Saturday, March 25, 2006

Is solar powered internet enough?

Inveneo, a non-profit, has completed testing of an IT infrastructure powered by alternative energy sources. The network of systems is now available for purchase but I hope that the Gates foundation and Richard Branson have seen this in the news.

The Communication System has as its base a Hub Station, which provides connections for satellite, cellular, or wired Internet. Individual users connect via a Communications Station, which accesses the Hub Station via a Wi-Fi connection.

The power for all of these devices comes from solar, wind, hydro or plain old bicycle power.

The testing was done in Uganda, and the solution is intended for other developing countries or for areas that would necessarily have a difficult time finding electrical power.

This are serious solutions.

More than 2.5 billion people live in rural and remote areas of developing countries where access to communications is severely limited due to availability or affordability. For these rural communities, access to ICTs can transform their lives in simple, yet profound ways.

NGOs, local governments and entrepreneurs that provide these communities with vital services also need ICT tools such as low-power computing, telephony and internet access.

ICT plays a key role in expanding the availability of their services to empower people in these communities to improve their own lives. For these rural communities access to access to information can mean:

  • The difference between life and death (telehealth services)
  • The ability for villagers to earn more for their crops (economic development)
  • A better future for rural children (education)
  • Faster and better help in crises (humanitarian and emergency assistance)
  • Generating income by providing communications services (entrepreneurial applications)
  • The ability to communicate with neighbors and the world (community and network building)

The comments about cheap labor and Nigerian email scams are just way out of whack but they do start a discussion:

Seriously, what is the point of bringing email and internet shopping to people who can't even get a dependable food source? What do you think they are going to do with all of these machines? Become graphic design professionals? Build websites for General Motors?

This is an interesting point when you know about Ad-hosting sites that get a cut of Google's revenue also use software and cheap labor to ratchet up advertisers' payments. But that's what the Web 2.0 is about - broadly, the internet always guaranteed the flourishing of economic pluralism.

Economic integration is good in itself, of course, but with the absent a thriving civil society in some of these developing nations, there is no guarantee of the kinds of transformation that these nations sorely need.

THAT'S the more important determinant to the increasing digital divide.

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