Libraries are powering economic development in the Philippines

philippines-tech-training

The energy was palpable as 10 women crowded around the five computers recently installed in the Baguio Reading Center outside of Davao City, Philippines. For most of these women, it was their first time to use a computer. Librarians from the Davao City Library gathered around the computers with the women and taught them the basics.

These women were at the library to attend a workshop on entrepreneurship ran by the City Social Services and Development Office (CSSDO) in Davao. The Development Office helps to extend social services to people living in the Barangay villages surrounding Davao City, including livelihood and entrepreneurship training for women to help them create supplemental incomes.

But the Development Office lacks community spaces within the Barangays and struggles to find convenient locations for their workshops. The Davao City Library has begun partnering with the Development Office by providing space for these trainings and providing continued access to community space and ICTs for members of the community.

Davao City covers an area approximately twice the size of New York City, so trips to the city center to access economic opportunities and related services can be time and cost prohibitive, meaning that communities on the outskirts of the city have limited access to services offered at the city center.

The Davao City Library, a network of 9 libraries and 12 reading centers, is partnering with Beyond Access to extend information access and services to communities that can’t reach the city center. The city government is already renovating a pilot group of three libraries and one reading center to accommodate the new computers and other technology Beyond Access will provide.

Beyond Access is also working with the Molave Development Foundation (ISIF Asia award winner 2012) to train librarians on how to teach basic ICT skills and how to manage ICT resources within their libraries. As you can see, the librarians are already designing services for people in their communities to provide them with greater access to economic opportunities.

3 Tangible Outcomes from Digital Bangladesh: An Inspiration for South Asia

digital-bangladesh

In 2008, the government of Bangladesh announced a ‘Vision 2021’ pledge is to improve the quality of life and quality of governance, and achieve mid-income country status by the year 2021, on the golden jubilee of the nation.

The vision was widely appreciated because of its intention to ensure inclusive innovation. The government of Bangladesh is in a process of developing a ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021’ to operationalize the vision throughout the country.

Digital Bangladesh

One aspect of Vision 2021 is Digital Bangladesh, a pledge to use modern technology to impact every aspect of public and private life by 2021. Digital Bangladesh is being implemented by the Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the government of Bangladesh, and they have developed ‘the Strategic Priorities of Digital Bangladesh’ in January 2011, three years after the Vision 2021 declaration.

The strategic priorities of Digital Bangladesh are:

  1. Human resource development
  2. Connecting citizens
  3. Digital government for pro-poor service delivery
  4. ICT in business

Now considering where the Bangladesh government is starting from, and potential impeding factors like lack of skills, infrastructure, integration among interventions and political unrest in the country, the Digital Bangladesh goal of a discrimination, corruption, poverty and hunger free happy, prosperous and educated mid-income country driven by ICTs by 2021, is quite ambitious.

There is no quick solution to these issues, and doing anything on a national scale is very complex and depends on many factors, however, we are hopeful because Bangladesh has achieved most of the targets under MDG goals well before the deadline, and Digital Bangladesh has already achieved three major impacts:

New Technologies

To create enabling environment the government has formed several policies like

  1. National ICT policy 2009
  2. Right to Information Act 2009
  3. Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act, 2009
  4. Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority Act, 2010
  5. International Long Distance Telecommunications Services Policy (ILDTS)
  6. Telecommunications Act, 2010
  7. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board Act, 2009
  8. Broadband Policy, 2009
  9. Pornography Act, 2011
  10. Rural Connectivity Policy 2010
  11. Format of the Public Private Partnership Policy

The enabling policies made it possible for corporate sector to reach the bottom of the pyramid and as a result mobile subscription, Internet subscription, and use of ICTs in every step of life had a tremendous increase.

In addition, we’ve seen a welcomed increase in new technologies. Previously, WiMAX, VOIP, 3G and Community Radio were illegal in Bangladesh. As a result of Digital Bangladesh, WiMax technology was legalised in 2009. VOIP was legalised in early 2010, and the Government has issued licenses for community radio starting in December 2010.  The 3G technology providers have received licence to start operation from October 2013.

New Programs

To reach the last mile the government has established 4,501 Information Service Centres at each Union Parishad, the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh, and e-Service Centres in each office of the 64 Deputy Commissioners, the District level administrative units in Bangladesh.

The e-Service centres provide access to agriculture, health, education, social safety net, legal aid, disaster management and enforcement of law related services. InfoKosh has-been introduced at the national level to make available livelihood content. As many as 220 organisations and about 50,000 information articles have been uploaded on this website by May, 2011.

Digital Bangladesh has resulted the e-services including:

In addition, actions are underway to prepare a National E-Governance Architecture (NEA) to implement ICT projects in public offices.

The government has introduced e-GP (Electronic Government Procurement) system in public procurement to introduce digital system. The digital land management system has been introduced in order to make land administration and management transparent and accountable.

The government is in a process of establishment of multimedia classroom in all educational institutions to sensitise the teachers for developing digital content. To date, 3,172 Computer Labs and 80 Smart Class Rooms have been set up in different educational institutions across the country. As many as 325 textbooks of Primary, Secondary, Madrasa and Technical Education Board have adopted e-Book versions, which can be accessed from www.ebook.gov.bd.

New Mind-set

As you can see, the hype around Digital Bangladesh has already caused several changes in Bangladesh. Most significantly, I would say, is the mind-set of government officials.

As an ICT4D professional, I used to experience difficulties explaining how technology could be used for social and economic development, but now almost everyone have an understanding about ICTs and their impact. Maybe the understanding is not 100% accurate, but the important thing is now the government and social sectors welcome ICTs.

We may have a long way to go, but the process of digital government has started in Bangladesh.

Mixing WiMAX and UHF TV for Rural Internet Access in Vietnam

wimax-tv-vietnam

Recent statistics show that the majority of Vietnamese who frequently use the Internet are located almost exclusively in Vietnam’s big cities, such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hai Phong, Hue, and Da Nang. This is due to three barriers to rural Internet access faced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) using conventional cable-based technology:

  • Geographic accessibility: dense forests and mountain areas cause difficulties in setting up networks and operating equipment;
  • Demographic indication: low population densities require large network coverage, hence increasing initial setup and operating costs; and
  • Economic development: low demand and purchasing power reduce profit and increase investment return period.

But what about a new, innovative approach to bring Internet access to rural areas in Vietnam, like combining new WiMAX wireless technology with the existing TV over-the-air broadcasting infrastructure? This approach could enable the delivery of last-mile access to many end users over a large coverage area with a much lower cost.

That’s the idea that Dr. Nguyen Van Hoang and his colleagues at Bac Ha International University tried recently to turn rural areas into an attractive investment for ISPs and bridge the digital divide in the rural areas of Vietnam.

WiMAX + UHF TV Technology

As you can see from the diagram above, they sought to allow WiMAX to be “piggy-backed” on the existing UHF TV broadcasting in the frequency range where TV programs are not available and frequency channels are not currently used. This promises an operating cost sharing between television industry and ISPs, eliminating the initial setup cost of network equipment (i.e. base station site construction and/or leasing), which ISPs normally incur. Operating at lower UHF bands allows a larger coverage area per base station and a smaller number of base stations over a similar coverage area.

In his WiMAX/UHF TV trial, Dr. Hoang found a sub-GHz WiMAX system with transmitting antennas mounted on a TV broadcasting station between 30m to 60m in height can reach a maximum distance of 37km in line-of-sight condition. In both cases where directional and omnidirectional antennas are used, a sub-GHz WiMAX system operating at 450 MHz increases the range of coverage four-fold, compared to a typical WiMAX 2.5GHz system.

This translates to a reduction of 4X to 16X number of required base stations for the same coverage. As a result, the capital expenditure to deploy and operate such system in a given area reduces proportionally by 4X to16X. So while the technology worked, the business model had a major problem.

Business Model Barriers

Dr. Hoang verified a high level of demand (88%) for broadband WiMAX Internet service in Bac Ninh city, a rural area in Vietnam, with an affordable rate of VND 150,000 (approximately USD 7.80) per month for residential and VND 300,000-500,000 per month for commercial Internet service.

Yet, the total equipment cost of such a sub-GHz WiMAX system consisting of 1 base station and 4 subscriber stations (used for a sample calculation) is less than USD 30,000 and the base station equipment represents 90% of this cost. Under an agreement with a TV broadcasting provider, it may be possible to share other costs, such as tower and maintenance. Larger coverage areas and lower capital expenditure are highly attractive to service providers.

Still, a subscriber station (end user) modem currently costs almost USD 690 and this high price remains a technological and economical challenge for this technology from the user’s point of view. Even if service providers gave incentives or provided flexible renting plans to users who sign up for broadband service, the cost is out of range for rural users this system targeted.

This post is derived from Innovative WiMAX Broadband Internet Access Final Technical report by Dr. Nguyen Van Hoang of Bac Ha International University.