Islands of Cyberspace: Making the Web Truly Worldwide
By David Zgodzinski
With the help
of dedicated entrepreneurs, the Internet is making an appearance
in third world countries. Over 186 countries can now be reached
by e-mail. Nonetheless, the continents of Africa, Asia, and South
America are still tiny islands in cyberspace.
The number of
computer hosts on the Internet located in the U.S. has now been
surpassed by the number of hosts in the rest of the world. About
98 percent of all the computer hosts on the Net are located in countries
in North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia--countries
that together have only 15 percent of the world's population.
of people in developing countries to the Net will take some work.
Three elements are necessary--the right tools, the right rules,
and the right people. The Internet doesn't particularly care how
the job gets done. The Internet has its own agenda. It wants to
Access is one
problem, connectivity is another. If you look at a map of connectivity
displaying the physical lines of communication of the Internet,
you get a very skewed distribution. Through most of the world, there
is very little connectivity and very few central hubs. And then
there are the United States.
in Europe and Asia are joined to the American coasts to connect
to nodes on the American backbone. It's an inefficient system, where,
in many instances, communications between neighboring countries
must pass through the U.S. backbone.
But that is
beginning to change. In June, MCI and British Telecom announced
Concert, a high speed global backbone for the Net. Concert's "InternetPlus"
backbone will start with the existing BT and MCI networks. There
will be a combination of these links in regional "superhubs."
Five of the hubs are already under construction. Within a year,
these will be expanded to 20 hubs in central locations around the
The hubs will
have 45-Mbps connections to one another. Eventually, ConcertPlus
will offer connectivity to the Internet in 1200 locations in 70
countries, increasing the overall international capacity of today's
Internet by 30 percent.
While this high
speed network will soon be expanding in developing countries in
Asia and the Pacific, South America and Africa will be coming on
board sometime in 1997, it is hoped.
In most developing
countries, the initial Internet connection and its subsequent growth
are the result of the efforts of a small group of people, or even
one individual, who has a passionate devotion to the Net. They get
the rules changed and implement the technology. These people are
the shamans of the Global Village.
Africa has the
lowest teledensity (phone lines per population) in the world. The
continent has 12 percent of the global population, but only 2 percent
of the world's main telephone connections.
1995, AT&T and Alcatel joined forces to put Africa One into
motion. First, the plan is to surround the whole continent with
an undersea cable, connecting all the coastal areas. Second, all
countries in Africa will be connected in a regional network. Third,
the African network will be linked to the rest of the world.
35,000 km of fiber-optic cable connecting 41 African nations will
handle traffic at 2.5 gigabits per second. If financing arrangements
for the project can be arranged soon, construction will begin this
year and be finished by 1999. Increased connectivity will go a long
way towards bringing the Net to Africa, and vice-versa.
a businessman who runs Network Computer Systems in Ghana has begun
commercial Internet service in that African country. At the start,
Ghana Telecom demanded prohibitively high connectivity charges for
an international data link. Quaynor appealed to the representatives
of Ghana Telecom and the government minister in charge of communications,
and received approval to install and use an international satellite
earth-station, thereby reducing costs. In 1993, gh.com was born.
service has more than 800 subscribers and is growing at a rate of
about 100 percent per year. Most of his customers are commercial
clients, using the Net for basic communications with overseas contacts.
They are charged $50 per month for full access and unlimited use.
Of the company's costs, 80 percent still go towards its satellite
has created an opportunity for his company's subscribers to win
software contracts in the United States; a local company that subscribes
to Quaynor's service has used the Internet to win a contract to
perform architectural drawing for a Canadian company.
Daniel and Lisa
Stern are a couple of Americans in Uganda who have started The Uganda
Connectivity Project, which has raised money to put together an
Internet "road show". The Sterns have outfitted a truck
with deep-cycle batteries and a 1000-watt inverter, thanks to sponsorships
from the MCI foundation, IBM, and the Reuters news agency, who have
donated computers and modems. With the truck, the Sterns will travel
to villages in Uganda and introduce kids to the Net.
not free in Uganda, schools are often far from villages and books
are scanty. The project will allow computer operations in remote
areas, where linking to the Net will be done via mobile phone. Daniel
Stern says that one of their goals is to establish learning centers
with PCs linked to the Internet. They are still looking for donations
of used equipment.
infrastructure is only one piece of the puzzle. It can be more difficult
to make changes in the regulations that govern a country's telecommunications
system than to change its technology. India is a prime example of
how telecom regulations damage the accessibility of the Internet,
and thus keep the country out of the loop.
India has well
over 900 million people. The country has a connectivity advantage
over other developing nations. English, the current standard on
the Internet, is spoken by a large percentage of the population.
There are many computer literate individuals in the country. The
high-tech industry is first rate in India, with many multinationals
opening facilities in the country.
All these elements
should point to flourishing Internet activity, except for one minor
detail. In 1885, The British, then in control of the country, passed
the Indian Telegraph Act, which allowed the Indian Department of
Communications to completely dominate the industry. They do so with
relish, and have been rigid in protecting the monopolies of the
country's telecommunications operations. Currently, the only public
access commercial ISP in India is VSNL--a government corporation.
With a monopoly, access prices were kept high. India has private
companies that can resell e-mail access to the Internet but licensing
and connection fees are high, so these companies have been forced
to charge high prices. In another protectionist tactic, tariffs
on communications equipment were exorbitant, and charges for communications
thanks to concerted lobbying, the Indian government has somewhat
loosened the stranglehold of the Department of Communications. Tariffs
on computer equipment and software have been relaxed, and the cost
of modems has dropped. In December 1995, the Telecom Commission
of India decided to allow private ISPs to offer Internet connections.
As of yet, none have been sanctioned, but it's in the cards.
gear up for competition, VSNL recently cut their charges in half
to about $.90 per hour for full TCP/IP access, and $.30 and hour
for a shell account. Now, there's a two-week wait for a TCP/IP account
because of the demand. An Indian Internet explosion could follow
a further loosening of the rules.
Internet del Peru is a nonprofit network, owned by 6,000 organizations
throughout the country who are users of the service. The Peruvian
network started operations in December 1991 with three modems and
a 386 computer as a server; in February of 1994, the network was
connected to the NSF backbone, and Internet service began. JosQ
Soriano is the head honcho of the network. He has been the driving
force behind the expansion of its activities into 23 towns along
the length of Peru.
The Red Cientifica
has 300 phone lines currently operating and wants to have 800 installed
by the end of the year. It also has two 512K satellite connections
to the Net. "Everybody pays to become a member of Red Cientifica."
says Soriano. Internet service is not a gift to these people. It
is a privilege that they are willing to pay for.
has set up group access locations (cabinas publicas) Each cabina
is a room with about 40 computers, a printer and an Internet connection
available to the public. All the users have full e-mail accounts.
Red Cientifica started with one cabina in Lima, and currently has
four in operation. They want to have 23 eventually, one in each
of the major municipalities that the network serves.
The only losers
are the telephone monopolies and the postal service, who see their
total control over communication threatened by the Internet.
from the growth of Red Cientifica. The towns gain because residents
are now able to communicate with the rest of the world. The people
of Peru gain. Education, health services and businesses gain. The
only losers in the equation are the telephone monopolies and the
postal service, who see their total control over communication threatened
by the Internet.
Soriano is a
major force in the Latin American & Caribbean Networking Forum.
He says that one of the group's major objectives is relaxing Telecommunication
laws, and deregulating telephone monopolies in the region.
The Open Society
Institute is a charitable foundation set up by George Soros, the
billionaire investor originally from Hungary. He has set up philanthropic
organizations to fund projects that aid the cause of freedom, peace,
and economic development. These projects are predominantly in Eastern
Europe, but have recently expanded to other countries such as South
Africa. Open Society Institute is concerned with opening Internet
access for developing countries.
has spent about $14 million funding projects in 68 countries, and
doesn't waste much money on a bureaucracy. The organization has
representatives in every client country that bring a potential project
to the attention of the funders. The funders choose the project,
but the Open Society Institute does not dictate exactly how the
money is spent. It funds access to the Internet, training, and to
a lesser degree, equipment. The Society offers from $50,000 to $100,000
per project. "That can go a long way." says Jonathan Peizer,
chief information officer of the organization. "For $25,000
to $50,000, you can put up an e-mail BBS in Tadzhikistan or Bosnia.
For $50,000 you can you can sponsor a 64-Kbps Internet link in central
been a particular success for the foundation. Peizer estimates that
100,000 people in that country have been given access to the Internet
as a result of the Open Society Institute's efforts.
There are four
VSAT access points in different cities in Romania, and the Institute
foots the bill for connectivity. In each location, there are rooms
with PCs that have full Internet access. Each city has a club whose
members are given e-mail accounts. More than 200 schools are users
of the network, as well as hospitals, museums, and some businesses.
concern is to promote the use of Internet and to force the commercial
providers to lower the prices, which were 300 times the price of
the ones in Bulgaria, and more than ten times higher than in western
Europe" says Daniel Buleu, a representative of the Open Society
Institute in Romania.
One busy location
funded by Open Society in Bucharest has 35 phone lines for dial-up
access. Peizer says "Romania has a very low penetration of
computers. In effect, if parents want to buy a computer for their
child, they have to sell their car. But it's not the number of PCs
in a country that's important. It's the access to PCs."
There are thousands
of technicians, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists working to increase
Internet access in the developing nations. They all have different
goals, but one common denominator. They want to make connections.
will be much more important to the poorer countries of the world
than it is to their wealthier neighbors. It's a type of reverse
colonialism. For a relatively small cost, citizens of developing
countries can exploit industrialized wealthy nations for an endless
supply of that precious commodity--information.
is a freelance writer based in Montreal. http://www.internetworld.com/current/thirdworld.html