The Internet in developing nations: Grand challenges

Larry Press


This is a call for a "Grand Challenge" project for achieving truly global connectivity. For over a decade, we have hypothesized that the Internet could raise the quality of life in developing nations. We have conducted hundreds of studies of the state of the Internet and "e–readiness," done extensive training of technicians and policy makers, run pilot studies, and held local, regional and global conferences and workshops. After all of this activity, Internet connectivity is nearly non–existent in rural areas of developing nations, and far below that of developed nations in the urban areas of developing nations.

This is not to say the activity of the past decade has been a waste. We have demonstrated the value of the Internet and raised awareness. The United Nations and the administrations of nearly all nations have acknowledged the potential of the Internet. The way has been paved, and it is time to act on what we have learned.

After outlining the work of the last decade, we explore one possible Grand Challenge: Connecting every village in the rural developing world to the Internet using a strategy similar to that used in building the NSFNet. We speculate on wireless technologies that might play a role in working toward that goal: Terrestrial, high–altitude platform, and satellite. We conclude with a brief discussion of alternative Grand Challenges and a call for action.

The time is ripe for an audacious project. What could we achieve with US$15 billion and ten years time?

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