|Overview of Last Mile Initiative Activities Managed by dot-ORG
Over the past year, dot-ORG has become increasingly involved in USAIDs Last Mile Initiative. Last Mile Initiative keys to success are innovative technology solutions that extend connectivity from the edge of existing networks to the underserved, innovative business models that make the extensions of connectivity profitable and the development of innovative content and applications for users to turn their connectivity to strong advantage.
dot-ORG is now implementing LMI projects in four countries (Macedonia, Paraguay, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia) and undertaking an impact assessment activity with an initial assessment in Peru.
Macedonia Connects Project
Macedonia Connects, the LMI-funded initiative in Macedonia, was featured on the BBC program Click on Line. BBC journalist David Reid presented Macedonia as one of the first countries in the world with national wireless internet access. For additional information about this project, read the BBC Story and view a video online; and read a July 2005 DOT-COMment article about the project.
Impact Assessment Activity
As the Last Mile Initiative is expanding the range of countries in which projects are being developed and implemented, USAID tasked dot-ORG with an assessment activity meant to document the impact of specific LMI projects. The first step was to discuss and agree on a common approach and methodology that could be applied across projects. The second step was to identify a pilot country to undertake the first assessment in. Peru was selected and the first impact assessment activity started in November 2005. The LMI project in Peru is being implemented by Alexius International and Voxiva as its partner in Peru. The impact assessment activity is being undertaken by a team of researchers from the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP), based in Peru, and the Annenberg School of Communication (ASC), based in California, under the supervision of AED. Baseline data collection will take place in mid-December. The research plan includes both qualitative (structured interviews and focus groups) and quantitative (survey questionnaires) instruments.
Paraguay is part of the second round of countries selected within the LMI program. An initial assessment was undertaken in the summer of 2005 and a project design mission took place in November 2005. The project design is being developed and implementation is expected to start in early 2006.
LMI Paraguay is based on a model already being tested in Peru and Guatemala. Rather than rely on telecenter-like public access points, the model being tested will provide access to small businesses, schools, individuals, local governments, clinics, etc within their own offices or homes. This is made possible by the use of wireless technologies (similar to those used for the Macedonia Connects project mentioned above) and a scalable business model that combines the establishment of micro-telcos (small telecommunications companies) providing voice and Internet services in underserved areas and the support of a franchise organization.
The project design will emphasize identifying and leveraging partnerships within Paraguay to ensure that 1) high impact services and high value content are provided to the communities; and 2) additional investments allow the project to be scaled to the national level.
In Mongolia, the LMI/Mongolia project is focusing on two activities. First, it will be providing telecommunications services to Mongolia's rural areas (including herders and semi-nomadic communities) particularly at the soum (district) and bagh (sub-district level).
The project intends to partner with one of Mongolia's leading national banks (Khan Bank) and telecom providers. Khan Bank has a national network of branches at the soum level. Many of these local Khan Bank branches are connected to the internet via VSAT. Under the LMI/Mongolia activity, several of these local branches will serve as hubs for providing point-multi-point wireless connectivity to the district town and surrounding baghs. The project will be testing an innovative VoIP solution ("rural telco in a box") in conjunction with the telecom network at the Khan Bank branches to provide rural and remote locations with low cost local and international telephony.
In providing rural telecom access, the project looks to strengthen several initiatives of USAID/Mongolia such as a project to enable judicial offices to exchange information via the Web. Second, the project is actively supporting telecom policy/regulatory reform efforts undertaken by Mongolia's ICT agency, the World Bank and others. For example, LMI/Mongolia will create the pilot projects so that they complement the planned pilot projects being funded by the World Bank in support of the Mongolian government's Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) initiative. USAID's Asia Near East Bureau is providing key support for the LMI/Mongolia project. The project also works in close partnership with USAID/Mongolia. It is being implemented by the dot-ORG program, and Darrell Owen and David Lyman are providing critical technical assistance.
The Kyrgyzstan e-Centers LMI activity is preparing to open its first four e-Centers in December. Each e-Center is operated by a private entrepreneur or non-governmental organization (NGO) and, via a commercial business model, stimulates local economic development through an innovative municipal land grant program. The e-Center project will seek to deepen the impact of the e- Centers by developing course modules for Kyrgyz users. Based on a recent needs assessment conducted at the e-Centers, potential users indicated a strong eagerness for web-based basic computer literacy and second language training (most likely English as a Second Language). The e- Centers will also probably develop a 1C Accounting mini-course. This courseware would be targeted to local businesses, finance students and government employees. It is likely that the first set of modules will be developed in Russian (understood by most Kyrgyz) and then subsequent modules might be developed in the Kyrgyz language.