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ICTs for Development in Africa and Asia

Rich Fuchs and Dr. Onno Purbo

The following are notes on the presentation and discussion that took place on 9/19/03 at the Berkman Center with Richard Fuchs and Onno Purbo of IDRC.  Read about their ICT initiative here. A summary of the discussion follows the notes on the presentation.

If you have a lemon, make lemonade: ICT’s for Development in Africa and Asia

Richard Fuchs: The approach needs to be widespread to build awareness as opposed to being vertical.  I’m from Newfoundland – was working in rural development before IDRC. Onno Purbo – working on building ICTs in Indonesia, Internet Interconnection Initiative – wireless and satellite connecting universities – encourage knowledge infrastructure in Indonesia (ITB’s main library) – gave away code for free, many libraries sharing resources – he’s a  “liberation technologist,”  has published 1000 papers – everything free for download 7gigs via USB download, 40 books, now writing some in English.

IDRC est. 1970 – included info science in original charter – regional offices around globe.

2 years ago – would have described Africa as pre-e-market – need to animate back and front of market at same time. Asia – split market – technology engines such as Japan , Korea – and laggards, Cambodia, Vietnam – how to deal?  Create connection.  Americas: go to any city and you can get internet services, computer training, retail.  Outside cities, nothing.  Dual market.

Yesterday on the Acela Express – met a movie producer and a broker – contrarian investors talking about hot and not technologies – I kept saying “you’re wrong”.  Hardly any relationship to developing world – opportunity & challenges .

HDTV: very mature tech market only.  Won’t have resonance in Uganda.

TiVo: same as above.

Digimarc – digital watermarking (piracy protection): securing property – last ditch attempt for an industrial stamp.

The above are not lemonade.

Disruptive Technologies are lemonade.

Sony transistor radio 1955: cost $15 – every kid had to have one – listen to own music à cultural change, political values, etc.


Mozambique – poorest country in the world (self-proclaimed) – perverse pride in that.  Civil wars, land mines, flooding (covered mines).  Pre emarket approach – elite in govt bought into it. Make investments in health clinics, schools, telecenters.  Heads of govt bought in before middle.  Rural areas learned about importance of connectivity – their interests needed to be included in policy.  Informed policies that respect broad set of interests and needs.

Majority of African telephone structure is cellular - 98% in Uganda cell coverage, 7% terrestrial.  Products to support their economy have to support wireless type applications.

Handhelds: Wideray jack – small co. in SF – 90 USD, 6 month battery life, reads gsm, 802.11, can beam.  Take it, record epidemiology info, beam to jack.  Can be analyzed sameday.  Hardly anyone has a computer so emailing not practical.  Transitional, until people have computers.

Colin Maclay, Berkman Center: Similar project in India - how to change the systems with the doctors and nurses – how do you get it used, will they be excited to adopt?

RF: Massachusetts-based company helping us do this.  Health systems are highest stratified, tech works best in horizontal.  Field trials were successful, leaders were participating.

Alain Berranger, IDRC: Difference in Uganda – nothing in rural areas – 1 doctor for 50K people, at best it’s  medical technicians that do the sending.  Can map out demographics.  Rebuilding from scratch rather than rehabilitating.

RF: Health system says yes we can do that, but govt official doesn’t like it because it’s not his, but of course that’s going to happen, since it’s not his win.

Songhai, Benin: country of 18 million, poor.  System of 3 sustainable agricultural plantations.  NGO training people from all over Africa how to do this.  3 telecenters, one at each location.  Dishes – vsats – licensed.  Bandwidth gets overloaded as business gets better, telecoms slow to respond.  Got a special license for the dishes.  Lines were long and observable, other NGOs now getting licenses for vsats.  Cultural lag being addressed.  This org now does vsat installs.

Uganda: telecenter – water pump in front – solar powered.  Pedal powered when overcast.  People can see benefit right away.  Could not understand computer.  We had time to figure it out, not distributed well, took time to appropriate technologies.  They need it too.

Public good creates private opportunity.  Not nec. 25 years, but not next quarter.

AB: Financing 95-100 million Canadian, part of foreign aid – new budget, IDRC got own budget line, benefit capacity building and research, donors, foundations, devel. Partners, increase by 25% by fundraising.

Richa Kumar, MIT: do parliamentarians dictate projects?

AB: We have financial and administrative independence – board of governors consisting of 9 canadians and 10 non-canadians - pres & chair are Canadian.  Have to serve political masters, but work w/ universities and NGOs, bring in to tech assistance roles, maybe senator once in awhile.

Onno Purbo:  Financially Sustainable Digital Divide Bridge

I am a trained engineer not a scientist.  All presentations available on web. 10 years of process, high traffic mailing list. 100 lists, 600 mails per day, trying to educate society.

4 million internet users in Indonesia, 2500 outdoor wifi installations, 2000 cybercafes, 1500 schools on the internet – technically stealing govt frequencies.  Not much govt funding support, no World Bank, mostly self-financed.

Was govt official for seven years, quit.  Go to people, educate them, create movement, let people tell govt what they need. Govt is corrupt.  Need a grassroots movement.

Going through govt – key to success is attitude of govt.

No assumption that the reseller can resell bandwidth.  Easy to share with neighbors.  Most telecenters connect whole neighborhood, VoIP on top of that.

License requirements – needed to run network, service, but not resellers.  Licence comes from minister.  Trying to decentralize structure.  Sometimes mayor will give the license, clashes within govt.  Looking for money.

Shift in paradigm – cheaper tech, friendlier.  Everything coming from the people.  No licenses.

In 2004 there will be an election – regulations people now sweeping equipment – afraid of coup.

Major obstacle: old paradigm there’s no room for community based infrastructure.

Implanted divide – operator, investor vs. user. 

Prob w/licensing: have to pay govt for licensing – at least 2K US dollars – takes a year to recoup.  No procedure to approve homebrew equipment.  Everything is money.  Official comes to you, pay them off (ten bucks).  50/year to city govt by cybercafe – illegal, but they do it anyway.

Solution: self-financed sustainable access structure – run app on top.  Aim for high impact, low overhead.

Basic strategy: education, knowedge transfer, many small interconnected network – takes a long time, movement in society.

I speak in order to educate, small entrance fee for the knowledge.  Creates demand.  Distribute knowledge by CD ROM.  Copy library onto that. 

Cannot connect to telco – regulations. Connect VoIP through offices.  Shift telco traffic to the Internet.  Remove corporate traffic from telco.  Outdoor wifi.

Low cost 150-200 bucks per node.  Connect node to neighborhood network. Shared by neighborhood.  VoIP phone – shared – 10-50 per line.  Telco: 1000 per line. 400 per month operation, 16-60 lines.

Summary of discussion:

This movement is against the government because the only way to motivate the government to adopt these networks is to have the people demand it.  Intentionally violating laws in order to stir things up may shift the paradigm.  Independent networks cannot collocate with telcos in order to connect to them.  Telcos could focus on long distance while independents create small networks for local VoIP, Internet usage, broadcasting.  When working with schools, going to the students will get them to convert the teachers and publish in the Indonesian language, getting the message out to the rest of the community.  New technologies can liberate remote poor peoples.  Yahoo! Groups hosts an enormous Indonesian community - 50,000 groups, much discussion in social, knowledge, business and political categories.  In the race between the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise does not win without the hare running in front of him.

Past Event
Sep 19, 2003
12:30 PM - 12:30 PM