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Net access for the poor...

By Zeram in Internet
Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 05:17:21 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

I just saw this article at CNet about HP starting a program to bring the internet to the rural areas of developing contries. The story was reported by Bloomberg but I can't find anything about it on HP's website.

HP plans to run this program in Africa, China, South America and India.

So I got to thinking about the idea. Is the internet really something that causes an "imbalance"? Not to slip into the debates over wether the content on the web is worth while, or the language debates, but is this a good idea? Can you run before you walk?

Ok, the idea here is, is this what developing countries need? How much impact can the internet have in areas where literacy is low, or where people worry about governmental over throw? Plus what is HP's real motive? It seems like #1 a good marketing ploy, and #2 a way to perhaps increase sales with people who think HP is doing a good deed and with people who have a questionable need for computers in the first place.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a fundamentally bad idea. However I do question it's usefulness and the motives behind it. HP has always been a pretty good company and certainly never at the level of IBM or M$.

I'm really interested to see what happens with this, and wether it has any noticeable effects. I know this has very little meat to it, but it's a discussion peice!


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Rural Net access?
o A good idea, it'll help developing countries grow! 15%
o A good idea, but it wouln't do much. 22%
o A bad idea, why waste the money till a country is fully ready? 8%
o A bad idea because there is more too it than giveing poor people PC's. 17%
o There are countries other than America with Net access? 15%
o Die capitilist pigs, DIE! 20%

Votes: 45
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o article
o Bloomberg
o HP's
o Also by Zeram

Display: Sort:
Net access for the poor... | 18 comments (13 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
(drumroll please) (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by Defect on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 02:21:52 PM EST

And now for my topical comment :)

I really think people are overstating the wonders of the internet.

One thing i didn't notice in reading the article, or any articles like this, is whether or not the "poor" or "disadvantaged" communities are /asking/ for this kind of support. As great as i think the internet is, i still think there are many people who don't need it, and some who'd benefit by not having it interfere with their lives.

but hey, what do i know, i'm not poor, and i'm connected to the internet, maybe it /is/ more than a coincidence.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
I guess I'll abstain (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by maynard on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 02:22:47 PM EST

This is a really important topic, but I wish the author would have run the contribution (and poll items) through a spell checker and done a google search on the issue before posting.

There are good reasons to suspect whether third world nations would benefit from Internet access before basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and power utilities come online. Sure, it may make sense in a real city such as Kinshasa, but most of Africa is serious boonies with little more than antelope, lions, and rhinos as a customer base speckled by a village here and there.

Those villagers don't need a cablemodem (taken to an extreme), they need power, proper health care, and a road infrastructure. Dealing with the AIDS epidemic, starvation, and political strife seems more relevant. That said, I've often wondered if setting up a UUCP net and a 386 w/dumb terminals in those villages with at least basic utilities and a single telephone line might be of benefit.


Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.

Re: AIDS epidemic (somewhat offtopic) (none / 0) (#8)
by dblslash on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 02:42:54 PM EST

From my (greatly limited) understanding, the main issue with AIDS in Africa is an educational one. There are still people who maintain that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, even here in the US. Add into that that women have absolutely no rights in much of rural Africa (ie, controlling who their husbands engage in extra-marital affairs with, or demanding that condoms be used), and you have a very large epidemic which could be easily controlled through the dispersion of information. The 'net is a great way to do that.

[ Parent ]
Hold on one second.... (2.00 / 3) (#7)
by Quark on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 02:36:00 PM EST

Not all of the poor people are located in "poor" countries. Aside from the fact that "poor" is a somewhat subjective term, it is the differences in Internet knowledge within a certain region that will make the difference. If we take, for instance, a hypotethical country of say, 50.000.000 people that is an impressive GNP etc, the works. A first world country. Within that country, the people that are adept at using the internet to obtain information will have a definitive advantage over their "digibetic" fellow countrymen in obtaining jobs and all other sorts of things.

In countries such as those that can be found in Africa, where people hardly have electricity, the Internet would be a little over the top. One of the possible results might be that the higher educated will make their way to Europe and America leaving an even higher poverty rate behind.

So much bandwidth, so little time...
Foreign Countries? (2.00 / 3) (#9)
by mandomania on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 02:51:07 PM EST

I think if HP really wants to do something good, maybe they should look a little closer to home before looking abroad. There are thousands of kids here in our inner-cities that would benefit from free computers and internet access.

How are they going to explain a computer to people who don't even know where their next meal is coming from?

The Code is Sound.
I don't know about the kids in your neighborhood (2.50 / 2) (#13)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 04:11:19 PM EST

In the US where I live anyone can walk off the street and use broadband internet for free in the public library.

Aside from that, the internet is an incredible boon in aiding communications. Many (not all) of the logistics problems that plague food distribution can be partially solved by means of the internet. I won't even start on the boon to minority political opinions that are strenghtened by the ability to use the internet. Think Chiapas.

Not to mention that HP is not solely an American company. They have assets and stockholders all over the globe.

[ Parent ]

Why internet is important (1.50 / 2) (#11)
by Nafai on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 02:53:54 PM EST

Off the top of my head, I see a few reasons why internet access is valuable to developing nations.
  • Makes poor countries more visible to the people in richer countries, which will eventually help to pull (equalize) them out of poverty.
  • Gives poor countries an inexpensive way to educate their people. The internet give people the ability to learn just about anything and gives the general populace a reason to push towards literacy.
  • These poor countries undoubtably have intelligent people that, if given the chance, could provide real benefit to our world.
I disagree with those who think that hooking poor nations up to the internet is not a good idea. This view is that internet will not change the lack of food, clothing, medicine, etc is a bit off. IMHO, I think internet can and will change these 3rd world nations dramatically.

I am *not* saying that we should set up these countries with internet access instead of aiding them with food & medicine. I *am* saying that with internet access, a society will progress much more quickly into prosperity than they otherwise would.

In other words, a communication infrastructure (like the internet) will more effectively empower impoverished nations than just sending them food and humanitarian aid.

Right on! (none / 0) (#12)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 04:06:57 PM EST

I disagree with those who think that hooking poor nations up to the internet is not a good idea. This view is that internet will not change the lack of food, clothing, medicine, etc is a bit off.

You said it! Those poor folks won't be without food for long once they can order from peapod.com!

[ Parent ]

Re: Right on! (none / 0) (#14)
by Nafai on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 04:30:13 PM EST

Lee, your comment is rather sarcastic. You are presuming that the internet is nothing but a big shopping mall, absolutely useless except if you have lots of money and a credit card. Spending and making money is the ONLY purpose for the internet, right?

Wrong, the internet is much more a tool for open communication and exchange of information than it is a means to shop for goods. My point was that once a communication infrastructure grows between these people, they will tend to pull themselves out of their lowly state. The internet is already equalizing the balance of power in the world towards the individual. This will do nothing but help poor nations.

[ Parent ]

my point was sarcastic (none / 0) (#18)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 09:42:09 PM EST

Lee, your comment is rather sarcastic.

Yep, and unapologetically so. I was pretty sure it would also be misconstrued, which apparently it was. Ce'st la vie. I'm sorry if I offended. I'm not sorry for the post. I still think it quite funny provided its read in the manner it was intended. That is the problem with sarcasm, its all to easily misread.

My real view lies closer to what you said quite eloquently:

the internet is much more a tool for open communication and exchange of information than it is a means to shop for goods

I would temper the view of open exchange of ideas with the cynical outlook that not all views are worth exchanging and as the internet is increasingly commercialize, there will be less information worth exchanging or possibly even capable of being exchanged. That, however, is a different discussion altogether.

[ Parent ]

The Net is a world library (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by Eloquence on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 04:50:06 PM EST

Education is perhaps the most important long term investment we can make in third world economies. Education it what creates stability, democracy and science. The improvement of school systems is one important first step. However, access to the Net is another very important step.

Consider: The Net is already a huge library - try Google on subjects such as biology, medicine (the whole MEDLINE database is online, some medical journals are, and selected articles have been scanned), transportation and logistics, physics, practical tool building .. you will rarely be disappointed. And it's growing.

You see, the Net is what we make of it. Most of us have our basic needs fulfilled so we don't usually need access to certain information and hang around on sites like K5 instead ;), however, in other parts of the world, the situation is much worse. Allowing the people to educate themselves is of utmost importance.

Of course, the net is mostly worthless without literacy. It may be possible to develop an interactive reading course with Java, but it would probably require broadband (and, unless you make it a combined English course, be mostly nation-specific). So it is true that on the educational side, we should concentrate on literacy first before making stuff to read accessible.
Copyright law is bad: infoAnarchy Pleasure is good: Origins of Violence
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Vanishing customer service and mindless authority (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by TuxNugget on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 06:21:32 PM EST

Singapore and Hong Kong are both moving more and more of government processes and paperwork to cyberspace. These are rich regions, not poor ones. The rest of asia is certainly looking to these two regions for guidance.

Although the internet is good at collecting forms, checking math, and making sure they conform to some rules, I worry about two other implications as the internet expands into poorer nations:

  1. The vanishing customer service aspect -- that you should RTFM for filling out your taxes online rather than bug a person about some detail of the rules. As time goes on I am sure it will get harder and harder to reach a human via these systems.
  2. Authoritarianism - the 'rule of law' is not sufficient to keep people from finding some loophole to play games with the governments servers. The most insidious uses of security weakpoints will not be people against their government, but rather people 'trolling' government and using flaws in the system against each other. Imagine if you are in business, and you submit a false tax return for a competitor showing that they made some rediculous amount of money. In meatspace, this requires not only information (tax id#, address, etc.) but also signatures which can later be shown to have been falsified (given a system of 'fair' courts, which in many of the poorer countries is also questionable). In cyberspace, there are no signatures, just information that can be stolen or faked either online or via other means (ahem - an RSA key pair, or other 'secure' electronic signature, is just information that can be stolen via other means).

    Similarly, suppose someone fakes your email address (trivial, today) and sends nastygrams to government officials or starts a pro-democracy 'newsletter' with your email address as headquarters for the 'movement'. The potential for the internet as a tool of oppression or commerce-related reprisal is quite large.

Poor countries are poor for various reasons. Sometimes it is lack of resources, but often it is because of how they are governed. Given the tendencies of these regimes, will moving more of these societies to the internet really be an improvement?

Problems and Possibilities (none / 0) (#17)
by weathervane on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 08:24:16 PM EST

I have some mixed feelings about this issue.

Literacy is a serious issue. Most poor people in poor countries are illiterate. But the computers and interent connections that would likely be available for this sort of program are probably not going to handle multimedia well. Without literacy (let's face it, without English), the net is going to have a hard time making an impact.

Plus computers need infrastructure. Electricity. Tech Support. Dry cool places to sit. These don't sound like such a hurdle here, but there, these things are in short supply.

And in the places where these things already exist, there is already internet access. Even in Africa.

Still, I can think of things that would be useful for small rural communities with adequate connections. My dream module would be a server with a few terminals linked to solar generators, a fuel cell, and a bidirectional satellite connection. They would probably have to be environmentally sealed and ready to be maintained remotely.

Voice mail is the most obvious application. Being able to talk to anyone anywhere without paying exorbitant rates would make a difference.

Regional marketplaces. Assuming a Mojo-like e-currency, you could create a system to allow buying and selling of used items, food supplies, art works and other similar things. Traders in the rest of the world could even get involved, trading artworks for equipment and the like. This would help get around one of the key problems in poor countries, which is the lack of a stable currency.

Online Communities? Again, I think voice based is the only reasonable solution to reach a maximum number of people.

What other applications would be realistic and useful for poor illiterate people in rural agricultural economies?

Net access for the poor... | 18 comments (13 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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