First Mile First Inch
Lack of access to communica-
tions and information services The scenic picture of the Peebles Valley illustrating the challenges of
implementing a mesh network in a rural setting.
remains a major obstacle to the
economic and social develop-
ment of the rural poor through-
out the world — nowhere more
so than in Africa.
Sadly, technological solutions
that have proved effective in
Improve Information Flow to
developed countries are often
beyond the means of remote,
scattered and poverty-stricken
Poor in Developing Nations
communities. Thus in South To benefit from information and communications technolo-
Africa, Telkom's ambitious rollout
gies (ICTs), disadvantaged populations need access that is
of communications infrastruc-
ture in rural areas has all but both affordable and available in an appropriate social and
stalled with some 850 000 lines cultural context
having been disconnected. FMFI projects demonstrated how access to Internet con-
In the face of this reality, a col- nectivity can be managed and maintained collectively by
laborative project known as First
communities. This they called the "First Mile", turning the old
Mile First Inch (FMFI) is working to
identify and develop models telco concept of “Last Mile” to the customer on its head. The
and low-cost ‘shoestring’ tech- additional concept of “First Inch” refers to the need for
nologies that will overcome applications that are easy to use by the communities they
such impediments to progress. are designed to assist.
Specifically, FMFI seeks to
Innovative solutions embracing both First Mile and First
address the needs of rural
communities by implementing Inch technologies have demonstrated significant success
low-cost, affordable technolo- and deserve not merely wider recognition, but wider imple-
continued on page 2 mentation.
First Mile First Inch • Cost and benefits of solutions supported by telcos that remain
• Scalability and replicability of committed to older technologies
continued from page 1
technologies servicing mass markets (a major
gies and applications for Internet • Influence on policy and regula- reason why their existing business
access and connection to the glob- tions. models have not worked for the
al information society that result in The approach taken by FMFI is rural poor); and
high use, potential revenue and/or essentially to foster “bottom-up” • Many countries have telecommu-
dramatic cost savings for institutions collaboration to achieve sustain- nications policies that inhibit the
and end users, and expanded use able technical innovation that is use of First Mile technologies and
of Communication Technologies scalable and replicable. require licensing.
(ICTs) in remote African locations. First Mile refers to the links As regulatory policy should sup-
The FMFI project is a comparative between the access devices and port community development, not
study of Information and ICTs in dif- the local access providers, and hinder it, the successful implemen-
ferent low-density contexts, across involved such connectivity tech- tation of First Mile technologies that
different projects in a number of nologies wireless (WiFi), wired demonstrate real benefits the poor
countries. Ethernet, powerline technologies, can influence governments in the
This is a network project funded by Bluetooth, narrowband HF/VHF/UHF, development of regulatory policy.
the IDRC, a Canadian Crown cor- and mesh networks employing any Importantly, the challenges are
poration that works in close collab- of these technologies. not merely technological, but social
oration with researchers from the First Inch refers to the applications and cultural. Success therefore
developing world in their search for and access devices (PCs, thin clients, depends on addressing all of these
the means to build healthier, more handheld Personal Digital Assistants issues and in order to do this the proj-
equitable, and more prosperous (PDAs) and cellular devices). Import- ect has adopted an Outcomes
societies (http://www.idrc.ca/). The antly, this component of the project Mapping methodology, which
collaborative network was coordi- addresses the fact that it is often not focuses on changes in the behaviour
nated by the Meraka Institute of the enough simply to place technology of people, groups, and organisations
Council for Scientific and Industrial in the hands of users; instead, the involved with the programme.
Research (CSIR) in South Africa and technology must be adapted to the As President Thabo Mbeki said at
12 project partners in Angola, local environment. Further, the users the launch of the National Research
Mozambique, Namibia and South require training and education on and Development Strategy in
Africa. As such, the project compris- the technologies. January 2002: “We have to ensure
es an in-depth exploration of five Among the barriers to develop- that as many of our people as possi-
key objectives: ment of innovative solutions are ble master modern technologies and
• Innovative First Mile and First Inch that: integrate them in their social activi-
solutions • First Mile technologies are fre- ties including education, delivery of
• Changed behaviour in use of ICTs quently cutting edge and not yet services and economic activity.”
The First Mile First Inch
(FMFI) project is a
paradigm shift from the
traditional "last mile"
and "last inch" thinking
representing a more
approach to innovation
and focusing on the
Satellite photo of the
Peebles Valley in
Africa, upon which has
been superimposed a
diagram of the low-cost
mesh network that has
costs for ta local HIV/AIDS
clinic and other users,
while extending telecoms
services to some of the
rural poor who were
Achieving the Most with the Least in
Peebles Valley, Mpumalanga
A successful example of First Mile innovation is a project calls by installing a wireless link between the clinic and
centred on an community HIV/AIDS clinic in Peebles the hospice.
Valley, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.
On one side of the valley is the Masoyi tribal, home to Project Outline
poor, peri-urban community with a population of 220 WiFi, a consumer product used mainly for Internet
000, where it is estimated that one-third of the sexually access “hotspots” in urban areas, was experimented
active population is HIV-positive. Across the valley from with to learn whether it could be used in poor rural com-
Masoyi are prosperous commercial farms, all of which munities that currently would have pay a high cost
were paying individually for expensive Internet access. (anywhere from $300 to $3000 for 64 kbps) for Internet
The ACTS Clinic, which is run by anational non-govern- connectivity via leased line or satellite.
mental organisation was already paying for a satellite In the case of the clinic and hospice, however, there
connection so it could report on the progress of was no line-of-sight connection available – an essential
patients being treated with antiretroviral (ARV) therapy requirement for a WiFi link. The team opted, therefore,
to the NGO with which it worked. In addition, the clinic for a mesh network.
was spending a similar amount on mobile phone calls To form the network, the team envisaged a small wire-
to speak to a hospice less than 5km away, but across a less network of nodes, each in line-of-site of at least one
ridge. other node, connecting the clinic to the hospice via
The project wanted to test whether the high costs of and community members, including commercial farm-
individual connection could be amortised by aggre- ers, who all now share the cost of a single connection.
gating user demand in resource-poor settings and be Once installed successfully, very little configuration is
sustainable. needed to set up the mesh networking technology as it
The technical team wanted to provide free voice finds optimal routes through the network automatically.
After installing mesh software, the signal from the clin- in an under-serviced rural setting.
ic was relayed via an antenna to a high site on a farm, Further opportunities were created in the mesh net-
then to a healthcare worker’s house closer to the hos- work for individual users to have access at work first and
pice and eventually across a ridge to the hospice. then at home, where they could use it for their own
Because mesh networks are easily extensible, the development as well as that of family and friends.
team was able to keep adding nodes, and did so to
include the local public school and farmers further Internet Challenges
afield. The mesh itself established new links between There were two critical issues to Internet cut-off: the
nodees, creating a level of redundancy that is much daily provider cut-off, and the effect of bandwidth
needed in cases where power can be a problem. capping. The VSAT is cut-off every night by the provider,
in part due to the capping mindset of broadband pro-
Changed Behaviour in the Use of ICTs vision in South Africa. Many disconnect the user to do
The hub of the Peebles Mesh network was the ACTS packet accounting and then decide if the user may
Clinic. From that point where the VSAT connection was reconnect. The result is that the connection is terminat-
installed, the connectivity was distributed across the ed.
valley to an AIDS hospice, an NGO, a high school and The second issue meant that there was a need for
some farmers in the region as well as individuals. The bandwidth management. New users are often not
influence is across these different boundary partners, aware of the cost of the Internet, and are quick to
but with the main emphasis on the ACTS Clinic to man- download music. The project team had to implement
age and maintain the network and deal with user issues bandwidth management, which seems tragic when
and costs. the whole idea was to provide access. The result for the
The clinic had a vested interest in making the network clinic iwhen bandwidth limits are reached is quite
work, because it pays for the backbone VSAT connec- severe, the connection is cut-off until the following
tivity and had to put systems in place to recover some month, and there is no option of a top-up.
of these costs, as well as maintain an attractive service Both of these issues were frustrating and indicated the
in the face of growing competition from commercial chasm existing between the objective of legislators and
providers. the results in the field. All indicated the truly limited
Within the ACTS Clinic, training and support created nature of broadband in South Africa and the frustrating
the critical mass of users. The internal objectives of using waste of resources spent keeping usage down.
ICT technology to enhance service delivery at this level
have been achieved. In terms of the overall changes in Cost and Benefits of the Solutions
behaviour in this project, the primary site adopted the The benefits are that an entire area can be covered
technology, integrated it into their activities and with an inexpensive mesh network, providing connec-
accepted the responsibility to be a hub for distribution tivity to anyone willing and able to connect. The costs
Above A ‘dashboard’ giving visual representation of bandwidth usage
for individual users on the network.
Right A community member showing how easy it is to install a mesh
node in the rural village. Note the simplicity of the use of the cantenna.
The Acts Hospice, another node in the
mesh network, enjoys the benefit of
involve the equipment and the running charges.
Neither ACTS nor the CSIR has any form of connectivity
licence for this project and, technically, the distribution is ille-
gal unless the ACTS Clinic gets a VANS licence for using the
connectivity in the community for its own operations. The ille-
gality in terms of current South African legislation increases
once there is a pay-for-service element.
The project was successful in gathering user support, but
less successful in them sharing responsibility for both in cost
and bandwidth use
The Portia Effect
Broadband leased lines are not available in Peebles, but One of the most widely observed phenome-
cellular networks have upgraded their installations and 3G is na of ICT implementation is that it inevitably
encroaching on the area. Some commercial farmers in the leads to valuable spin-offs. The human dimen-
area considered mesh, but opted for the 3G solution. In addi- sion of this is well illustrated in the Peebles
tion, the clinic’s IT support company has just begun working Project.
on a community mesh in the town of White River, about 20km In order to link an HIV Clinic with a Hospice,
from the clinic, creating the opportunity to provide a wireless a PC and phone link were installed in the
link from White River to Peebles and share low-cost ADSL with home of a volunteer HIV/AIDS counsellor. The
the clinic and mesh, probably at a much lower cost than the counsellor’s daughter, Portia, an unemployed
satellite connection. woman in her early twenties, was shown how
The business model in the Peebles case is seen as a strate- to use the equipment to search the Internet.
gy about how mesh networks in community applications “She was given no formal training,” says
should be implemented. Consideration needs to be given to project member Dwayne Bailey. “Portia was
the impact of commercial service provision on the long-term simply asked the name of her favourite musi-
sustainability of a community-based (and owned) mesh net- cian, who happened to be Alicia Keyes, and
work. she was shown how to find information about
her on Google. She was fascinated and from
Lessons Learned, Users and Uses there quickly became adept at finding out
• Effective mesh networks can be introduced in rural settings other information.”
to provide distributed ICT access. As a result of this experience, Portia started
• Testing and adaptation is part of the process to match a computer club for local children while hom-
planning with the reality to achieve a fully scaled mesh ing her own skills. She began emailing out her
configuration CV to companies in search of such skills as she
• The demand created at the main institutional ICT nodes in had developed, and now has a job in the for-
the mesh network can be expanded into the community mal economy in the Eastern Cape.
through providing affordable equipment and individ- mechanism in place, the greater is the likelihood that
ual connectivity in the homes of current users. somebody will take the primary user to task on the
• Community-based ICT service providers need to legality of its service provision.
charge for services to sustain the connectivity they
• Systems, people and budgets need to be put in place • The clinic has cut the high cost of its mobile phone
to maintain and grow ICT infrastructures. bills, and a range of other new users have benefited
• Adequate bandwidth management systems need to
(see The Portia Effect, page 5).
be put in place to ensure ICT resource usage con-
• After a year’s exposure to the elements a rusty can
forms to the overall objectives and that key activities
are not jeopardised by reaching bandwidth caps. that was formed the “dish” of a cantenna was shifted
• The potential for broad scaling and replication of by the wind so that it no longer points in the right
NGO-driven ICT projects depends on the extent of the direction. However, it continued to connect perfectly
support the initiative has. Initiatives with a national to an antenna some 5km away in its line of site. The
focus need to gather broad support at the communi- valuable lesson from this is that, while these networks
ty level as well as at the national level. are not an exact science, they can perform well even
• Even if the research phase of a project provides free with home-built inaccuracies.
connectivity, community users need to understand • Measurements in the mesh network revealed that
that they will be paying for connectivity sooner or users experienced an average throughput rate of
later. 2324 kbps between each other; this far exceeds the
• Bandwidth and download limitations need to be typical ADSL link found in most homes. The bottleneck,
explained to users and managed from the outset. however, is still the VSAT connection, which reduces
• Research has to be done into available and emerg-
throughput to 256 kbps on the downlink and 64 kbps
ing connectivity options to deal with potential obso-
on the uplink.
lescence of the installed infrastructure, once
alternative connectivity options become available.
• Users tend to have no loyalty to connectivity service Conclusion
providers and migrate to the optimum cost-benefit Peebles Valley is a great example of achieving the most
configuration. with the least. The project leaders achieved their vision
• Building a business case on a technically illegal infra- of getting the community free access while also bene-
structure is risky. The closer the primary user gets to fiting the farmers, and it demonstrated that successful
having a workable cost-sharing and cost recovery ICT4D does not necessarily need a lot of donor funding.
The school in Peebles Valley enjoys
internet access as a result of being
a node in the mesh network
Aerial view of the 130 homes in the Rooiwal community.
Tshwane Metro Delivers Low-Cost
Broadband to Rooiwal Communiity
The City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality (CTMM), nectivity networks, it could influence the Regulator to
an FMFI project partner, has successfully delivered a First allow self-provisioning of telecoms services within
Mile solution that should be an object lesson for local municipal borders, with the result that other municipali-
authorities not merely in South Africa, but in the entire ties would follow suit.
The Municipality, which embraces South Africa’s cap- Innovative First Mile and First Inch solutions
ital city, has demonstrated clearly that communication The main question in the Tshwane Metro centres on how
via existing power lines is both technically and commer- the spare capacity on its municipal fibre-optic network
cially viable could be used to achieve social and economic objec-
Powerline communication (PLC) or broadband over tives. Secondly, how could this be made economically
powerline (BPL) converts the existing electricity grid into viable to the level where the municipality could offer
a network for high-speed data, voice and media trans- PLC connectivity directly to residents’ homes.
fer over existing power lines. Every power socket in Tshwane Metro’s existing fibre-optic network is one of
every home or office connected to the system the most advanced in Africa. It comprises 60 primary
becomes a broadband communications point without sub-stations, 150 secondary sub-stations and 25 wireless
the need for separate cabling high sites, and covers the entire metro, from Midrand in
To prove the effectiveness of PLC, Tshwane Metro the south to Hammanskraal in the north, Mamelodi in
selected as a pilot project the small community of the east to Hartbeespoort Dam in the west. At Rooiwal,
Rooiwal, a town owned by the city, and whose com- innovation is in:
munity mostly comprises employees of the Rooiwal • Providing PLC connectivity to homes through existing
Power Station. copper wire infrastructure.
• Using the municipal fibre-optic network as the back-
Project Outline haul connectivity.
In January 2004, Tshwane Metro deployed a PLC net- • Partnering with an existing Internet Service Provider
work at the Rooiwal Township to serve 130 houses work- (ISP) to provide Internet connectivity.
ing from the Pyramid Primary Substation. Tshwane • Covering the gaps in the network with WiFi connec-
provided a range of PLC, fibre-optic and wireless con- tions.
nectivity options in this village in order to ensure that it At Rooiwal, Tshwane has created a vision for building
remains within the boundaries of the regulations gov- a new digital utility service to add to other services it is
erning its virtual private network (VPN) under its private providing, such as electricity and water.
telecommunications network (PTN) licence. Each recipient building is equipped with a modem
Nine houses were selected to receive Internet con- that typically retails at about R2 000, plugs into the back
nectivity. Later the This library was included in order to of a computer and direct into an electricity socket. The
provide Internet access to the broader community. bandwidth of more than 5 megabits per second (Mbps)
Tshwane believed that if it championed municipal con- to each home and office in the community permits fast
Internet connectivity, Voice-over-Inernet Protocol service provision issues can be sorted out, broad adop-
(VoIP), high-quality television and video streaming. It is tion cannot be assumed and knowledgeable users will
then possible to take any analogue phone and plug it shop around for alternatives.
into the modem to use it to make VoIP calls. The
modem does the VoIP conversion itself and enables Cost and Benefits of the Solution
Rooiwal residents to make free local calls on the net- The first cost and benefit analysis for the Tshwane PLC is
work. When residents need to make calls outside of the done at the user level, where households could sign up
town, they are connected via a telecoms service fro a free trial period of broadband access through a
provider to Telkom, a cellular operator or international modem connected to the power supply in their homes.
lines. The initial free service would then be replaced by a
It is planned that the pilot will eventually become a connectivity contract with a commercial ISP, but still
commercial venture. using the PLC link to the fibre-optic network. The sug-
gested pricing for the connectivity provision from the
Changed Behaviour in the Use of ICTs ISP was in the range of what other ISPs could offer in the
Some issues emerging in the implementation showed area for dial-up connections. The benefits for the user
that there would not be ready and easy acceptance. would then lie only in having free connectivity equip-
Tshwane purchased 130 sets of PLC customer premis- ment, the bandwidth, convenience and reliability.
es equipment to be able to connect every home in Tshwane Metro would possibly not benefit at all, as the
Rooiwal but only 80 residents indicated an interest in the invoicing would be directly from ISP to customer.
installation. This means either that some residents felt The second business model is based on the potential
connectivity was not for them and wanted nothing to this situation holds for ICT service provision by a munici-
do with it, or they were aware of alternatives. pality. The intention was to position Tshwane Metro as a
There were initial technical difficulties with getting the digital hub, building on its available fibre-optic and
PLC option to work at all. Once these were addressed, copper-wire infrastructure to consolidate its position as
new problems emerged to the extent that users started a potential telecoms service provider.
regarding the PLC option as unreliable and started In the case of new housing developments, PLC con-
looking at alternative broadband solutions. Difficulties nectivity would be designed into the infrastructure of
compounded when the ISP introduced an Internet con- each house and connectivity would be available,
nection for which residents were to be charged, but should householders choose to use it. Payment for the
which proved unreliable. The ISP also did not respond service could possibly be bundled with electricity bills.
adequately to requests for support. Reaction against Connectivity provision would also be extended into the
this situation was so widespread the ISP was removed business environment to the extent that Tshwane would
and another provider was found. provide a reliable, higher level service to ICT-intensive
The sum total of experiences and the analysis of businesses and attract both skills and investment into
changed behaviours in this project must therefore be the metro, using this service as a draw card.
regarded with circumspection. Tshwane proved that it The pilot study laid the foundation for testing the over-
could provide a PLC option, but until the technical and all intentions of the metro. It also revealed the total busi-
A Rooiwal user at home enjoying the benefits of
internet access over Power Line Communication.
A Rooiwal user at home enjoying the benefits of
internet access over Power Line Communication.
ness approach needed create a new information utility
a reality. The full business model extends upward from
community provision to consideration of whether
Tshwane should create a dedicated ISP and whether it
needed to go as far as establishing an Internet
exchange to serve potential demand for a broad
range of services across a wide spectrum of users.
Scalability and Replicability of Technologies
The Tshwane project researched the details of provid-
ing broadband connectivity to homes through PLC,
connected to a fibre-optic backbone terminating at
an ISP, which would provide the Internet link. Although Of Homework, Wedding
there were some delays in the rollout of the project, a
number of scalability and replication issues became Dresses and Vintage
apparent in the project.
The fibre-optic link proved to be the most reliable Cars
aspect of the network and the difficulties arose with the Libraries have long been in the forefront of the
PLC component as well as the ISP. Careful considera- movement to introduce people to the benefits of
tion also had to be given to user take up issues and information technology, but the experience has
responses to the introduction of connectivity in their been mixed.
homes. Rooiwal librarian Elize Pretorius reports that people
Having tested the PLC solution in some homes, of all ages use two PCs located in the public section
Tshwane believed that the stage had been set to scale of the library, both to send emails and access infor-
to all the homes in the Rooiwal community. This was a mation of all types — from material for school proj-
possibility, but what it found was that user acceptance ects to schedules of sports events, how-to
was in the order of 60% (80 out of 130). The reasons for information on restoring vintage cars and a even a
the relatively low adoption rate could not be attributed pattern for a wedding dress. Regrettably, one user
just to aversion to having connectivity, but was found in was found to have downloaded “adult” material.
cost and service provision issues. Demand from schoolchildren has led to library
Tshwane Metro was in the position to scale and repli- hours being extended to 6.30 in the evening.
cate, but some additional technical and social ground- However, not all users have been impressed by the
work had to be done before its vision of populating the facility. Some — especially those who have access
entire municipal area could become a reality. to the Internet at work — complain that download-
ing information from the Internet at the library takes
Influencing ICT Policy and Regulation too long. However, at present the library is not pay-
A PLC solution, coupled with connectivity into an fibre- ing for its Internet connection, so Helen feels they
optic network as well as wireless links in some areas, can hardly complain.
owned by a local authority is a convoluted option in She feels strongly that formal training of library
which careful consideration should be given to bound- staff would enable them to provide more help to
aries, and where they are being overstepped. Tshwane potential users.
Metro holds a PTN licence, but not a VANS licence. Its
initial reasoning was to run the Rooiwal project as a pilot
study on a contiguous property Tshwane owned, which Lessons learned, Users and Uses
would remove most of the potential objections, as it • PLC can be the carrier of broadband connectivity for
was providing communication and connectivity servic- households that are wired for electricity. in a develop-
es to its employees. This could be categorised under ing country.
their PTN licence. But Tshwane had a bigger vision. To • Using PLC, Municipalities can provide cost-effective
confound the issue, in the regulatory environment it was connectivity options for previously marginalised resi-
still not clear how local authorities should position them- dents.
selves, in the following areas: • Community-level pilot ICT projects can provide evi-
• Whether VANS can self-provide, in which case munic- dence for large municipalities to clarify their role and
ipalities could apply for VANS licence, or responsibility in providing low-cost connectivity and
• By means of a separate dispensation for local govern- voice services to the broader communities they serve
ment, or in order to achieve socio-economic objectives.
• By virtue of having a PTN licence, which would allow • PTN licences held by large metros can be expanded
them to provide wholesale services (reselling spare to provide broadband connectivity and voice servic-
capacity) to operators and value-added service es in the coverage area.
providers, which in turn could provide these services • Once users are familiar with ICT resources, they will
commercially. expect a quality service.
OpenPhone First-Inch Solution
Delivers Information Empowerment
OpenPhone is a low-cost open-source telephone-based information dis-
semination environment that designed to address the significant African
need for information empowerment of its people. The system aims to make
it easy and inexpensive for organisations and individuals to perform infor-
mation transactions on the telephone – that is to make information avail-
able to, and gather information from, callers.
The OpenPhone project is a culmination of open-source technologies,
human language technologies, human-computer interaction research,
social research and open source-principles. It investigates the human and There is more to the digital divide
cultural factors that need to be considered when developing an informa- than the difficulty disadvantaged
tion transaction platform. populations face in accessing
Telephone-based service requires relatively low levels of infrastructure expensive information and commu-
and user sophistication. Useful services can be made available to citizens nication technologies (ICTs).
equipped with nothing but a tele- Indeed, the divide is partly built into
phone (mobile or fixed-line), and ICTs—most software is developed in
requiring no more than the ability English and a few other Western
to understand and respond to languages that most poor people in
spoken commands. developing countries don’t speak.
Huge costs are involved in IDRC and its research partners are
developing PABX systems that at the forefront of an international
support interactive voice effort to make ICTs more accessible
response (IVR). In most cases and relevant to disadvantaged
these have to be outsourced to populations through First Inch solu-
experts in the field, and mainte- tions such localisation—the adapta-
nance costs are incurred if tion of software to local languages.
changes need to be made. Localisation is an ICT4D priority for
Hence, there is a need for a low- several reasons:
cost interactive flexible tool that • The need take into account all
will enable people to develop factors—technical, cultural, politi-
and maintain IVR systems in a lan- cal, economic—that influence
guage of choice to service a the success of a project.
diverse multicultural group. Language is often a fundamental
The figure at left depicts the part of that context. Localisation
OpenPhone system. can help to ensure that ICTs are
The core of OpenPhone is the taken up by people who might
Asterisk PABX open-source system otherwise be bypassed by the
(www.asterisk.org). Asterisk does digital revolution.
VoIP in many protocols, and can • Localisation fits very well into
interoperate with almost all stan- IDRC’s support of free, open-
dards-based telephony equipment using relatively inexpensive hardware. source software. While IDRC part-
DialogPalette is a graphical user interface to Asterisk and allows a user to ners determine whether
create telephony applications easily. It can be conceptualised as an commercial or open-source soft-
authoring tool for telephony applications. The Asterisk system has been ware is the best match for their
expanded to use FLITE, a text-to speech (TTS) engine designed by Carnegie specific needs, there is a good fit
Mellon University (http://www.speech.cs.cmu. edu/flite/index. html). FLITE between localisation require-
enables the OpenPhone system to convert text to speech using a comput- ments and the open-source
er-generated voice. (The latest version of DialogPalette can be down- movement, one goal of which is
loaded from SourceForge.net). to make it relatively easy to devel-
The primary role of DialogPalette is to act as an authoring tool that allows op a language module inde-
an information provider to design an information dissemination application. pendently that can be plugged
The information provider can record the prompts for the various phases in into the software. Users can pick
multiple languages. The application designer also has the choice of using the language they want almost
the TTS engine to record prompts in a language of choice. The application as a drop-down menu.
design is guided by the use of templates. A training manual is available as • Finally, localisation can help lan-
part of the DialogPalette application. guages become more flexible,
Information users access the solution simply by phoning a number — ide- making it easier to accommo-
ally a toll-free or sponsored one. The user listens to the voice prompts and date growth and evolution.
interacts with the system by entering the requested key presses. Instead of just dropping in tech-
nology-related words from English • Pootle, a Translation Manage- enhanced to allow all content from
or another language that have ment System (TMS) developed by the old FMFI static website to be
no local meaning or context, Translate.org.za to facilitate dis- translated. The existing text convert-
localisation finds ways of encap- tributed translation, is used as by a er was enhanced to enable both
sulating how the technology is number of established localisation dokuwiki and mediawiki syntax to
perceived and used within the teams. Use of Pootle enabled be processed, allowing any wiki
culture. Localisation helps protect Translate.org.za a degree of con- content to be extracted and con-
languages by embedding them in trol over the management of the verted to a translatable format.
technology, rather than having results, but no actual control over Three components of the transla-
technology push them aside. the translators, who are volunteers tion were used to cover three levels
who were encouraged by the of engagement.
Challenges knowledge that their work would The first component, which
• Providing web content allows a be integrated into the product. required the most retooling and
measure of access through tech- • FMFI participants. This group rep- handholding, was the translation of
nologies provided by the First Mile resented the highest risk in that the Creative Commons licenses into
component of the FMFI project. the team was translating raw Afrikaans, Northern Sotho and Zulu.
However, at the point where con- HTML content from the FMFI web- Translate.org.za did the complete
tent is displayed on a device, one site. This made use of people who conversions, managed the transla-
encounters First Inch problems. For would not normally translate con- tors and then submitted the transla-
instance, English content deliv- tent but in the long term would tions to Creative Commons.
ered to users who do not speak probably be typical translation The second was the translation of
English is of no use. Thus for the contributors. Being closely aligned wiki content for the toolkit itself.
delivery of content to be relevant to FMFI and also being a non- Fortunately, in that area an existing
it is necessary to deliver multilin- English group it was hoped that localisation community was already
gual content. this group would rise to the chal- in existence.
• Documenting effective processes lenge in that they could translate The third was the translation of the
and approaches; English content into other lan- static FMFI website by FMFI project
• Exploring ways to train rural peo- guages such as Portuguese. participants.
ple and others in using the
localised software; Project Implementation Outcomes
• Further developing localised Key facilitating the project was the • The Creative Commons transla-
applications and tools; enhancement of a toolkit designed tions were completed and are
* Continuing to influence develop- to enable the translation of comput- now part of the official website.
ment policies. er software. It was now to be used to • Once the translator-ready con-
translate content, key content tent for Pootle (the online transla-
The HTML Translation Project being raw HTML and wiki syntax. (A tion management system (TMS)
The HyperText Mark-up Language wiki is a website or similar online was published, members of the
Translation Project is a collaboration resource which allows users to add existing localisation community
between IDRC and Translate.org.za, and edit content collectively.) translated the Pootle Users' Guide
and three boundary partners were into six additional languages fairly
identified each of which allowed a quickly.
slightly different configuration • The Pootle TMS developed by
around the translations: Translate.org.za is now being
• Creative Commons licences are adopted by many free open-
copyright licences released in source software localisation proj-
2002 by Creative Commons, a US The Translate Toolkit allows users to ects.
non-profit corporation. Many of convert various source texts (HTML, • The last community was the FMFI
the licences grant certain base- wiki, etc) into standard file formats project itself. Here the existing
line rights, such as the right to dis- such as Gettext PO and XLIFF (a static HTML website was convert-
tribute the copyrighted work translation interchange format). The ed, the content was published
without changes, at no charge. key to good translation is to divorce and participants in the FMFI proj-
Creative Commons uses its own translators from the layout, in the ect where encouraged to trans-
web-based translation system to same way that content is divorced late. However, none of the
translate its licenses. However, its from layout in the HTML and CSS par- content has yet been translated.
system does not actively help adigm. Thus the toolkit allows users • It is significant that in the first two
translators. This boundary partner to take raw HTML and extract the cases all participants had a pas-
was chosen as, if the translation textual content. This content is then sion for and understanding of the
was successful, it would result in a translated and managed using need for localisation, and they
high profile success that would Pootle and, finally, translations plus were successful even when using
allow wider adoption of the con- the original English are combined to volunteers. In the last case, locali-
cept of translation through good create the translated content. sation was not a priority and work
tools. The existing HTML converter was floundered.
This policy brief highlights some of the critical • Implications of PLC and municipal ICT net-
challenges to be considered in order to works.
achieve community access thereby helping To maximise the use of the regulatory prin-
build an Information Society and contributing ciples established in the FMFI context would
towards the Millennium Development Goals. involve escalating the regulatory debate
Although backbone connectivity was not upwards to the Communications Regulators
a key research component of this project, in Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) to
order to understand the First Mile it is neces- have an impact on a broader audience
sary to consider the whole value chain of than the three target countries as well as to
communications. CIPESA (East and Southern Africa) and
In all 10 of the FMFI projects undertaken in ACRAN - African Communication Regulation
Angola, Mozambique and South Africa, cost Authorities Network.
was identified as the key barrier to communi-
ty access. The cost of VSAT ranged from General Recommendations:
USD2000 pm in Angola, USD1000 pm in • That an enabling regulatory environment
Mozambique to USD500 pm in South Africa. supports community-owned networks
The FMFI project partners had to find innova- • Telecentres are recognised as key vehicles
tive ways to deal with these costs and create for ICT connectivity provision at communi-
cost-sharing business models to achieve a ty level.
level of sustainability. • Systems, people and budgets need to be
The solution was found in sharing and dis- put in place to maintain and grow ICT
tributing bandwidth to other users on a cost infrastructures.
recovery basis. This was done through the • An optimum solution design for scaling of
use of WiFi connecting the VSAT/Leased line ICT service delivery embraced a range of
at the hub to other users within a 20km wireless & wired technologies, including
radius. An extension of this configuration was satellite, WiFi, fixed lines and GSM options
found particularly effective in the deploy- to create a full mesh network with built-in
ment of mesh networks. These solutions how- redundancy for health and education.
ever, presented new challenges and require • Existing infrastructure should be used for
the following issues to be considered for pol- rapid and affordable expansion of ICT
• Liberalising the regulations around the use • Universal access funds should be used for
of the open ISM (Industrial Scientific and sponsoring connectivity and ICT resources
Medical) band for social objectives. for broad social objectives, notably
• National ICT initiatives in education and health, education and community
• Building partnerships with existing infra- • Recognition that training alone does not
structure owners to secure equitable ensure adoption.
access to ICT infrastructure and resources. • It is crucial to develop and support a criti-
• Making provision for resource and cost cal mass of competent and motivated
sharing of ICT infrastructures. new ICT users during the inception phase
• Government sponsorship of community of ICT projects.
connectivity and the potential use of
Universal Access Funds in this environ- For more information go to: