Five years ago, expectations regarding new opportunities offered by the Internet to developing countries were high. Privatization of national telecoms and a glut of (international) bandwidth would drive the costs of Internet use down to almost zero. Mega satellite projects would solve all rural connectivity problems in developing countries by creating an ‘Internet-in-the-sky’, instantly lifting farmers from their economic isolation. Most of these optimistic predictions did not materialize because the underlying causes of the lack of rural connectivity have been difficult to tackle—they are of an institutional rather than technical nature. Many early efforts to bring the Internet to rural communities turned out to be expensive fiascos due to their ‘techno-push’ approach and insufficient focus on the actual information needs of farmers. However, the past five years do not represent ‘lost Internet time’. Valuable lessons have been learned, and many practical initiatives to improve rural connectivity have been taken up.
In this edition of ICT Update, Gaston Zongo takes stock of lessons learned in the many multipurpose community telecentre projects that have been implemented in Africa. David Leeming describes how People First Network has ingeniously applied high-frequency radio technology to overcome the seemingly insoluble connectivity problems of Pacific Island states. Tobias Eigen shows that email offers underutilized potential for rural areas that face poor connectivity conditions. Michiel Hegener focuses on recent, promising developments in satellite technology that could bring wireless connectivity within affordable reach of any development organization or small enterprise in rural areas. Mike Jensen looks into the future and outlines the rural connectivity challenges that lie ahead in the next five years. Ingo Mackintosh has compiled a comprehensive list of annotated web resources on promising projects and informative articles, representing the current state of rural connectivity in ACP countries.