Message-ID: <>
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 1997 13:52:16 -0400
Sender: African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List <AFRIK-IT@LISTSERV.HEA.IE>
From: Kerry Gallivan <kgallivan@USA.HEALTHNET.ORG>
Subject: Beyond Basic Connectivity

Beyond Basic Connectivity

AfricaOnline, 10 July 1997

BOSTON, MA, July 10, 1997. Africa Online's Vice-President of Technical Operations, Karanja Gakio, recently made a presentation to the African Networking Symposium at INET '97, the premier international event for Internet and internetworking professionals which took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (June 23-27). This year's INET addressed both the traditional and evolving frontiers of the Internet as well as the impact on education, commerce, and societies throughout the world.

Although we are a long way from providing universal basic connectivity to the Internet, said Gakio, Africa is, nevertheless, poised to start taking advantage of enhanced Internet services, including increasing geographic and demographic coverage, and increasing the complexity of services already available.

Gakio defined ‘basic connectivity’ as access to a TCP/IP Network, PPP Dialup/Leased Line capabilities, use of a personal or other computer which are then combined with basic applications such as E-mail, Usenet News and Fax.

The continental population of Africa today stands at 700 million. Only 0.1% (700K) are currently users of basic Internet services. 550k of these live in southern Africa, 50K in north Africa and 40K in the remainder of the continent. E-mail represents the most common service and in many capital cities fully interactive services are now available.

The benefits of enhancing Internet services are many, stated Gakio. They include a more efficient and wider distribution of, and access to, information, which in turn leads to: more efficient corporate performance thus enhancing the competitiveness of African industries; the creation of new categories of employment and public revenue facilitating Africa's entry into the information society; more efficient public services; a better informed population and, finally, an enhanced capability to create a better public image of the continent.

Gakio specified a number of concrete goals to be achieved in extending basic connectivity. First, efforts must be made, he said, to increase geographical reach nationwide including greater access to rural areas. This can best be done by creating national TCP/IP backbones, introducing wireless services, for example BushNet in Uganda, and enabling direct satellite downlinks.

Second, the demographic range of users can be dramatically increased by such Internet devices as WebTV and public access kiosks and by human-to-Internet enhanced services such as e.Shop in Nairobi. Current users of services are restricted to medium size businesses and a number of NGOs as well as a limited number of universities and research organizations. New demographic targets should include schools and universities, small businesses and government and public sector organizations.

Access to the Internet does not require a computer and therefore individuals who are not computer users (and who may have no wish to be) can also benefit. The new e-Shop in Nairobi exemplifies this principle. It enables anyone to purchase items from the Internet without interacting with a computer. Payment can be made in local currency and products are delivered quickly to the customer's door.

Third, enhanced applications must be developed, said Gakio that will make ‘information at your fingertips’ a reality for both the internal and the external activities of organizations. These applications will enable both intra-African and inter-African online transactions.

Obstacles to achieving the above goals, according to Gakio, include growing government regulations affecting the cost and availability of services; the paucity, quality and high cost of telecom facilities; low public understanding of the Internet; low but increasing adoption of computers and the scarcity of expertise in Internet technology.

As it stands, concluded Gakio, our progress in introducing the Internet to Africa has been such that we are rapidly disproving the following prediction made in 1994 by the founders of the Internet Society: ‘it will be a long time before network users in most African countries will be doing much with tools similar to Mosaic (the precursor of browsers such as Netscape).’

For press information contact:
Bill Keefe, Africa Online, 617.306.4440,