Why worry about Internet access for poverty-stricken people in developing countries? Because a large disparity in income causes resentment, which may in turn lead to radicalism and to horrible attacks, such as occurred in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.



Internet Access for Poor Countries

Why worry about Internet access for poverty-stricken people in developing countries? Because a large disparity in income causes resentment, which may in turn lead to radicalism and to horrible attacks, such as occurred in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Enabling the poor to access the Internet may bring them information to empower them to boost themselves out of poverty and become confident, productive members of a healthy society.

At the same time that we help poor countries, we may also boost our own suffering bottom lines.

To accomplish this goal, business people must change their basic strategy. Instead of thinking of products with more features, we should concentrate on more access. Several businesses have already incorporated the switch. You may want to follow.

More Features vs. More Access

For the past couple of years I have been predicting that the price of a computer would eventually be close to zero. All recent events in computer technology suggest that this will happen. Why does it not happen?

The answer is that computer manufacturers and software producers are making sure it does not happen. How do they do this? By adding "features". Periodically they make changes and add "features" - most of them useless - in order to sell new "improved" products. Of course, they need to charge you for all this extra "innovation".

This approach has worked for several "generations" of computers. But I think we have reached a plateau. People are beginning to realize that they do not use much of the power available from Windows 95. Why should they buy a new XP version and spend endless days trying to learn a new system? The rich market is saturated.

Why not turn our gaze away from the rich and focus it onto the poor, of which there are billions. Help them gain Internet access. For this to happen, we need to get rid of all the "features" and produce a basic, simple device that enables a peasant in a poor country to access and learn from people all over the world. The device must be cheap.

The Simputer

India has a billion people, a vast majority of whom live in poverty. Professors and entrepreneurs at the Institute of Science and Encore Software, Ltd, both in Bangalore, have developed a device that they call the Simputer. The Simputer can be used by anyone, even an illiterate person. It is pocket size. It may be used to send and receive email and to browse the Internet. It costs about $200.

To better serve the poor it has

> A Touch Screen - Locally recognized symbols and pictures may be used to guide inputs by non-sophisticated people

> Text-to-Audio Synthesizer - No need for the user to be able to read. The text is converted to sound and the messages are spoken out loud

> Smart Card - Since $200 is too expensive for many, the smart card has been added to enable several people to share one Simputer

Here are 2 examples of how the Simputer can empower the poor:

> Farmers - It enables them to check on current market prices for their produce, thus placing them in a better bargaining position

> Health Care Workers - Those at remote locations can easily look up medical information

The Simputer technology is available for licensing to individuals and organizations in other poor countries, in addition to India. For more information, see http://www.simputer.org.

Future Needs

The Simputer is a good beginning. However, there are 2 main problems with it:

1 - Requires Telephone Line - In many poor countries this is a big obstacle because of an unavailable, flawed, or expensive telephone system. We need a way to use wireless to connect to the Internet

2 - Too Expensive - At $200 it is too expensive. The smart card helps. But we need a much cheaper device. I think a device as good as Simputer, but with wireless access could be sold for less than $50.

We need not confine ourselves to computers. Helping increase Internet access may be a good philosophy to follow for other products and services.

Let's use our imagination, not to build toys for the rich, but to enable the world's poor to live a better life. This will bring both political and economic dividends to us all.

About the author: Paul -the soarING- Siegel is a provocative Internet speaker and author of HELPFULNESS MARKETNG, an ebook stressing learning, cooperation and community. Learn about it at http://www.learningfountain.com/. Subscribe to newsletter, LearningFOUNT, by sending blank email to: mailto:LearningFOUNT-subscribe@responsiblenetizen.org.

Author: Paul Siegel