Re: Internet for sparsely populated remote areas

From: Barbara Lamar (
Date: Mon Oct 02 2000 - 11:16:01 MDT

A few months ago we discussed the desirability of providing Internet
access for rural undeveloped areas. The following article describes the
experience in South Africa.

Author: Ronel Smith is the Manager of Connectivity Business at e-tek
(Pty) Ltd, the commercialization vehicle of CSIR Information and
Communication Technology. The aim of this group is to be a "vibrant
hothouse for new digital start-up businesses". Ms. Smith has ten years of
experience in IT and telecommunications with a specific interest in
broadband communications. She has been involved in projects ranging from
the design and implementation of a wireless rural network to a large ATM
network at one of South Africa's largest universities.

The South African Government has launched a drive to provide Telecentres
to communities and Internet access to schools. The Telecentres are
normally centrally located with respect to clusters of schools and other
community services. In the context of this drive, a Telecentre was
established in Manguzi, a remote town in the KwaZulu Natal province in
South Africa. The surrounding schools did not benefit from this centre
due to the inappropriate distance between the schools and Telecentre. In
addition, the schools could not be connected to Internet directly due to
the absence of telephones. In this case study we will show that existing
"off-the-shelf" technologies were not applicable to the specific
situation and hence there was a need for a new solution.

There are unusual challenges in providing Internet connectivity to a
"sparsely" populated rural community separated by vast distances from
nearest urban development. This case study details how we combined
existing Internet access technologies to overcome various obstacles such
as the lack of existing telecommunications infrastructure, remoteness of
area, as well as political and economic issues. Furthermore the solution
implemented had to be cheap, suited to the specific regulatory and
geographic environment, robust and suitable for a particular application,
namely Web browsing and e-mail.

We used the asymmetric nature of the data requirements of the specific
applications to our advantage, using radio links and satellite broadcast
technology to provide the required connectivity. We will discuss the
expected merits of the new solution and its implementation. We will also
present our practical findings and discuss how it compared to our

Similar needs and situations exist in other parts of the world,
especially those that have a lack of telecommunications infrastructure,
very remote rural areas that are very sparsely populated. We hope that
the outputs of this paper can contribute to the technology decisions of
people responsible for rolling out Internet infrastructure in similar

Excerpt :

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome during this project was not
technological in nature, but related to community support and the
politics surrounding access provision. In South Africa, rural tribal
authority politics combined with our particular legislation and
historical inequalities in access provision makes for an interesting and
risky mix. It is important to introduce technology with the full buy-in
and understanding of the community. Everybody concerned should be
realistic about what can and cannot be achieved with the introduction of
ICT; it is not an instant cure all ills.
Technical support for this project was a major challenge. Because of the
remoteness of Manguzi (minimum 8 hours by car, or 2 hours by airplane) it
was not possible to "jump in the car" and go to the site when something
went wrong. The project had to be planned in the finest detail and
thoroughly tested before being rolled out at Manguzi. Furthermore it is
important to have a person on site that is able to do at least first line
support. The solution (hardware and software configuration) must be
extremely robust and able to stand up to the rigors of rural life.
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