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I've just returned from organizing an electronics recycling
conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where I met Dr. Hylton Villet, the chairman of MyDigitalBridge in Namibia.
well acquainted with the big digital inclusion projects in the U.S. like Connect2Compete
and was completely surprised at how African projects like MyDigitalBridge are getting
low-cost Internet to low-income people in a mostly rural country.
a medium-sized country that borders South Africa. It's located on the southwest Atlantic coast of
Africa. Its official language is English. It has a population of just over 2
million in an area considerably larger than Texas. It received its independence
from South Africa in 1990.
It is mostly a desert country and the home of both the
Namib and Kalahari deserts. After Mongolia, Namibia is the least densely
populated country in the world. It is a country of rural villages and small
towns. Half the population lives below the international poverty line, and the
country has been hard hit by HIV/AIDS.
One thing that Namibia has going for it is a stable
parliamentary democracy and a government that clearly believes in digital
MyDigitalBridge is an NGO that started its work
fairly recently. Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba stated, during his 2012
Annual State of the Nation address, that "our country cannot afford to lag
behind in this (digital inclusion) area, because it is vital to the
competitiveness of our nation."
MyDigitalBridge was founded soon thereafter that to
refurbish PC donations for use in schools, recycle end-of-life IT equipment,
and figure out how to get broadband to rural communities throughout the
Their mission is to connect schools to Internet learning, to connect rural
clinics with telemedicine, and to develop village telecommunications in this
part of rural Africa.
Their project for this is called Citizen
Connect. What's really interesting is how Namibia is
approaching the huge infrastructure problem of providing broadband in places
that don’t have much basic electricity yet.
In Africa, Internet is wireless,
and Africa uses mainly cell phone towers to provide broadband. It is expensive and
metered by the MB (megabyte). It is also only available in and around cities.
To make affordable Internet available in
rural places, MyDigitalBridge is setting up an ambitious pilot project to
construct solar-powered WiFi
stations that use UHF TV band spectrum, commonly known as TV white spaces.
This is a bit technical, but basically the idea is for them to use old analog
TV and FM radio frequencies that were abandoned after conversion to
digital TV, just like we did in the U.S.
In the U.S., we auctioned off these
frequencies to mobile companies who then used them to create 4G
LTE (fourth generation long-term evolution) wireless networks. Verizon
Wireless launched the first large-scale LTE network in North America in
2010. The new 4G networks can carry much more data and so are suitable for both
mobile phone and PC broadband.
In Namibia, a considerable portion of the TV white spaces spectrum has been allocated for digital inclusion rather than for
commercial use. Of course, the Citizen
Connect project will require millions of Namibian dollars to complete, but Prime Minister Hage Geingob
is providing strong support for MyDigitalBridge's work.
Like all successful digital inclusion projects, it
has a strong base of stakeholders and collaborators, including the Communication
Regulatory Authority of Namibia, the Ministry of Education and its Advanced
Education Technology Services, and the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative.
My special thanks go to Dr. Hylton Villet for attending the E-Waste
and Refurbishment Standards Conference in Cape Town on June 7
and providing me with a draft of the Citizen
Connect technical concept paper.
Image: logo (MyDigitalBridge)
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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