The good news is that the Internet has grown like a weed, and many welcome it as a tool for productivity and enlightenment; the bad news is that it is almost unknown in developing nations (see Table 1). This article offers the hypothesis that computer networks can improve life in developing nations at a relatively low cost. We begin with a brief discussion of development, followed by some of the ways computer networks might help, and conclude with a look at what can be done.Dimensions of Development“Development” is an imprecise concept. Economists once equated it with economic productivity — GDP per capita — but that is too simple a formulation . Rising GDP might be accompanied by environmental damage, anger over growing disparity in income distribution, disappointment when expectations rise faster than they are fulfilled, displacement of traditional values and customs, crowded cities, and so forth. Furthermore, GDP counts many painful transactions as positive, for example, bypass surgery, buying a second home after a divorce, or the paycheck of a housewife who is forced into the labor market to make ends meet .
A broader conception of human development is used in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Reports on Human Development, published annually since 1992, e. g. . Their concept of development includes human autonomy and breadth of choice, equity, sustainability, and empowerment as well as productivity. In an attempt to capture this multidimensional concept of development, UNDP computes a comprehensive Human Development Index (HDI) as a function of productivity, health, and education.3 It is reassuring that this index shows less variance among nations than GDP per capita, still there are major disparities between nations, as shown in Table 2.
With the comprehensive, UNDP concept of development in mind, let us turn to some of contributions networks might make in economic productivity, health, education, democracy, and quality of life.
Communication pays. In recent telecommunication investments in developing nations, the World Bank expects rates of return between 13 and 20 percent, averaging about 20 percent. In addition to return on investment, they estimate 15-30 percent return to the general economy. They also find “very large economic returns” from the telecommunications components in other sectors such as railways, power, tourism, banking, and rural development. [19, pp. 15-16].
Computer networks run over telephone infrastructure at relatively small marginal cost, providing increased economic benefit. Consider the success of the Relcom (RELiable COMmunications) network in the ex-Soviet Union . Relcom was established in April, 1989, using a Microvax in Moscow and PC compatible (286 and 386) computers connected with dial-up lines and 2400 and 9600 bps modems. On August 22, 1990, they started international Internet connectivity with hourly phone calls from Helsinki to Moscow for batch transfer of email and Usenet news. By September, 1993, Relcom served nearly 7,000 organizations and an estimated 200,000 users connecting 162 regions and cities.
In spite of having begun under a communist regime, Relcom carried commercial traffic from the start, and was heavily commercial a year after it began (see Table 3). The network was used for markets and business communication within the nation, and for international transactions and coordination. In a 1994 Usenet News posting, Relcom co-founder Vadim Antonov said he believed the social and business impact of Relcom had been greater than that of the Internet in the US.
Relcom is unusual since networks in developing nations have usually started in the university and research community . However it is not the only example. One of the newer networks, in Ghana, accepted commercial traffic from its inception, and 36 of its 89 customers were businesses 8 months after it began .
Networks enable international communication with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders. Much of the economic success of the US is attributable to our lead in establishing a mass, tariff-free market supported by good communication and transportation . Networks can help open mass, global markets to developing nations.
This of course raises the specter of reduced wages and environmental destruction in developed nations. The entrance of new competition will surely hurt certain industries and workers, but can this globalization be stopped? I do not think so. If that is the case, we in developed nations should console ourselves by noting the positive implications — increased investment opportunity and trade, increased efficiency, lower-cost goods, service and distribution jobs, a more just, peaceful, humane world, and so forth. Economists since Ricardo have insisted that the economic pie is largest when every person (and nation) does what he or she does best. At the same time, we should work against the negative side effects, for example, by seeking international environmental and labor standards.
In 1992, Pedro Hepp and his colleagues at the Catholic University in Chile began a five-year project to develop and evaluate an elementary school network called Enlaces (links). Their goals were to enhance efficiency, quality and equity in education and to “integrate the children into the culture.” They began with a pilot in six locations, and today there are 144 networked schools. Initially, each school had two computers and a 2400 bps modem. Today, there are between 3 and 10 computers and an Ethernet in each school. They began with batch transfer, making interactive access impossible, but a dozen schools are now getting IP connectivity to the Internet on a pilot basis. [8, 25]
Enlaces provides a variety of services — student and teacher newsletters, educational software, curriculum notes, computer conferences, email, and database access. It has been formally evaluated, for example, they have shown a statistically significant effect on student creativity, and the government has decided to expand nationwide. With World Bank funding, the goal is to reach 100% of the secondary schools and 50% of the primary schools by 2000.
The support structure has been decentralized through the (long) country with 15 universities participating. One of their strong beliefs is that the teachers are at the center of the network, and their training and support budget is 25% of the total project. From the beginning, Hepp understood the importance of supporting low income, rural and outlying areas. A project like this not only benefits Chile, we can all learn from it. (What proportion of the schools in your community have Ethernets?)
One might argue that Chile is a prosperous developing nation, and therefore atypical. That is so, but even poor nations can make progress. The Cuban economy was dealt a debilitating blow by the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, but they have continued allocating resources to a small education network.5
Cuba’s networking project is based in the Cuban Youth Computing Clubs (YCCs). Begun in 1987, the YCCs are typically Cuban in their stress on grass roots participation. The centers are reminiscent of Bob Albrecht’s People’s Computer Company (PCC) and similar experiments dating back to the 1960s in the United States. Like the PCC, they have computers running games, drawing programs, and other software, which the children may use in a relatively unstructured manner. Additionally, the YCCs offer classes on using application packages and programming. There are now 150 YCCs spread throughout the nation . Eighty of these have 2,400 bps modems which are used to dial into shell accounts on a PC running unix at the central center in Havana. That center makes UUCP transfers to Canada twice daily, connecting rural Cuba to the world.
It is not coincidental that Cuba and Chile provide examples of education networks in developing nations. Both have strong records of investment in human capital — education and health care. (Cuban and Chilean adult literacy and infant mortality are both above the averages for the UNDP “highly-developed” nations)
These examples have stressed primary and secondary schools, but networks in developing nations generally begin in the university and research community. The advantages of networks to academia are obvious — databases are shared, conferences organized, papers circulated and discussed, collaborative research and writing undertaken, and so forth. It should be noted that this is not a one- way street. Scientists in developing nations, for example, Cuban biotechnologists have much to contribute to the rest of the world .
Universities and research in developing nations will be strengthened, and the “brain drain” diminished as the Net reduces pressure on professionals to move abroad. Early in the century, physics research was concentrated in a few centers. Increased international communication — journals and conferences — led to worldwide dispersion of physics research. International meetings and journals grew, but not as rapidly as domestic activity . The Net will accelerate the spread of excellence.
We are also seeing early application of networks to health care in developing nations. For example, HealthNet links health care workers in 16 African nations and 4 Asian nations with each other and with colleagues and databases in developed nations using a variety of communication protocols over leased and switched land lines and terrestrial and satellite packet radio. They provide email, a listserver, electronic publications, database access, distance learning, Internet consulting and support, and facilitate cooperation between libraries .
As an example application, consider the use of the ProMED (Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases) mailing list during the recent Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire. ProMED was established by 60 researchers in September 1993, and now has over 1,600 members in 80 countries. The list first heard of the outbreak from member Dr. Karl Johnson, the man who discovered and named the Ebola virus in Zaire in 1976. They circulated information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, The World Health Organization, The Canadian Health Department, Health Canada, The Swiss Tropical Medicine Institute, The South African National Institute of Virology, and other organizations and Web sites. Subscribers provided sources and bibliographies for information about the Ebola virus and disease and reports of local reaction in Cameroon, Uganda and other countries neighboring Zaire. They got information to and from effected nations, helping control the spread of the virus and treat the disease, and they provided objective news to the general public.
Today, most HealthNet communication is international, since intranational connectivity is still very sparse in developing nations. But, one can imagine many networking applications in healthcare in a nation like Cuba or China where “barefoot doctors” and other paramedical people serve poor communities and rural areas.
Note that HealthNet uses satellite technology, which may have great promise for developing nations. They do not use the heavy, geostationary satellites that carry television or long distance telephony, but small, low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites .7 The current HealthNet satellite is capable of full-duplex, 9,600 bps communication. Several users may request messages at the same time, but only two can be sending. The satellite is in polar orbit, so it covers the globe, with locations near the equator getting 4 daily passes of about 13 minutes. The ground stations are PC- compatibles with a controller, radio and antenna. Messages may go to any HealthNet user, satellite station, or the Internet, with Internet routing through a gateway at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Users see the system as typical off-line email with file attachments.
Thirteen-minute uplinks at 9,600 bps will not solve the world’s health communication problems, but this is an experiment which hopefully scales up. Several consortia are raising capital and beginning work on LEO satellite networks . Most ambitious is Teledesic, a venture financed by Bill Gates and cellular entrepreneur Craig McCaw. They plan a network of 840 LEO satellites in 21, 435-mile high orbital planes, optimized for digital communication — routers in space. They are targeting two million simultaneous connections and T1 speeds, which would enable connectivity in rural clinics and villages.8 While many feel this is overly ambitious, they are counting on mass-produced components and technological progress for success (Table 4).
HealthNet also uses terrestrial radio links, running IP over paths up to 1,000 km. Again, they are operating at a very small scale, but entrepreneurs are investing in terrestrial wireless infrastructure in developing nations. For example, the International Telecommunication Union has established WorldTel, an ambitious organization that is raising capital and beginning pilot installations for wireless telephone links to rural communities in developing nations .
Democracy and Human Rights
One might expect networks to encourage democracy by providing people living under dictatorship with outside information and ideas, and by enabling them to share ideas and coordinate political activity within their nations. For example, the Net was used for both inter and intranational communication during the failed Soviet Coup attempt , and it carried news and discussion of events in Tian An Men Square, Chiapas, and so forth. Indeed, we have a dictator’s dilemma – – the Net is good for economic development, but may undermine control .
Going beyond anecdote, Kedzie  presents multivariate statistical analysis showing that interconnectivity is a better predictor of democracy than schooling, GDP, life expectancy, ethnic homogeneity, or population, particularly in regions of newly emerging democracy. He also analyzed the data looking for causality, finding stronger evidence for networks leading to democracy than democracy leading to networks or a spurious correlation of the two with development. Still, he concludes that “the most plausible relationship between democracy and networked communication (and perhaps economic development) may be a virtuous circle with positive feedbacks in both directions” .
Many organizations supporting human rights and democracy in developing nations use the Net. The Association for Progressive Communication (APC) has been a leader in this effort since 1989, coordinating the operation and development of networks devoted to peace, ecology, human rights, and other “progressive” causes. By August 1995, there were 18 member networks, serving over 31,000 activists, educators, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in over 133 countries. APC also exchanges email and selected conferences with 40 partner networks. In September, 1995, APC was granted Consultative Status, Category 1, with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. This means they can have a permanent representative at the UN, and are entitled to submit written statements to the Council, to be granted hearings, and to propose agenda items for consideration by the Council and its subsidiary bodies.
Quality of Life
The environment is under stress everywhere. We have pollution, and energy and other resources are limited. To the extent that networks enable us to substitute communication for transportation, they will have helped. We normally think of this effect with telecommuters in developed nations, but it may also save a rural farmer, laborer or craftsman a trip to town.
More important, rural people may not move. As Table 5, shows, humanity is flocking to cities in search of better education, health care, and employment. They joke that the national bird of China is now the “crane” because so many high rise buildings are under construction, but can the environment stand the strain of 100 new high-rise Hong Kong’s? And, what of congestion, traffic, crime and other side-effects of urbanization? This is not a simple defense of the noble rural life. When allowed, rural people move to the city because it provides a better life. If rural or town life can be improved, fewer may feel compelled to move.
I recently reviewed a networking plan for Vietnam in the year 2000 . It emphasized Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as opposed to, say, networking regional capitals and fanning out from there. Implicitly or explicitly, infrastructure planning is social planning. Could a Vietnamese Net help curb urbanization while providing urban advantages in towns and rural areas? This issue is tied to productivity — prosperous nations involve a high percentage of the population in intellectual and economic life.
Perhaps breadth of choice is at the heart of quality of life. A simpler, rural life may be desirable if it is freely chosen, rather than imposed by necessity. Choice implies awareness, and communication technology expands horizons, making us aware of vocational, political, and value issues and alternatives.
What is needed?
Looking at some of the tables in this article, one could give up in desperation over the enormity of global gaps, but there are reasons to be hopeful.
Technical progress is a leveler. If we take a 100-year perspective, all nations are “developing,” particularly in a fast-changing area like telecommunication. The fiber-coax plant a US phone company installs today will be as out of date in 50 years as the African infrastructure is now. Telecommunication is an accelerating game of leap frog. More encouraging, our 100-year perspective shows rapid improvement in the human condition (Table 6).
If we believe networks are achievable by and valuable for developing nations, we should ask what is needed to develop them . Networks require complementary resources (see Table 7), trained people, and political cooperation. Let us briefly consider the outlook for needed resources.
Domestic telephone infrastructure. Computer networks need telephone infrastructure, and, paradoxically, the worse the infrastructure is, the greater the marginal value of the Net. While they are far behind, the rate of telephone investment in developing nations is higher than developed nations. For example, China plans to spend more than $40 billion, installing the equivalent of a Bell Canada every year until 2000 . Investment is being encouraged by several factors, including a wave of privatization (there are 26 scheduled privatizations the next 3 years), deregulation (for example Chile has intense local and long-distance competition), and improving technology which means better returns.
International links: these follow from increased domestic demand, and are made more affordable by rapid advances in optical amplification and transmission and satellite technology.
Personal computers: improved technology makes PCs increasingly affordable in developing nations, where an “obsolete” 486-based PC might provide Shell accounts for hundreds of users, serve as a router, or as the international store-and-forward link to the Internet.
Networking hardware and software: these are needed, but are not nearly as expensive as telephone infrastructure and user workstations, and PCs and public domain software are sufficient to begin a network.
Trained network technicians: while still in short supply, technical knowledge spreads rapidly, and network technicians are being trained in universities, at workshops, and on the Net. Local technicians have established international network links in 173 nations, 96 of which have IP Internet connectivity
Trained, demanding users: this is the toughest nut to crack. The most important networking resource in the US may be the millions of students and office workers who are familiar with the functional components and capabilities of a computer and applications like word processing. They can easily make the technical and conceptual shift to the Net, but we have had 20 years since the introduction of commercial personal computers to achieve this level of awareness. Improved technology, making better user interfaces possible, will help, but shortening that cycle will be difficult. (Recall that 25% of the Enlaces budget is for user training).
Government support: a government frozen by the dictator’s dilemma or a bureaucracy seeking to milk telecommunication as a revenue source, will stop networking in its tracks. The government should also plan networks with broad national policy (for instance, regarding urbanization) in mind.
Local cooperation: Networks can benefit from cooperation among local networking organizations, for example, by sharing international links or formulating national plans, even if they compete in some areas. The relationship between academic and commercial networks is evolving and complex, and, again, national priorities should be considered in setting policy.
The bulk of the investment for networks in developing nations private and for profit, and the bulk of the work will be done by local people. Still, professional organizations like ACM, foundations, corporations, international organizations, and governments of developed nations can assist them with the resources listed above. We will all gain from improving their lot. Scientific discoveries help us all; a free, democratic nation is unlikely to wage war; there are few refugees from productive nations; and we share one environment. It is not that computer networks will solve all the world’s problems, but that they may help with some.
Acknowledgment — I have often discussed this topic with my friend and colleague Sy Goodman.
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7. Goodman, S., Press, L., Ruth, S., and Rutkowski, A., “The Global Diffusion of the Internet: Patterns and Problems,” Communications of the ACM, Vol 37, No 8, pp. 27-31, August, 1994.
8. Hepp, Pedro, Interviews in 1992 and 1995.
9. ITU, “World Telecommunication Development Report,” International Telecommunications Union, Geneva, 1995.
10. Kedzie, Christopher R., “Coincident Revolutions,” On The Internet, in press.
11. Landweber, Larry, International Connectivity Table, ftp://ftp.cs.wisc.edu, connectivity-table directory, June 15, 1995.
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15. Press, L., “Comments on the Informatics 2000 Plan,” http://som1.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/vn.htm.
16 Press, L., “Developing Networks in Less Industrialized Nations,” IEEE Computer, vol 28 No 6, June, 1995, pp. 66-71.
17. Press, L., and Aramas, C., “Cuban Networking Update,” On The Internet, in press.
18. Quaynor, Nii, “Networking in Ghana,” On The Internet, in press.
19. Saunders, Robert J, Warford, Jeremy J., and Wellenius, Bjorn, Telecommunications and Economic Development,” The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1994.
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21. UNDP, United Nations Development Program Report on Human Development, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995.
22. Wallman, Sandra, “Perceptions of Development,” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977.
23. –, “Closing the Global Communication Gap,” McKinsey and Company, Sydney New South Wales, Australia, 1995.
24. –, “Lost in Space,” ComputerLetter, Vol 10, Number 10, March 28, 1994, Technologic Partners, New York.
27. http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Research/ CSER.
http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Research/CSER has resources, references, and links for space researchers and enthusiasts interested in small satellites. It is maintained by the Center for Satellite Engineering Research at the University of Surrey, U.K, a leader in LEO research and development.
Three important organizations working for development are the International Telecommunications Union, World Bank, and United Nations Development Program. Each has a Web site:
UNDP, ITU, and World Bank also publish many books and reports on development, and I will recommend one from each organization. UNDP publishes an annual Human Development Report (e. g., ). The first half of the report is a set of articles on a development-related theme, the second half statistical tables. It sounds like this might be dry reading, but it is not. The articles are interesting and insightful, with excellent tables and figures, and the statistics of great value. ITU publishes an annual World Telecommunication Development Report in the same format as the UNDP reports, and, again, it is fascinating reading. From the World Bank, I recommend, , an update of an edition written in the mid 1980s. All these books inspire global concern and awareness — much as a whole-earth satellite photos does.
The HealthNet home page is http://www.healthnet.org.
The Enlaces home page is http://www.enlaces.ufro.cl.
Other sites dealing with networks in developing nations are:
ftp://dhvx20.csudh.edu (in the global_net directory)
Table 1: uneven distribution of Internet hosts. Over 90% of hosts are in North America and Western Europe, and this understates global disparity since those are generally the largest machines with highest speed connectivity.
Source: Mark Lottor, http://www.nw.com/
Numbers of Internet Hosts by Region
Region Jan 94 Jul 94 Oct 94 Jan 95 July 95 North America 1,685,715 2,177,396 2,685,929 3,372,551 4,515,871 Western Europe 550,933 730,429 850,993 1,039,192 1,530,057 Pacific 113,482 142,353 154,473 192,390 252,014 Asia 81,355 111,278 127,569 151,773 233,343 Eastern Europe & 19,867 27,800 32,951 46,125 67,648 CIS Africa 10,951 15,595 21,041 27,130 42,108 Car, Cent, & S 7,392 11,455 14,894 n/a 28,493 Amer Middle East 6,946 8,871 10,383 13,776 21,179 TOTAL 2,476,641 3,225,177 3,898,233 4,842,937 6,690,713
Table 2: UNDP Human Development Index
Level/ region HDI Least Developed Countries 0.34 All Developing Countries 0.57 Industrial Countries 0.92 Sub-Saharan Africa 0.39 Arab States 0.64 South Asia (SA) 0.46 SA excluding India 0.49 East Asia (EA) 0.62 EA excluding China 0.87 S. E. Asia and Pacific 0.65 Latin America and Caribbean 0.82 The World 0.76
Table 3: Relcom Diversity. While I was unable to categorize 85 of the organizations, it is clear that many were commercial enterprises.
Source: Relcom UUCP site list, August, 1991.
11 government agencies, including the USSR and Russian Finance Ministries 15 foreign and domestic publications and news services including AP, UPI, the German Press Agency, and Financial Times 20 commodity, raw material and stock exchanges 26 universities and university departments, including several machines at Moscow State and Saint Petersburg Universities 96 limiteds, corporations, enterprises, companies, firms or banks, joint ventures or small ventures 117 scientific and research institutes, nearly all in technical fields such as mathematics and physics. 85 unable to classify.
Table 4: small, store-and-forward satellite generations. Semiconductor progress, use of standard parts, and short design times improve performance.
Message Launch Store Speed Satellite Year (bytes) (bps) UoSAT-2 1984 128 k 1,200 UoSAT-3 1990 16 m 9,600 FASat-Alfa 1995 300 m 76,800
Table 5: percent of populaton in urban areas. People in developing nations continue moving to the city.
Est. annual growth Region/Group 1960 1992 1992-2000 High development 45 69 0.2 Medium development 22 35 0.6 Medium excluding 27 46 0.4 China Low development 15 26 0.5 Low excluding India 12 26 0.6 All developing 22 36 0.5 Least developed 9 21 0.7 Sub-Saharan Africa 15 30 0.6 Industrial 61 73 0.1 World 34 44 0.3
Table 6: percent of population in low, medium, and high development nations. There is rapid improvement in human development.
Source: , page 19
Development Level Year Low Medium High 1960 73% 11% 16% 1992 31% 39% 30%
High:. HDI >= .8 Medium: HDI .5-.799 Low:. HDI < .5
Table 7: per capita telecommunication indicators. Note that phone lines, leased circuits, PCs, and CATV are all technologies which complement computer networks.
Income/ Pop. GDP/ Phone CATV PCs Leased Cell Fax TV region (mil cap lines subs /100 circs phones machs. sets .) /100 /100 /100k /100 /100k /100 Low 3,14 415 1.5 1.3 0.14 1 0.05 11 11.8 7 Lower-Middl 1,11 1,529 8.4 0.4 0.72 8 0.14 65 19.8 e 1 Upper-Middl 508 4,515 14.4 2.2 2.68 122 0.83 332 24.1 e High 839 22,621 51.9 14.0 18.2 2,341 5.65 3,331 59.7 6 Africa 701 630 1.7 0.0 0.84 11 0.06 22 4 Americas 765 11,277 27.9 10.0 14.3 1,873 3.67 2,054 42.3 Asia 3,32 2,120 4.8 1.7 1.07 50 0.3 238 16.3 3 Europe 788 10,254 32.0 4.9 7.24 441 1.89 812 38.9 Oceania 28 12,469 38.7 0.0 21.6 2,993 5.31 1,823 40.9 World 5,60 4,390 11.6 3.1 4.14 364 0.99 548 21.7 5
Economies are grouped by 1993 GDP/capita in $US:
low: less than $695 (59 nations)
lower-middle: $696-2,785 (68 nations)
upper-middle: $2,786-8,625 (39 nations)
high: greater than $8,625 (39 nations)