Friday, June 17, 2005

> African countries need at least 30 years to bridge the gap in
> access to the Internet and other information communication
> technologies between their citizens and those of the advanced
> European and North American societies, an expert, Prof. Manny
> Anieb-onam
, has said.

This is true in one sense, that equal access will take 30 years. That means a comparable number of telephone lines per capita, and a comparable number of Internet connections at comparable speeds for comparable prices. However, that is more than bridging the gap. It is wiping out the gap.

Just bridging the gap requires much less, and can be done much sooner. The required bridge is at least one shared Internet connection and computer in every village and in every urban neighborhood, with complete wireless coverage of inhabited areas. Given the imminent appearance of WiMax, with a 30 mile service radius, this minimum infrastructure could be deployed in any country that is serious about having it in two to three years from the time that WiMax is established in the market.

We begin with any city or town that has landline telephone service, and set up WiMax there, along with neighborhood 802.11G hotspots. We then install further WiMax towers in a hexagonal grid to cover large metropolitan areas. For areas not reached by this deployment, put satellite Internet connections with WiMax distribution in the middle of towns, and build the grid out to villages outside the immediate WiMax footprint.

This can be done for a few hundred million dollars continentwide, including all of the communications equipment and one low-cost computer per village and neighborhood. We can then count on the appearance of home-grown talent for hardware installation and maintenance, system administration, and other necessary services. You won't be able to beat the children off with a stick.

Almost all of Latin America was connected by mobile phones in just a few years in the 1990s, when governments en masse deregulated and invited the operators in. The same thing would be happening in Africa but for overregulation, corruption, the occasional civil war, and a few other impediments. When African governments permit it, the Internet will spread faster than wildfire. And the faster it spreads, the more the people will be able to demand more.
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