world or something more profound and

It seems likely that some sort of Tsunami Early Warning System will be
set up in the region probably with an ICT base (I seem to recall
something similar being in place for the Pacific Islands, for hurricanes
as well as Tsunami's I would assume), but given the infrequency of these
events, how useful it will be seems questionable. So I'm wondering now
whether rather than spending a huge amount of money creating a dedicated
Tsunami Early Warning System, the governments in the region (or better
yet the effected communities) wouldn't be better advised to think about
how to use the access that they have available to them in ways that will
allow them to have some warning. This would mean that they develop local
means for scanning the information universe and then ways of linking the
knowledge that results into local social and institutional structures
that can translate that knowledge into effective uses such as early
warnings. Here I'm not thinking just of what are almost singular events
like Tsunamis, but also of more recurrent weather events and even more
common social, economic and political events in the larger world that
will have a potential impact, sometimes negative, but also potentially
positive, on community well-being.

From a Community Informatics perspective, I'm also wondering whether
there shouldn't be a significant future role. Certainly, the Community
side of the equation will be of immense importance as much of the
reconstruction will be done of and through existing local communities.
But what of the Informatics side. Some skepticism has been expressed
concerning the value of ICTs in this context where the need for water,
shelter and food are so pressing. Certainly, there is a need for
Management/Organizational Informatics at least from the perspective of
managing aid and a considerable degree of infrastructure reconstruction.

But what of Community Informatics...Is this something to be left to a
later stage when other matters have been dealt with and as has been
suggested, there is some resources and time available for what some

Re: [GKD] Should Developed Countries Subsidize the Internet for LDCs?

2005-01-04 Thread Edmond Gaible
Dear Colleagues,

A quick set of numbers about a specific situation with regard to VSAT

As of September 2004, secondary schools in Uganda were able to purchase
new KU-band VSAT terminals for US $2800 from the Ugandan offices of

Monthly connection costs under volume-based pricing (1GB total traffic
per month) is about $230. Recognizing the realities of school funding
cycles, AFSAT bills schools at the beginning of each term, when school
fees are collected.

Roughly 45 rural secondary schools now have VSATs under this program,
which was launched in the spring of 2003. A few of these schools serve
very disadvantaged communities, and have received upfront capital in the
form of grants. Most of the 14 that we've looked at are covering their
recurrent costs via combinations of school fees and community-focused

AFSAT representatives say that their company is approaching the school
market aggressively, and fairly, because they believe that schools are
credit-worthy, in contrast to many cybercafes and other private
operators in rural areas. They also understand, rightly, that as
technology penetrates schools, schools will serve the largest installed
base of computer and Internet users in Uganda's agriculture-based rural

This arrangement is far from perfect. In particular, some schools have
more than 1GB of traffic per month, which results in increased costs for
AFSAT and radical slow-downs in connectivity speeds at those schools.

But the situation is interesting because it's arisen out of market
demand and opportunities, which are being met by a largely responsible
private-sector provider.

In mid-2005, the Uganda Communications Act will expire. Intended, in
part, to shelter Ugandan telecommunications companies during the
emergence of the telecommunications sector country-wide, the Act has
kept potential competitors from entering the VSAT market. One effect of
its expiration MAY be a further lowering of prices.

Bushnet, another private-sector provider, is also offering wireless
connectivity in rural Uganda via -- I think -- microwave hubs. Cost of
each hub is I believe upwards of $6K U.S., but these are intended to
provide service to clusters of communities using 802.11 technologies. As
of my latest information, there are over 30 hubs located in urban and
rural areas.

I'm offering these numbers in part to add to the general storehouse of
information that this discussion has built up. I'm also concerned that
private-sector successes in providing Internet access not be overlooked.

The possibility of a social enterprise providing Internet connectivity
to multiple communities, as Jeff has proposed, is intriguing. To be
successful, however, an enterprise of this sort would need to compete
against private-sector providers. The organization would itself be, in
essence, a private-sector provider, yes?

Best wishes to all for the New Year!

Ed Gaible

ADDENDUM: Has it already been pointed out that from 1995 to 2000 there
was a huge subsidy (of a sort) of first-mile Internet connectivity?
With the ballooning of the US stock market, literally billions of
dollars were invested in vast fiber-optic networks that were laid across
North America and Europe, and in satellite and Internet backbone
companies such as Global Crossing that were operating internationally.
When those companies went belly up, the wealth that drove that
infrastructure expansion vanished. But all the infrastructure remains in
place, subsidized by the investors whose stocks lost value. The
question is (imho) what are the factors that keep that stuff -- huge
webs of fibre and galaxies of satellites that are ready and waiting --
from being used at an affordable price?

On 12/31/04, Jeff Buderer [EMAIL PROTECTED] wrote:


 The reality of these extremely high ICT costs causes many to think twice
 about the ICT sensation among aid and development gurus and to look
 critically at these programs. I am encouraged by discussions here and
 plan to look more deeply and carefully at the economic logic beyond ICT
 augmented development programs. I think this is particularly important
 because the potential of ICT to transform lives, if properly and
 effectively applied, is extremely high.
 I was wondering what other experiences there are in this group with
 relation to satellite in terms of costs, reliability and how they
 compare with the other forms of Internet connectivity.
 In an off list discussion with Lee Thorn and several others, we have
 begun to explore some of the issues associated with ICT and particularly
 in relation to the high cost of satellite. This led me to do research to
 actually explore the costs.
 One of the concepts that my org OVF is exploring is the idea of
 developing a satellite system that would share the cost of the satellite
 with surrounding communities through a wireless system using similar
 technology as developed by Tim Pozar for the BARWN project

Re: [GKD] Nigeria: Silicon Valley Transplant

2005-01-04 Thread John Lawrence
In addition to David Sawe's noting that shortcuts can occur in
technological development, and that there is not only one linear path of
progress that all must doggedly follow, his posting contains another
interesting point that should perhaps be emphasised. The 'death of
distance' means that those talented, and sometimes more fortunate folks
from poorer world regions who are educated and live abroad indeed can now
contribute to the development of their 'very own countries'. There are
several ways in which this can be done, especially with new ICTs, but one
is the UNDP Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN)
Program (see for example the call to the Somalia Diaspora to engage in
rebuilding that country) at http://www.so.undp.org/Home.htm

John Lawrence
UNDP consultant, and
Adjunct Professor, SIPA
Columbia University.

On 12/30/04, David Sawe [EMAIL PROTECTED] wrote: 

 Well it seems that this particular chicken-and-egg problem is rather
 multi-dimensional. Hence there is need to include, in addition to
 crawl, walk, run, fly, some provision for leap-frog and indeed even
 cheetah-polevault where that may be possible. In this case, Nigeria's
 Government has decided to move boldly.
 It is an inescapable fact that people in developing countries are going
 to be receiving training in basic -AND- advanced sciences, either in
 their home countries or abroad. This is not necessarily from the
 government's funding, but also from scholarships, private resources, and
 all kinds of other sources. However, such people will not be able to
 contribute meaningfully to their own country's development if compelled
 to live and work abroad where they'll be helping solve the problems of
 developed countries instead of those of their very own countries.
 Additionally, one of the key advantages of ICT -- that of the death of
 distance -- offers opportunities for development activities, training
 and education, access to capital, etc. that far out-reach anything that
 would have been imaginable just twenty years ago. In the context of
 developing countries, this is significant because all too often our
 populations are spread out thinly across a large geographical area, but
 are entitled to consistent services wherever they are. They constitute
 the engine of growth that is being revved up by establishing centres of
 excellence which will focus on listening to and addressing their needs,
 by harnessing those technologies that can best deliver the most
 affordable and sustainable solutions to their problems.


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Re: [GKD] Nigeria: Silicon Valley Transplant

2005-01-04 Thread Jeff Buderer
This is an interesting conversation and I see the points from both
sides. I think Ken is right in questioning the idea that you cannot as
Tim says skip the first three stages and go straight to flying.

I want to make an important distinction here between infrastructure
approach and readiness and mental/organizational capacity/readiness.
There are preconditions to take off such as outlined by former
Kennedy/Johnson advisor Walter Rostow:

I feel also that these preconditions to nation-state development
critical mass also apply today. Because what Rostow is talking about
applies not just to nation states but to all aspects of human
development. His stages to take-off are a generalized set of criteria
relating to developing momentum towards a critical mass within a
particular system towards rapid growth and replication.

From my perspective we are talking about a rule of physics that applies
to human phenomena and relates specifically to a core area of interest
to the group here: growth and modernization (and preferably fitting the
triple bottom line criteria of ecologically, socially and economically
sustainable development). I see ICT as an augmentation tool that can
rapidly change the dynamics and characteristics of the growth curve that
Rostow described.

The concept of disruptive technologies offers another new concept to the
mix. When disruptive technologies as well as approaches are applied
effectively as part of a comprehensive package of solutions to address
not only development, but world urgent issues like global warming, AIDS
and loss of biodiversity, we start to see that the old rules of
development don't always apply.

Now I want to emphasize I am not talking about rejecting Rostow's
assumptions because to me to reject those preconditions he is talking
about is sort of like saying the law of conservation of energy does not
apply. However what we see is many assumptions that conventional
development policymakers and economists make about the best way to
develop a society not only are increasingly irrelevant, but are
counterproductive to the stated goals and intentions.

What many of us are seeing materialize is something that is truly a
bittersweet experience for us, because we see the potential of
disruptive technologies and approaches to totally transform human
reality like never before. However, the human network readiness on a
global level is still not in place to properly execute this. Therefore,
it is very frustrating for many of us to visualize the integration of
these various disruptive technologies and approaches into a
comprehensive and whole systems approach to sustainable development. We
see the potential is there but the capacity to effectively implement (so
that the effectiveness of ICT as an augmentation tool is obvious and
unchallenged) is still missing.

The central component of this thesis relates not only to ICT/wireless.
What we are seeing is that new technologies in every aspect of human
existence are rapidly making the old technologies and centralized
infrastructure systems obsolete. This has important implications on the
very way in which economies grow because:

1) It impacts ROI, primarily by significantly reducing the
infrastructure costs of development.

2) We are at a unique point in history. Those previously marginalized by
highly hierarchical systems of command and control suddenly have access
to tools to disrupt the conventional order/status quo of contemporary

The technologies are there and ready to be applied, what is needed now
is the effective ICT augmented global network. However, this is not just
an issue of organization but mental and organizational readiness: right
attitude and right mindset. There has to be a basic level of educational
aptitude, strong social networks, effective governance, financial
backing, a general economic justification for developing an integrated
ICT infrastructure and network and finally a firm resolve to do so, and
maybe that is what Tim is getting at.

You can have all the innovative ideas about wireless networks and
disruptive and sustainable technologies, but if there is not the right
execution or implementation, it has limited value... as theory that
seems plausible but is not proven to be true on a practical level. To
effectively address the unprecedented challenges that humanity now faces
(which extend far beyond issues of development to embrace the very
nature of modernity and human existence) we need to get many of us
(including me) who spend a lot of time on the computers talking, more
fully engaged in implementation in the field.
Jeff Buderer | [EMAIL PROTECTED] 
Sustainable Design/Project Development 
oneVillage Foundation USA | http://www.onevillagefoundation.org  
oneVillage.biz | www.onevillage.biz

102 Ballatore Ct.
San Jose CA 95134
Cell 408.813.5135
Yahoo IM: jefbuder