Center for A Rural Alternative
|location: Home | Telecom | Startup|
Our project has one basic theme: innovative transfer of appropriate existing technology into the rural environment.
One must work with what is practical, available, and cheap. The first five years we used a dial-up modem in town, and (donated, used) 900 mHz digital radios that extended the serial connection of the modem 10 km out to El Limon. Then we got donated Wi-Fi radios and went broadband and added telephone service. Now we have added two more villages, and plan to use the connection for cooperative multi-village economic development.
Our advice is to start simple and add more later. The most important thing is to get one village computer on the internet, even at low speeds. Wi-Fi is ideal, working up to 20 km or more, but you do need real line-of-sight between the antennas. A DSL connection in town is also ideal, but you can start with dial-up (or satellite if it is not prohibitively expensive in your area). You might be able to pay for a satellite connection by also operating a telephone call center.
You can probably find all the necessary technical skills in a big city. The key to sustainability is transferring these skills to the rural young people. They will be capable and want to learn, but if the village school is not good the lack of literacy skills can be a big problem.
You may want to create a formal or informal relationship with a university, since most of what you will need are basic, common computer and network skills. You can get limited-time volunteers from the private sector for help with specialized technology like Wi-Fi. We have found cable TV technicians to be particularly skilled and helpful volunteers.
Electricity (or lack of it) in rural areas is a very big problem. If you need to use solar panels, you will need to get laptops, or special low-power computers like the VIA ITX. Be aware that laptops are extremely difficult (and ultimately very expensive) to keep functional in a rural environment. Some groups have tried to build specialized computers, but the results have not been very successful. We are now leaning toward the VIA ITX until a better solution appears.
The community-based telecenter model works well for many communities. It is important to involve both the village youth and older, respected village leaders with a commitment to the future.