RE: Rural wireless Internet

Although Michele Gale-Sinex asked for local stories dealing with US 
situations, I believe the case of developing countries provides an even more 
striking situation that calls for wireless Internet-intranet-extranet 
connectivity.  Here are two little stories:

In 1988, while I was in charge of a UN-financed programme in the Sudan, I 
realised that without some means of wireless communication we could not push 
the project forward.  Sudan is the largest country in Africa (2.4 sq. km.) and 
the programme was to design a participatory development approach that would 
help a population coming out of the throes of the droughts and famines of the 
70s and 80s.  Two American volunteer ham radio operators came to Sudan then 
and helped us set up a packet radio system with solar energy, sdhort wave 
radios and radio modems hooked up to Toshiba 1000 computers.  This saved the 
day for communications, including e-mail, file transfer and electronic 
bulletin board services. It also saved lives.  To this day it is the only 
means of communication among many regions which hardly have usable roads. 
Among other things, it also helped get ideas about sustainable agriculture 
spread around.

In Jamaica a "Sustainable Development Network" being set up with the help of 
the United Nations Development Programme is beginning to look like an 
indispensable adjunct to integrated community development.  This network, 
which is being designed with Internet standards, has a bias in favour of 
empowering local communities and giving them access to information in the form 
of intranet and internet sites, live and interactive databases, etc.  For this 
work we need fast, state of the art technology, rather than primitive computer 
technology.  This is because for most community people in the Third World, the 
written text is meaningless.  But they are highly literate in voice, graphic 
and picture communication (a la Paulo Freire).  Fast wireless connections 
would be a great boon where regular and mobile telephones are not available.  
The same is even more true in countries like Bangladesh where line-of-site is 
relatively unhampered across the country.

Communication for communities is an indispensable part of sustainable 
development, and of redressing the balance of power between the haves and the 
have-nots.  This need is in sharp contrast to the policies and practices of 
centralised communication authorities and government or private 
telecommunication monopolies that charge unreasonable prices for Internet 
access in the Third World which seem to be designed to make sure that the poor 
never get access to information that might bring them out of poverty. [Here in 
Jamaica, for example, an advanced country compared to many developing ones 
with respect to telecommunications, unlimited access to Internet, which is a 
must for community work, would cost of the order of US $2000 per month, or 
more than a hundred times what commercial services charge in the US.  Any one 
with specific information and ideas of how fast wireless systems can be used 
in such situations is invited to share it with us.

Taghi Farvar
Advisor to the National Poverty Eradication Programme
Kingston, Jamaica
tfarvar@InfoChan.COM  or