Overcoming regulatory and technological challenges to bring Internet access to a sparsely populated, remote area: A case study

Ronel Smith


The South African Government has launched a drive to provide Telecentres to communities and Internet access to schools. The Telecentres are normally centrally located with respect to clusters of schools and other community services. In the context of this drive, a Telecentre was established in Manguzi, a remote town in the KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa. The surrounding schools did not benefit from this centre due to the inappropriate distance between the schools and Telecentre. In addition, the schools could not be connected to Internet directly due to the absence of telephones. In this case study we will show that existing "off-the-shelf" technologies were not applicable to the specific situation and hence there was a need for a new solution.
There are unusual challenges in providing Internet connectivity to a "sparsely" populated rural community separated by vast distances from nearest urban development. This case study details how we combined existing Internet access technologies to overcome various obstacles such as the lack of existing telecommunications infrastructure, remoteness of area, as well as political and economic issues. Furthermore the solution implemented had to be cheap, suited to the specific regulatory and geographic environment, robust and suitable for a particular application, namely Web browsing and e-mail.
We used the asymmetric nature of the data requirements of the specific applications to our advantage, using radio links and satellite broadcast technology to provide the required connectivity. We will discuss the expected merits of the new solution and its implementation. We will also present our practical findings and discuss how it compared to our expectations.
Similar needs and situations exist in other parts of the world, especially those that have a lack of telecommunications infrastructure, very remote rural areas that are very sparsely populated. We hope that the outputs of this paper can contribute to the technology decisions of people responsible for rolling out Internet infrastructure in similar environments.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v5i10.793

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