Connecting Rural Nepal to the Global Village
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
MAHABIR PUN, a 2007 Magsaysay awardee, explains the strategies and lessons learned in his wireless communication projects in remote, rural Nepal. Over the past few years a great deal of attention has been placed on issues of information and communication technology access and the ?digital divide? by development organizations and governments throughout the world. The wireless project that we have started in Nepal has taken a serious look at the same issues, but it approached the problem from a grassroots perspective. We have named the project as Nepal Wireless Networking Project.
The Nepal Wireless Networking Project was not started as a result of the policies and decisions made by international organizations or the Government of Nepal. It started with a dream, and the dream unexpectedly turned into a project in pursuit of finding ways to bring Internet and telephone services at Himanchal Higher Secondary School of Myagdi district, which is situated at one day?s trek from the nearest road-accessible town of Nepal. Now the wireless network of Myagdi is one of the several networking projects that we have started in Nepal.
It took almost seven years to make the dream come true in a very unfavorable working situation in Nepal. The autocratic rule of the king and the presence of the communist insurgents in the rural areas of Nepal created a great deal of difficulty in setting up and running the network. Regardless, the project successfully overcame those obstacles and set up a pilot wireless network in an area where no business dared to go.
I would like to share the goals of the project before I share the challenges that we had faced, the strategies we had taken and the lessons we had learned from the project.
1.1 Goals and Objectives
The long-term goal is to maximize the benefits of wireless technology for the rural population in mountainous areas in order to make the life of villagers a bit easier and more enjoyable. Specifically, we aim to achieve the following goals, divided into six main goal areas:
? Communication: To increase communication facilities in the mountainous areas by providing Internet phone system (VoIP), by making Internet available and by making local e-bulletin board accessible to the villagers.
? Education: To increase educational opportunities in the rural schools by creating a live tele-teaching program and by providing e-learning materials to students, and teachers through the Intranet in order to meet the shortage of qualified teachers.
? Health: To establish a tele-hospital in urban area and link it to the district level hospitals and rural health centers in order to increase the quality and availability of healthcare in the rural communities. The goal is to bring medical doctors virtually in the remote villages to provide medical assistance to the villagers through telemedicine program.
? E-governance: To empower district governments launch e-governance program by helping to set up a district data center in district headquarters and by linking the local governments to the district headquarters through wireless technology.
? Local e-commerce: To help villagers to put information of their products in the local market through local intranet site, and to provide information of their produces to potential buyers as well as to get the market price of their produces.
? Job and Business Creation: To generate jobs for younger generation locally through communication centers, e-learning and local e-commerce programs
While attaining all these goals will take time, the project already provides some of the benefits mentioned above to the villagers, such as communication, educational, and telemedicine facilities. Right now we are focusing more on live teleteaching and local e-commerce programs.
The following is the satellite photo of the villages that are networked using Wi-fi technology. The project was completed in 2005, and we are working on connecting 10 more villages now with the support of the International Telecommunication Union.
First I would like to tell in brief about the area that has been serviced by the network.
Network Service Area
All the villages serviced by the network have no motor-accessible roads. The villages are accessible only by foot. It takes eight days of walking to visit all the villages that are in the wireless network.
The wireless network currently offers connectivity and Internet and communication facilities to thirteen communities of Nepal. The villages serviced by the network vary in size from 150 to 2,485 people. Additionally, it has created two relay stations (to forward the signal over mountain passes), a base station/server facility, and a connection to a hospital in Pokhara for telemedicine program. Photos of some of the villages that are connected are given below.
Furthermore, seven high schools in the region are connected to the networks that also serve as the communication centers for the villages. The total number of students of the seven schools is about 1,700. Those schools have from six to fifteen computers.
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