The time has come to reflect on the impact of ICT-based initiatives on rural women’s participation in the economy. Unfortunately, gender disaggregated statistical data and well-analysed and documented case studies are still rare. Nevertheless by studying what material is there, some interesting lessons can be learnt that practitioners and donors should take to heart.
It is now widely acknowledged that a liberalised market fully in compliance with their own rigid prescriptions can fail in certain circumstances, one of which is in delivering network access to low-income rural areas.
There is general agreement on the main obstacle: dispersed populations and low levels of income translate into higher costs and reduced per-customer returns, rendering conventional approaches economically unattractive, whether for market-driven or incumbent providers. While pooling users in the form of telecentres and cybercafes can enhance usage levels, extending the reach of the network remains the key challenge.
An alternative approach for rural ICT access is the community ownership model that combines community-owned Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) enterprises with the new wave of wireless and related technologies. This approach can greatly reduce costs and maximize the value-added of community resources, enabling the emergence of a new business model that is both more economically sustainable and more empowering than anything else available. Furthermore, the impact on development is greater as local needs are addressed more effectively, while they act as a community catalyst and as a support for a range of other development activities.
Certain advantages of a community-ownership model have long been demonstrated in infrastructure projects, in both developed and developing countries. In poorer countries, local community control and participation is widely recognised as being critical to the success of ICT projects such as telecentres and application development.
On the other hand, technological innovations, especially wireless technology, considerably reinforce the potential of community owned enterprises to help solve the rural access issue.
This is due to their low level of initial investment and scalability, their relatively simple technical deployment, their low-cost and open standards, and their adaptability to voice and data requirements. Furthermore, open source software is now developed for full-scale wireless networks.
The viability of the community ownership approach, although, depends on two pressing needs: access to finance and an enabling environment at national and local level. These are essential to ensure long-term sustainability from the community itself.
Regulatory obstacles have long been the major barrier to progress in many areas of ICT development. Limitations of one-size-fits-all liberalization of the sector, and the failure of one-operator-does-all schema is leading the debate at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) beyond binary oppositions and into new and less dogmatic territory.
Based a the document prepared by Seán Ó Siochrú for “WSIS Papers”: “Community ownership of ICTs: New possibilities for poor communities”
An innovative combination of community-driven enterprises and the new wave of wireless and related technologies may have the potential to extend networks and offer new services to poor communities and to empower them to develop solutions that are more focused on their development needs.
This paper examines a solution that combines a centuries old institutional form with the latest technological innovations. A combination of community-owned ICT enterprises and the new wave of wireless and related technologies together may offer significant potential to extend networks and offer new services to poor communities in rural areas. PDF format.
This research topic examines alternative models of network ownership and management, with a particular focus on local ownership of networks in rural communities. It looks at a variety of ownership and control models, including cooperatives, SMEs, municipal government ownership, public-private partnerships and scenarios in which different entities own different parts of the network. April 2005.
The aim of this report was to select projects and initiatives that are representative of "local appropriation" (i.e. community-driven, and therefore, with a strong component of community participation and ownership). This criterion had to be revisited along the way since most of the projects tend to have some degree of support (technical and/or funding) from national and international development organizations. June 2001.
Questions discussed concerned the different types of ownership that need to be developed, and how IICD, and organisations like it, can promote and foster high levels of local ownership. This brief reports from these discussions, sharing the cases presented during the workshop. Available for download in word and PDF format.
The Nepal Wireless Networking Project, since 2002, has been working to bridge the digital divide in Nepal by extending ICT access to rural areas through wireless technology. This paper concludes that, regardless, the project successfully overcame the obstacles and set up a pilot wireless network in an area where no business dared o go and brought the information technology for the benefit of the mountain population. September 2006.
This book explores some new challenges, such as how to recover knowledge that was becoming lost, adapt it to current conditions and complement it with new knowledge. The authors combine reflections with concrete experiences and show how new information and communications technologies can foster effective knowledge sharing. May 2007.
In Africa and elsewhere a myriad of activities have sprung up over the years, trying to get especially rural women connected through the provision of access and by building ICT savviness. With the establishment of rural community information centres combined with ICT training especially geared towards women it was hoped that these women would benefit from the economic and social opportunities ICTs offer.
Although technological innovations, such as cellular telephones and wireless broadband access, are playing an important role in building ICT levels globally, strong inequality still remains. The rapid growth of ICTs in developing countries is partly a result of very low initial access, and therefore in absolute terms developing countries are still well behind the developed world in access to ICTs.
In Indian context, the performance of agriculture basically means the performance of small holder farming. The limiting factors of farmers in maximising their farm incomes are access to technology, government endeavour, resources, markets, institutions and services. As farming is becoming highly knowledge intensive, commercialised, competitive and globalised against traditional resource based approach, the need to adopt right means to bring in all players of agribusiness, cannot be over emphasised.
A participatory development project undertaken in Pondicherry, Southern India, financed by the IDRC, aimed to construct a hybrid wired and wireless network, including PCs and telephones in ten villages. The participation of the local community contributed to the experiment's success.
This report is the result of a research of an ICT project in rural Tamil Nadu, India. It argues that "for successful community networking, the design and implementation of projects should be driven by the specific needs of communities". PDF format.
A step by step guide on how to implement community based telecentres in an African environment complete with examples of telecentre infrastructure, baseline questionnaires, business plans, etc. PDF format.
This report by the Department for International Development (DFID) offers 12 detailed case studies of activities that sought to benefit the poor and had an ICT component. The cases that showed better results in terms of sustainability where community owned.
With the use of wireless technology and open source software this project aims to provide farmers in Ban Phon Kam and nearby villages in Laos with communicatoin tools that would bring them to business opportunities and enhanced education. The communication system is owned by the villages, charging small fees to users for running costs, replacement costs, and support costs.
This article documents the path and experiences in facilitating a community movement to build its own infrastructure. Currently, there are more than 5000 outdoor WiFi installations in Indonesia, at the rate of 200-300 new outdoor WiFi nodes installations a month. A shift is occurring from old fashion community tele-centers and cybercafes towards wide area neighbourhood networks. PDF format.
Rural ICT requires special efforts to create appropiate models for those who can neither afford the internet access nor have the language capacity to understand teh content. The internet project at Kothmale was intiated in 1998 by UNESCO in partenrship with a series of Sri Lankan and inernational agencies-specifically to address the digital divide by piloting a model for rural ICT application. PDF format.
Good communication services and universal access are necessary for a higher standard of living and economic growth. However the high cost of equipment may not be affordable to some developing nations, especially in rural areas which have a much lower subscriber density, or areas with geographic challenges such as large bodies of water, jungles, mountainous terrain etc. This report reviews the a pilot project to use wireless and VoIP technologies to deliver communication services to rural areas in Bhutan, a small Himalayan Kingdom in 2002.
This feasibility study looks at the opportunities for micro-scale rural telephone operators who use Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication technology to provide rural, low income areas with communications services. Although the study uses Tanzania for evaluation purposes, the authors propose that these findings are applicable to most rural, low-income areas. PDF format.
New and old technologies for rural and community access
The promises of wireless Internet technologies have generated much interest on the part of the international-development community. While in developed nations these technologies have primarily been associated with mobility applications and local area networking in homes and offices, their most intriguing application in developing nations is the deployment of low-cost broadband Internet infrastructure and last-mile distribution.
Open Spectrum International (OSInt) was launched in the summer of 2004 by the Czech civic foundation Mista v Srdce ("Places in the Heart"). OSInt hopes to promote international awareness of Open Spectrum as a practical and desirable option, especially in emerging democracies and developing countries. The "good reading" section provides information resources on spectrum management, legal/civil rights aspects, the open spectrum movement, wireless communities and technology.
It is now time to undertake a Grand Challenge project: providing Internet connectivity for every village in every developing nation. Doing so would require perhaps a decade and billions of dollars for design and planning, procurement, installation and operation. Critics object that such a project would not be worth the effort and investment. This article considers nine objections to such an undertaking. (August 2004)
A variety of fairly straightforward rural ICT interventions may have greater impact on agricultural production and post-harvest activities then those that are strictly focused on agriculture. This is especially true of ICT interventions focused on extension of various financial services, provision of basic telephone access, and improved multi- stakeholder dialogue and louder rural/agricultural voices in the national policy and programme context. The author discusses how can agricultural extension best harness ICTs to improve rural livelihoods in developing countries. He concludes that if extensionists equip themselves with analysis and arguments to bolster the case for agricultural extension playing a broader role in helping harness ICTs, they will be better able to harness information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve rural livelihoods. 2006.
Access, empowerment and individual champions are all essential ingredients for creating a local environment in which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can contribute to rural livelihoods. September 2007.
Aimed at a policy audience, a study looks at the use of various communications technologies in villages in Gujarat, Mozambique and Tanzania. It reveals that in all three research countries telephones are the preferred means of communications for emergencies and family networking; mass media are the preferred ICTs for general information such as news and weather and face-to-face communications is overwhelmingly the main method of communications for specific information in all three countries, including information about education, farming, business and government services.
This brief from Panos London looks at different applications of wireless technology, and its comparative advantage in making communication available to all. It suggests what governments could do to encourage its wider use in everyday life. PDF format.
WiLAC is an information portal about Wireless technologies for Development designed to support those individuals, organizations, municipalities and businesses which are currently implementing community wireless connectivity projects, or those just about to start. Throughout Latin American and the Caribbean the WiLAC portal promotes information about design, implementation, development, replication, and use of the necessary components for a successful community wireless project that serves the community. PDF format.
This site is part of the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Sustainable Development Department. It aims to encourage ICT development in rural areas, as well as technical advice and training in communication skills. Resources on the different local projects are available in other languages.
The cases presented in this book are among the first examples of the convergence of radio and new ICTs for development. In this convergence, radio promises to take on even greater significance and value, especially for remote rural areas.
This paper presents and explores a range of possibly appropriate technologies which can aid local Internet diffusion. These technologies are either being developed in specialized research labs and universities, already used on a small scale within the developing world, or available in retail markets in developed countries where their applicability to the
developing world is overlooked. The paper concludes that the primary stumbling block to the provision of these technologies to developing countries stems from market failure. PDF format.
This paper argues that a new generation of wireless technologies can significantly alleviate the constraints that limit Internet connectivity in Latin America to the wealthy, urbanized areas. However, for this potential to be realized, a number of obstacles need to be overcome. The first part of the paper provides a brief overview of the new breed of wireless networking technologies that are fundamentally changing the cost structure of Internet deployment - in particular the family of wireless standards known as Wi-Fi. The second part discusses the implications of these changes for strategies to promote Internet diffusion in rural Latin America, and more generally to alleviate the endemic poverty that characterize these regions. PDF format.
As radio technology and public policies evolve, an increasing amount of spectrum is being set aside for transmission use without licence. This paper argues that this unlicensed spectrum, and low-cost wireless technologies that operate in these bands, is of particular value in the developing world, where it has the potential to substantially impact accessibility and availability of information and telecommunication services. PDF format.
The APC’s "Community Wireless Connectivity" project is looking to connect unconnected communities by skilling them to build their own wireless networks. The project covers the development of training materials and workshops that will be localised for different environmental, regulatory, language and climatic conditions. Four regional workshops in Africa will be held in 2005.
APC, Bellanet, IICD, IISD, INASP and OneWorld have joined forces to create ItrainOnline, a technology resource centre for people who want to learn how to use the Internet effectively for social justice and sustainable development. Includes information on Free and Open Source Software and wireless applications.
Today, the concept of a "globally networked village" is euphemistic, as the information super highway primarily connects cities, excluding towns and villages from its network. The author studies the evolution of innovative communication technologies and how they may be incorporated into the economic developmental process.
CUWiN has been developing an open source, turnkey wireless networking solution that exceeds the functionality of many proprietary systems. CUWiN's vision is ubiquitous, extremely high-speed, low-cost networking for every community and constituency.
European wireless and open-source specialists promote the benefits of the wireless technology to developing countries. Their "wireless roadshow" is an attempt to empower non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the developing world to own, operate and grow their own Internet infrastructure using wireless technology such as mesh networking. The aim is to allow remote communities in developing countries without traditional telecoms infrastructure to communicate more effectively.
On-line community for information technology professionals interested in mobile computing and communications. The site offers technical information, news, industry coverage, and commentary from the wireless developers' community. The site features quality articles and a solid library collection of tutorials and training materials on wireless.
Bridges.org is currently conducting a comparison study of open source and proprietary software. The study aims to objectively examine the ground level realities and implications of both options in an African context, to inform decision-making and optimise community access to ICT. The study will produce unbiased and substantive background information, analysis of the key factors that affect choices, and practical guidance for decision-makers about the two software options.
In a special column for CNET, the UN Secretary General says that bridging the digital divide requires the active involvement of tech decision makers in a global IT initiative. "We need to think of ways to bring wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) applications to the developing world, so as to make use of unlicensed radio spectrum to deliver cheap and fast Internet access", says Annan.
A parallel event organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) discussed the role of ICTs in fighting rural poverty. Presentations are available for download in PDF format in english, french, spanish and arabic.
In its declaration to the first phase of WSIS, civil society organizations included a statement about development of sustainable and community-based ICT solutions: "It is important to support community-based communications using both traditional and new media and communication technologies. There is a need for the development and nurturing of the discipline of community informatics, which focuses on the particular characteristics and needs of communities, in relation to design, development, deployment, and operation
of ICTs, as well as local content production." (pdf format)
Among other recommendations the plan of action states that it is essential to "empower local communities, especially those in rural and underserved areas, in ICT use and promote the production of useful and socially meaningful content for the benefit of all". See especially points: 10 and 21.