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From Shimon Teller:

December 1st, 2008

GVAN community – the equal access opportunity
The purpose of this document is to discuss the global connectivity aspects and come out with practical suggestions, especially for the third world.

The challenge -
In order to provide VA services, the VA has to be connected to the global Internet backbone. The technology today is mature, enabling such connection to reach every site on the globe – via wire line (fiber/copper), wireless (Wi Fi, WiMax, microwave links, satellite etc.) or any hybrid combination thereof. Such connectivity is implemented on a commercial basis at market prices. No one will establish a global private net just for the GVAN community – it’s very costly and unjustified. Consequently, the GVAN community will have to rely on the local infrastructure and market forces.

Furthermore, in certain countries – the last mile connection might be extremely expensive. In such cases, the sites with connectivity will be limited to privileged entities – universities, corporations, cyber cafés, government and municipal entities etc. Residences might be part of the “underserved”. Add to this some power problems/scarcity in rural sites, lack of serviceable PC (maintainability is problematic in rural sites) and we’ll find a significant number of potential VA detached from the Internet pipe.

PC s are less problematic. There are tens of millions of heavy duty desktops (old but functioning) phasing out from the corporate sector (replaced by new versions), there are plenty of organizations willing to donate those PC s rather than throwing it. Of course, there is a cost of packing and shipping, maybe refurbishment etc., but that part is minor. Also SW packages can be offered at bargain prices. The recurring cost of connectivity and ongoing support is still the main cost factor.

The bottom line – millions of potential VA are deprived from the business opportunity due to high connectivity cost on one hand and inappropriate infrastructure at home from the other hand. How to provide them with an equal access opportunity? – this is the challenge we face.

Possible solutions
Most of the people do not need the connectivity on 24*7 basis. We are not talking on businessmen travelling and looking for real time connectivity for mails, browsing etc. We refer to women who are busy most of the day but may allocate time to VA activities as the case may be. The proposed solution is based on two legs –

Leg no 1 – the Disk On Key (DOK, USB type) - the eBag
While many can’t afford to buy a PC and pay monthly fees for connectivity, they can afford a USB, only a few bucks for 2 GB DOK. It’s robust, compact, light weight and can be carried around the neck like a necklace. If there is a PC at home, they can work off line, then take the DOK, go to a regional place (see next paragraph, leg no 2) and work on line. Those w/o PC /electricity at home will work only in the regional place. The DOK will serve as an electronic bag, let’s call it the e Bag (how about a trademark?).

Leg no 2 – pre paid cards

Connectivity can not be offered for free. It might be subsidized and controlled by the local authority. How –

1. The authority should identify certified points of presence such as cyber cafés or municipal clubs and reach an agreement for low cost fee for Internet Access for certain community at certain conditions. Also – it will impose on public entities such as universities, municipalities and even government offices to allocate space and facilities for VA.

2. The women will get pre paid cards with their private codes, carrying their name and ID no on it. The above mentioned places will honor those pre paid cards. For example – a VA will get 50 hours credit per month (at a low cost) to be used in all those places, she will not need to carry cash with her. Those sites will be furnished, with PC, with electricity, with IP connectivity – she’ll work in acceptable conditions.

3. Every remote village will have at least one point of presence. Governments will see to it. Such projects are carried out as part of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) activities, now implemented in several continents and funded by organizations such as the WB or UN, also adopted by non profit organizations such as CGI (Clinton Global Initiative).
That way, we’ll provide the VA in the third world a true equal access opportunity.

And last point – this concept is applicable not only to VA in the third world, also to pupils. In my opinion, the famous OLPC project (one laptop per children) initiated by Prof Negroponte from the MIT didn’t take off because the vendors were busy with their technology, while the education and the children became a means rather than a goal. It’s time to learn from it and provide doable solutions.

Written by Shimon Teller

Added 9-Feb-2009

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