In addition to OLPC, community wireless has been a topic of discussion in "development ICT" on the Pacific Internet Society (PICISOC) mailing list recently. I was interested to read an announcement pointed out on the list that reported the success of a free wireless Internet project in Niue.
Thanks to International Communication Technology (ICT) small and remote nations are not so remote anymore. The introduction of free, wireless internet services to all in the tiny Polynesian nation of Niue has reshaped the lives of close to 2,000 people living on the island. The vice chairman of South Pacific Internet Services, Franck Martin, says that access to the internet has made everyday life for Niueans easier. "ICTs are crucial (in regards) to improving the quality of life and to drive growth in the whole economy. Free wireless internet had had a vast impact on development in government sectors and poverty reduction," said Mr Martin. "People waited for days to talk to their families and loved ones abroad as there were defaults in the telephone and fax lines. But with free internet services, they can get in touch with them in seconds," Mr Martin said.
[Free wireless network reshapes lives in Niue, Islands Business, as it appeared August 1, 2007]
When I read this, it felt a little hinky to me - it simply sounds too good to be true. A quick search showed that the claims of aiding nearly 2,000 are a little exaggerated. According to the CIA Factbook, the 2007 population of Niue is 1,492. This may be an innocent mistake, but I kept digging.
It turns out that - to my surprise, if not yours - that Niue's free wireless Internet was announced over four years ago. Note the quote from former PICISOC chair, Richard St. Clair.
The Internet Users Society - Niue (IUS-N), today announced that it has launched the world's first free nation-wide WiFi Internet access service on the Polynesian island-nation of Niue. This new free wireless service which can be accessed by all Niue residents, tourists, government offices and business travelers, is being provided at no cost to the public or local government.
"WiFi is the prefect fit for the Island of Niue, where harsh weather conditions of rain, lightning, salt water, and high humidity cause major problems with underground copper lines," said Richard St Clair, Co-Founder and Technical Manager at The Internet Users Society - Niue and Chairman, Pacific Island Chapter ISOC. "And since WiFi is a license free technology by International Agreement, no license is needed either by the provider or the user."
[Polynesian Island of Niue the First Free Wireless Nation; Wireless HotSpot Launched in South Pacific Island of Niue, Business Wire, June 23, 2003]
Again, this sounds great! Why can't we have this in Suva?
Then a PICISOC member from Niue chimed in with the following reality check:
Currently the only thing being reshaped regarding access to the internet is my figure as there is no public transport here and the internet cafe (which is not free and only open between the hours of 9-3 and closes for up to an hour for lunch) is located 10 kilometers away from my village (removed to protect the innocent) where we have neither a land line for dial up or a wifi connection. A point to note is the "free" part comes after the $1600 NZ dollars each that 2 families in our area have paid for their connection. There is also a $25 one off registration fee for those that are fortunate enough to have access to a wifi-location. I have been in discussion with the users society here, through our local internet cafe and have been referred to the .nu owner in America (?) about information in regarding wifi being installed in our village as a community/village project, but have yet to receive any feedback.
I agree that access to the internet has a "vast impact on development in government sectors and poverty reduction" - for those that are fortunate enough to have access.
So it is too good to be true. Unless someone from Niue or ICT can counter this analysis?
Photo by: moblog