Mike Jensen on Mon, 30 Mar 1998 17:27:21 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Policy Constraints

Constraints to the use of ICTs in Africa and other developing countries.

1.) The poor general level of telecommunication facilities (largely
caused by policy factors) is clearly the most critical inhibiting
factor, but there are also a number of other major constraints which
need to be addressed to achieve a more conducive environment for
information sharing:

2.) In particular, the low level of computerisation in many
organisations is one of the largest barriers to using new communications
technologies. The high price of equipment relative to the available
resources means that many organisations and departments involved in
information gathering and dissemination remain critically under
developed in their use of computers and networks. Many machines are
older 286 DOS based machines for which there are dwindling levels of
support and very few are networked, locally or on wide-area basis.

Modem donations and initial communications subsidies continue to be an
important method for development organisations to assist in building
electronic links, but many require more extensive assistance with
obtaining low cost computers and LAN facilities. Many local suppliers
are over-priced, which increases the incentive for importing equipment,
but obtaining local support often then remains an outstanding issue,
especially as there is usually a very limited in-house skills pool for
simple computer maintenance.

3.) The scarcity of computers and small base of skills also contributes
to the low level of institutionalisation of much of the networking
activity. Email and Internet access is usually limited to those with the
most resources, very often to people with international projects and
contacts. There may be no provisions for making the facility available
to the rest of the organisation, or to maintain the link, when the
operator leaves the institution or even goes on holiday.

4.) This is exarcerbated by the lack of guidelines in making services
more publically available and allocating the appropriate resources for
their effective use. Often, when providing wider access is attempted,
machines may be made available for general use by those without access
to a computer, but because of their lack of experience, they tie up the
facility for inordinate lengths of time hunting for keys while typing.
Typing and computer literacy courses have not received sufficient
attention as a requirement for those using these facilities, and in many
cases it may simply be more cost effective to employ additional staff
specifically for the task of keyboarding and printing or saving messages
to disk.

5.) In general, the limited technical skills for the establishment of
electronic network services and the lack of literacy in the effective
exploitation of network applications by users are clearly major
impediments to the spread of these technologies. While there have been a
few workshops and training courses organised in developing countries,
and a number of worldwide events attended by developing countries (such
as the ISOC Developing Countries Workshops), the numbers who have
received training is still very limited.

6.) Also, there have been no attempts to 'train the trainers in training
techniques'. Most trainers are simply co-opted from their normal roles
as networking technicians and very few have any background in apropriate
training methods. In addition, relevant training guides, documentation
and online tutorial software to support trainers has been insufficiently

7.) With so many independent networking development projects each
pursuing their own connectivity goals, it could be said that one of the
major constraints to efficient improvement of the environment for
sharing information is the lack of mechanisms to improve collaboration
and co-ordination between different projects. The overlap in the
multiplicity of projects in some countries and activities could be
reduced, with the available resources spread more equitably.

8.) Because many developing countries are part of a variety of regional
groupings and designations (for example Southern African countries are
members of SADC, COMESA, East African Co-operation, the Customs Union
and the BLS States), many regional network development initiatives tend
to overlap and/or lack a unified approach.

9.) Being of high-resale value, vandalism of the copper network
infrastructure is a general problem, but is being met with concerted
response by the PTTs to replace links at risk with optic fibre and
wireless connections. Because copper also requires more maintenance and
is also susceptible to lightning damage, growing attention is being
directed to the possibilities of wireless local loop systems. Some PTTs
are also experimenting with a real-time monitoring system to reduce the
incentives for theft by increasing the likelihood of the perpetrators
being apprehended.

10.) While import duties are a significant disincentive through their
contribution to increased prices, the growing trend toward taxation of
services may become a larger impediment to the effective use of computer

11). As mentioned earlier, the high price of Internet services in some
countries, and absence of local dial access outside almost all of the
capital cities severely limits access for the bulk of those with
computers. And as far as the rest of the population is concerned, so far
there have been few attempts to provide low-cost public access
facilities at drop-in centres for those without computers.

12.) Lack of Internet bandwidth linking ISPs and the countries is an
increasingly severe constraint to efficient information flows. This is
largely a result of the high cost of international leased lines which
results in ISPs crowding too many users into channels of limited
bandwidth. This is also greatly exacerbated by the very limited peering
between ISPs within the same country and also between countries. As a
result it can take many minutes to download a single web page (speeds of
20 characters per second are not uncommon), even from another ISP's site
across town - packets must often traverse at least two saturated
international links because the peering point is in another country.

13.) In some cases, because of saturated public telephone exchanges, the
difficulty in obtaining large numbers of local telephone lines to
maintain the desired ratio of 10-15 users per modem has limited the
accessibility of ISPs during periods of peak demand as all the available
dialin lines quickly become occupied. In the same fashion, users
requiring telephone lines to access the Internet have faced problems in
obtaining new telephone lines. As a result wireless options have been
promoted as an alternative, however the use of wireless options by end
users is constrained by a number of factors:

While cellular telephone services have been opened to the public in most
of the larger developing countries, much of the rest of the spectrum,
aside from radio and television broadcast frequencies, is usually
allocated to the military. Security is a major concern in many countries
and if armed forces are suspected of opposing the government, wireless
communications are likely to be severely restricted.

Nevertheless, unregulated use of the spectrum is quite common - because
of the lack of radio spectrum monitoring facilities and skills in most
developing countries (in some cases the regulatory agencies may exist
only on paper, with virtually no resources to enforce a country's
decisions about spectrum use) a number of organisations and individuals
have simply gone ahead and installed wireless technologies without
seeking permission.

Also, limited resources for spectrum allocation planning in many
countries means that some of the rules are not yet clearly defined
because many wireless technologies are so new. So national policy is
often only set when the technology is introduced by an influential
company, creating ad-hoc decisions which can cause problems later.

Of course it is possible to apply for a license to operate
communications equipment on the wavelengths designated for their use,
but since most of the telecom operators have a monopoly over
telecommunication services of all types, it is almost essential to
involve them in some way if the license application is to be successful.
The PTT would probably need to be convinced that it cannot reliably
provide the service required through its existing infrastructure, it
will not be used by third parties or cause interference, and it may also
be necessary to give the PTT ownership over equipment and to pay a
rental fee for access to the service.

Nevertheless, probably the biggest barrier to widespread use of wireless
technologies for accessing the Internet are the entrenched models used
by the PTTs in providing service. They generally plan for the provision
of the full range of telecom related services over all of their
infrastructure using sophisticated equipment that will carry multiple
voice/data/ISDN/TV channels etc. As a result they are generally
unwilling to consider small-scale approaches which only involve the
transport of data/Internet traffic, although if a social improvement
dimension is present in a project involving wireless technologies it may
be easier to obtain approval.

14.) The absence of a regional Network Information Centre (NIC) in
Africa and Latin America to provide Internet address space and guidance
for emerging ISPs (like the InterNic, RIPE and AsiaNIC) has reduced the
growth of new service providers who must spend considerable time
negotiating on a case-by-case basis with the InterNic and RIPE for
Internet addresses. In addition there are few unbiased sources of the
information new ISPs need to establish their local services and make
their international connections.

Priority unfulfilled needs and opportunities for improved Internet
development in developing countries.

Among the most important needs identified in many of the countries were
to: * Develop access points and demand in secondary cities and rural
areas. a) by training users in these areas and supporting them with
equipment and installation subsidies. b)by addressing the needs of those
without computers through the establishment of shared community
telecentres and promotion or support for wireless link alternatives
where necessary, c) promotion of improved interfaces for the
non-literate and less educated such as text to voice output, touch
screens, webTV, voice recognition, and improved machine translation
facilities for major languages, d) support for the use of special
equipment for the disabled, such as braille keyboards and voice cards
for the blind.  * Support increased collaboration and co-ordination of
international agencies. Aside from the obvious advantages in improving
the effectiveness of Internet related projects and in helping to
identify sources of support for local initiatives from existing regional
and global projects, this should also build strong local hosts by
encouraging international agencies to use local ISPs for non-critical
traffic instead of using their autonomous systems for all
communications.  * Support for technical training to induct new host
system operators and to upgrade the skills of the existing ones. Aside
from financial assistance for holding individidual training sessions and
national training workshops, identification and promotion of low cost
training centres in more advanced countries should also take place. Due
to the high travel and subsistence costs, regional training workshops
are perhaps a less appropriate option unless they are combined with an
International conference. A related need is to gather system
installation and maintenance documentation in Portuguese.  * Support the
establishment of local cross-sectoral national information
infrastructure (NII) working groups. This will require: synthesis and
circulation of the existing country studies and research in the
countries to provide more detailed information for determining strategy
and learning from existing experiences. Related to this is the need to
put in place on-going mechanisms for countries to share experiences.
There will be a particular need to provide NII working groups with
technical assistance for them to develop national Network Information
Centres (NICs), information infrastructure plans and inventories of
local resources. These groups could be related to any existing IT or ICT
working groups, but not be subsumed by them, unless there is some clear
committee structure that focuses on national network planning and
information exchange between all sectors.  * Support the establishment
of an African and Latin American centre for administration of IP
addresses, autonomous system numbers and continent wide directory
services, like the AsiaNIC, RIPE and the InterNIC.  * Promote
information on low cost alternatives for setting up Internet/Intranet
hosts to all sectors, but especially to SMME's interested in setting up
public access Internet drop-in centres and to computer systems
suppliers. This would aim to counter the barriers caused by the general
perception of high costs, and include information on development of
basic business plans or cost recovery methods for different scales of
service.  * Provide technical assistance to the telecom operators for
improvement of the bandwidth of local loop infrastructure - through
promotion of innovative methods for upgrading existing copper circuits
from analogue to digital (such as ADSL) and using wireless links where
necessary.  * Identify and promote sources of low cost and second hand
computer hardware and software. Also to provide training to maintain the
equipment and encourage national governments to reduce import duties on
ICT equipment.  * Identify sources of soft finance for local Internet
based business startups and international partners willing to invest in
joint ventures.  * Provide technical assistance to ISPs to improve their
reliability and quality of service by: a) implementing redundant links
and dialup backup systems, b) by encouraging the use of methods to
reduce congestion of international links through installation of local
peering points, caching servers and mirror sites (peering points carry
traffic between ISPs, caching servers and mirror sites hold local copies
of information repositories originating in North America or Europe) c)
promoting the use of digital satellite data-broadcasting to reduce
congestion on leased line circuits and even to provide high bandwidth
data services to end users in KU band footprint areas, d) promoting the
new developments in web/http server protocols to deal with email-only
access, low bandwidth and/or wireless connections - e.g. HTTP-NG, Agora
email to web gateways etc. In addition, support could be provided for
analysis of traffic patterns to assist in network topology planning,
bandwidth provisioning and pricing mechanisms to spread usage more
evenly over the day, and also for administrative and business skills
upgrading for small service providers.  * Assist with the evaluation of
the alternative proposals for Internet services provided by the private
sector in the tenders of public bodies and with obtaining preferential
treatment for public sector users from ISPs, and in Intelsat's
allocation of satellite channels for education.  * Provide technical
assistance to national, provincial and municipal governments to
implement Intranets and to move their existing data from standalone
systems to open networked systems.  * Encourage the development of
sub-regional links in general, and particularly between culturally or
economically connected neighbouring countries.  * Encouragement for the
establishment of content building service centres (possibly attached to
ISPs) which can provide web site development and training, advice with
establishing organisational web servers for small and medium sized
organisations and other related content development areas such as
audio/video servers and CD ROM mastering facilities and low cost systems
for the rendering of cultural artifacts for placement in web museums.  *
Support for developing country participation in the ongoing process of
development of international intellectual property protection policies,
information law, policing and the technical mechanisms for ensuring
their adherence.  * Sensitisation of more 'conservative' decision makers
to the possibilities for using the Internet.  * Assistance to
organisations with legacy LAN systems (eg Lantastic and IPX), and legacy
WAN systems (eg Zoomit, Compuserve, Lotus Notes) to move to open
Internet/Intranet based facilities. Many of these systems do not have
simple means of transmitting binary file attachments, do not reply
correctly to errors from mailing lists, use inefficient transmission
protocols and are generally more expensive to operate and maintain.  *
Identification and promotion of modem brands which operate best on low
quality telephone lines susceptible to lightning.
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