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February 02, 2007


Tan Yan Chen

Municipal wireless projects are one of the more popularly touted ways of reaching beyond the divide. But the projects being pushed in the United States require computers, whereas much of Asia is using the ubiquity of cellular phones to breach the divide. While penetration rates are not higher than the U.S., it was quite amusing to see rural farmers owning cellphones in China when I visited in 2004. I was also quite surprised at being able to receive cellular signals 100 feet underground when I was touring a hydro-electric dam near Guangzhou.

However, the deeper issue here may be that regardless of what medium or technology, the role of breaching the divide doesn't only fall on governments and regulations since the infrastructure inevitably cannot be sustained by governments. Private enterprises must also be motivated to act--though usually, only efficiency and profitability will motivate corporations. However, there are some interesting small scale projects out there that are testing the sustainability of technologies that may possibly breach the divide in third world countries. Check out these projects: "Voices in Your Hands" http://voices.rdvp.org/eng/ and "Living Cultural Storybases" http://www.storybases.org/whatis.htm . Perhaps you have heard of them since Paul Rankin was here last week to talk about these projects in COMM 169.

I think an emerging theme that I am finding through the class is that everything is pretty much unresolved and there are prickly problems with very few viable solutions. But the bigger theme may be that regardless, we need to push forward with what we have and be more innovative in the ways we broach these problems rather than relying on the government to point the way.

Tan Yan Chen

Here's another alternative to the digital divide. NYTimes published an article today titled "Wireless Internet for All, Without the Towers" by Randall Stross. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/04/business/yourmoney/04digi.html?em&ex=1170824400&en=2385747cbd8f746d&ei=5087%0A There's a new startup, Meraki Networks, that is developing WiMax for residential deployment and is being backed by Google and Sequoia--it's supposed to be cheaper and more effective than municipal wifi.

Anthony Sanchez

Access to the intertent, via wifi or lan line, or pots, is just one part of the equation, though a very important one.

I am also thinking of the hardware necessary to access the internet. Computers are absolutely vital for access to the internet and a large portion of those without access to the internet do not even own a computer.

If we have mass wireless, surely that will lessen the digital divide, possibly by huge margins. But masss wireless will be of no use to those who have no hardware to access it.

So hardware is important aspect of the equation that shouldn't be overlooked

Here's a story on a project that adress both issues of hardware and internet access, called an internet bus. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/08/22/1093113056492.html

Projects like this has popped up here an there throughout the world, inclduing my county in Southern California.
However, one problem is funding as the buses and mobile internet are expensive for private groups or governements to support.


The internet bus idea is great, and it's good to see that it has caught on in other areas as well. Even though it is too expensive to be adopted on a wide-scale, the bus seems to attract more attention and more use than other alternatives. This is great if it leads to more youth having access to the Internet; hopefully it will foster not only creativity and connectivity but will also allow avenues that may help those individuals get off the streets.

Also, even if the buses can't be deployed universally (because of funding limitations), they might help drive foot traffic to other, less costly alternatives. Permanent installations, in shelters, soup kitchens, or even free cafes, would be much cheaper. And as long as they were used, they'd certainly be worth the cost. Even though you wouldn't think it would be a problem getting people into such locations, the article seems to suggest that there was a lack of interest. Buses could cure that.

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