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While researching how web 2.0 technology can be used to help educate farmers about improving farming in Fiji, I came across this article in the New York Times.  It’s a look at a team of Microsoft researchers in India who ‘approach the technology of emerging markets in unconventional ways’.

One project referred to as Digital Green, centers around using digital media to teach small farmers in the Indian state of Karnataka about sustainable agriculture techniques.

The article goes on to point out:

In the end, Microsoft’s best intentions may not satisfy what locals want. The company surveyed 8,000 people in emerging markets and found their most pressing needs for technology often revolved around entertainment and surfing the Internet.

“It reinforced for us that the emerging middle classes are sort of like the middle classes here except they don’t have as much money,” Mr. Toyama said. “It’s sometimes easy for us to get caught up in things and forget we are serving the needs of real people.”

 

Digital Green in action

Digital Green in action

The middle class everywhere likes to be entertained.  This is a particular challenge and we have to wonder if ‘edu-tainment’ is up for the job.  It’s difficult to talk to people about microfinance and sustainable agriculture when they’re trying to find the latest bollywood download.   Still, with their ‘farmers idol’ approach Digital Green has found a way to get villagers to participate in the creation of instructional videos which then are received with much greater enthusiasm by others in the village. Viral marketing hits the village.

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Increasing PC penetration in emerging economies looks to be within real reach with announcement from India. One of the largest telcos there, Reliance, is offering a free netbook computer for customers who sign up for a two-year wireless internet agreement. Read the story from GigaOm here:

This application of the wireless industry business model (subscription) to the computing business means that we may finally see computer penetration go up in emerging economies. It is not easy for people to buy expensive computers in the emerging economies, but these smaller netbooks that can be attached to a keyboard, mouse and a monitor can help overcome those barriers.

The recent round of deregulation brings promise (Digicel launches in two weeks), but the internet is still an area of uncertainty because the monopoly license on the sole internet gateway (Southern Cross Cable) has not been challenged.  And more importantly, FINTEL seems to have been able to hold off efforts to deregulate in this area because it is on the hook to the network owner C&W, soon to be acquired by AT&T.

FINTEL is well aware that to challenge their dominant status, govt. would have to pry control of the gateway from them–at an estimated price tag of $300 million, that is out of reach of Fiji Govt. finances.

Additionally, investing in a competing new cable running to say American Samoa, Hawaii, or New Caledonia would come at a price of about $100 million, which is also out of reach.
Annnouncement this week of Google’s investment in a new satellite business venture that seeks to provide broadband internet access at low and reduced rates to Africa, Latin American, and Asian countries offers a great deal of promise to Pacific Island countries.

While the O3B website does not list the Pacific as an area where they will operate, we can only cross our fingers that when they launch their satellites in 2010, the Pacific will be part of the coverage.  The concept of satellite-based 3G wireless internet backhaul to get ISPs up and running in developing countries is extremely exciting and offers hope to the 3 billion people who still do not have internet access.

See also my previous post on how regulators can enforce ‘functional separation’, which would have to be done in Fiji to pry loose Fintel’s grip on internet backhaul in Fiji.

Next post: How mobile usage might affect the move toward expanding internet infrastructure in Fiji.

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