Phil Gyford


Saturday 21 August 2004

PreviousIndexNext Euro Foo Camp: Tomas Krag & John Naughton - Digital Divide

A small group for this one…

John Naughton: Ndiyo — the Swahili word for yes. (Most Swahili words were available as domain names.) A not-for-profit venture based in Cambridge, UK, trying to make technology affordable, by rethinking how computer networking. How do we do open source hardware?

Barriers to access… expensive, wasteful, environmenntally-harmful. If you buy a PC in the UK, it’s about £800, around 2/5 is the hardware cost, the rest is Windows and MS Office [I’m estimating from a graph on the screen]. OEM costs: $60 Win XP Home, $80 Win XP Pro.

Originally PCs weren’t designed to connect with things and we’ve kind of retrofitted them. So how would we rethink a network machine from scratch? Ultra-thin clients, everything happens on the server, all open source.

Slideshow showing the hardware — the client looks the size of an ADSL modem/router, the server’s like a set-top box. It needs to be wired, not wireless, to provide the snappiness of the client-server — it must appear as quick as a desktop. A problem of latency.

Someone: Brazilians use the phrase “digital inclusion”, not “digital divide”.

A plumbing analogy: no one owns how plumbing works, but people can still make money out of plumbing.

Someone: if you just give something a computer, they have nothing. If they just have software they need nothing. They need content in their language at their learning level. If you only attend to one layer you’re not helping digital inclusion.

The hardware basically does VNC. Once it is stable they’ll release the protocols that would enable people to create the hardware to do it. They’ve spun off a company to make hardware. Intention: get down to a single chip that goes in the back of a flat panel display. Cost then would be about $7 for the chip. Current cost: about $150.

In disaster zones, aid agencies set up information centres. Engineers Without Borders speciailse in this — costs a lot of money, a lot of equipment.

You’re not going to change the world by charitable ventures. You need to enable the people who are going to use the technology to make money.

Sysadmin overhead is huge with current computers — in schools you’ll often find 1/5(ish) of computers are out of action.

Tomas: Tactical Technology Collective.

You can build wireless ISPs up gradually, unlike traditional ISPs. Mesh networks. Satellife and WideRay in Uganda. DakNet and First Mile Solutions in Cambodia, Djurslands net, SchoolNet in Namibia, IDN and the Sava. Rebel Net / The Peoples network in Indonesia.

It is not a digital divide. It’s poverty; a wealth divide.

He found that in one/some place in Africa, that people thought Microsoft software is free, open source is expensive — they can copy MS stuff (no/ignored copyright) but have to download open source software.

Trying to lower the cost of connectivity to the point where local people can build it.

In Bangladesh people spend 7-8% of their income on communication. In the west it’s often less than 1%. (Survey by Grameen in relation to their phones?)


Tomas and John,

Thank you very much for coming up with disruptive technologies to help us in Africa.

Yes, some people might argue that Africa does need food, medication... but most importantly Africa and all the digital have nots of this world need technology that will help improve their standards of living, create wealth, join them to the rest of humanity.

The reason why we are digitillay excluded is not that we are illeterate, it is because the technology that is being sold in our countries is dennominated in dollars, and most of us survive on less than USD1 a day. Further more the greater part of revenues generated from the sale of technology in our countries is expatriated back to the digital have, leaving us the digital have nots more poor than before.

I hope Ndiyo and wire.less will go a long way in bridging the digital divide (digital inclusion)

We have a vision of digitally bridged Zimabwe, and I strongly think that your experience and technologies will help us realise our dream.

Love R

Posted by Ronald Munjoma on 30 August 2005, 3:11 pm | Link

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