No Wires Attached: The unrealized potential of wireless internet
Access to information is a must in today's world and the internet is the best way to obtain it, according to Sandeep Puri, a web architect at Cisco Systems and founder of planetnepal.org. The ever accelerating rate at which the internet and electronic media transmit data is making information available to an increasing number of people globally. Even in places disconnected from the rest of the world, this information technology can be the means of mass communication. Mahabir Pun, winner of the Magsaysay award, first brought wireless technology to the village of Nangi about a decade ago and has been tirelessly working on widening its use ever since.
In a report published by the Wireless Internet Institute, The Amazon Association, an Italian-Brazilian NGO, has been using the internet to communicate with the aborigines to preserve the Amazon rainforests. In turn, the Amazonians are using the internet for telemedicine, education, and economic opportunities through e-commerce. Like the Amazonians, Nangi residents, using donated computers and computer parts brought into the country by international volunteers, are using the wireless internet primarily for educating children and for telemedicine, according to an article published by The Nepali Times.
In addition to providing education and health care to local villagers, the wireless project in Nepal has also been collaborating with Keio University to monitor the effects of global warming on Imja Lake. Although a few more productive projects using wireless are in the pipeline at Nangi, many other projects could transform this rural community into a thriving economy. Nangi has made progress in education and healthcare; however, the potential use of wireless internet in preventive health care, mass communication, developing agriculture, eco-tourism, and other community-based sustainability projects have not yet been fully realized.
Telemedicine is an effective means to diagnose and treat diseases. And, “promoting preventative care and self-care using the internet could alleviate the financial burden on the government due to rising health care delivery costs while increasing the efficacy of health care delivery,” says Sridhar Papagiri of the Center for Research in Information Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently there are no programs at Nangi that teach residents how to use the internet for preventative education and self care.
The Internet has a profound impact in mass communication. According to Folu Ogundimu of the Michigan State University School of Journalism, the internet can facilitate an increased flow of ideas globally, reduce the distance between cultures and individuals, while also reducing the costs of doing business. In Nangi, where other means of mass communications are rare, internet could act as the primary means to obtain national and international news to make its residents informed global citizens. Furthermore, more Nangi children would go to school if their parents learned about the values of education. The internet, therefore, is the cheapest, fastest, and the easiest medium for adult education. The internet could also be the primary electronic medium for promoting ecotourism, the fastest growing tourism industry that is increasing by 15% per year. If done right, ecotourism can benefit Nangi and its residents just as it has benefitted the Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica and the residents nearby.
The communications and information delivery capability of the internet serves not only education and healthcare but it can also be used to develop precision farming techniques and sustainable agriculture. The Indian government is already thinking about implementing information and communication technologies (ICTs) to achieve higher income, increase food production and maximize jobs. Moreover, wireless internet can be the medium for Nangi villagers to exchange information with other national or international farmers regarding agriculture techniques, help maximize their crop yield and to choose crops that are best for their land and the climate. As suggested by Scott Robinson, social anthropologist and a professor, on e-OTI, an international electronic magazine and information resource of the Internet Society, the internet can also be used to create telecenters linked to local banks that could provide digital remittance at good exchange rates and low commission. In the Nepali context, if such telecenters were established in remote villages, a part of the commission obtained could be used for sustainable development of that community.
Developing countries have much to gain from the revolution in communication and information access. The rapid expansion of internet holds significant promise for developing nations, Mahabir Pun understands this and is keen on expanding the internet at Nangi and on to the rest of the country.
In an interview published by the BBC, Mahabir Pun states “I have seen that even a small village like mine can benefit a lot from the internet. We can use it to generate money for the village, to provide quality education for our children, to provide information about our culture to children all over the world, and to invite volunteers to come to our village.” Yet, many developing nations cannot afford fiber optics and other advanced technologies to provide internet to their remote areas, and for many places, their geographical location prohibits the installation of towers required for internet service.
Mahabir Pun has already established wireless internet in Nangi, now, all he needs is more hardware and humanpower. Although the fruitful results of Nepal Wireless project have been honored with international awards and have attracted donations from the World Bank and the Nepal government to wirelessly connect 19 more schools, and resulted in collaborations with international universities, its potential for empowering individuals in Nepal by providing access to information is yet to be capitalized on. Mahabir Pun's effort is bringing a much needed change to rural Nepal and it is a great opportunity for Nepali youth to assist him in driving Nepal in a positive direction.