The People First Network
Solomon Islands (2000-2008)
Why an E-mail System for Deprived and Remote Areas?
ICT & Education
This CD resource was produced by:
The Foundation For Development Cooperation
using content supplied by
the People First Network.
Funding for production of this CD was provided by:
The ICT for Development Platform
NOTE: The PFnet website has sadly been lost. I have managed to save a few pages, and archive it here. I have not changed the content much, nor thestyle of the original page, other than to delete broken links, add references and change the tense. David Leeming PFnet Technical Advisor 2000-2007 email@example.com
The People First Network, or PFnet, was a rural connectivity project, which aimed to promote and facilitate equitable and sustainable rural development and peace building by enabling better information sharing and knowledge building among and across communities forming the Solomon Islands.
The project, funded by UNDP and through local missions of the governments of Britain, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan, established an email system based on a robust, proven and sustainable technology that permited remote locations on islands across thousands of square kilometres to have access to Internet emails using a simple computer, short-wave radio, and solar power, and PFnet worked with partners to develop applications of the network in many sectors. This was at a time when there were no mobile networks outside of the main urban towns (and in 2015 there is still only partial coverage, especially the case for data).
The UN in
Action video (link on the left) was filmed in 2002.
The objectives of the PFnet were to:
The People First Network wasa project of Rural Development Volunteers Association (RDVA), a not-for-profit organisation established by the Ministry of Provincial Government and Rural Development.
Why an E-mail System for Deprived and Remote Areas?
It is precisely in deprived and remote areas that basic telecommunication has the most value and impact. For such locations, telecommunication is the only and vital link with the outside world, either to ensure health security, public services such as education, or essential contacts with family and professional peers.
Yet, currently (in 2003) , the only two means of communication with the outside world for most remote locations in the Solomon Islands were short-wave radios and satellite telephones. When short -wave radios are used for voice communication, they often require hours of patient queuing and retrials, sometimes in vain, and at a cost still very high for rural folks living largely in non-cash subsistence economy. In turn, satellite telephones, when available, are far beyond the reach of most of the population, regardless of the destination called. Mobile networks only came later after 2007 and are still only partial in coverage, especially so in the case of data.
The PFnet system, offering basic email services, sought to improve connectivity while dramatically reducing the prices of communication, making it affordable for low-income users and sustainable over time. As a basic utility to all other activities, this affordable telecommunication and information network assisted the country, particularly low-income groups, in taking in charge of their own development through improved logistics, information and knowledge. A particular attention was given to gender equity and democratic governance. This is in concrete terms what bridging of the digital divide meant to the Solomon Islands at that time.
PFnet had two key components. One was an Internet Café in Honiara, which allowed residents of the capital city to access the Internet for writing emails to all locations across the Solomon Islands or the wider Internet. They could also browse the World Wide Web in search of information, or post their own information to share with others. The Café had been operational since February 2001 with 12 workstations, and proved very useful to the community and was for several years financially self-sufficient. The Café also served as a training facility for a number of rural development stakeholders and the broader public.
The second and, over time, most important component of PFnet was the network of email stations located in remote islands across the country. The stations were usually hosted in provincial clinics, community schools, or other accessible and secure public facilities. Email operators assisted customer to send and receive emails at a nominal cost.
The stations used a simple, robust and well-proven technology, consisting of a short-wave radio (already ubiquitous and well-known in the South Pacific), a low-end computer, and solar energy. On schedule, several times a day, each remote email station connected to the hub station in Honiara automatically. At such time, incoming or outgoing emails were transferred between the remote station and the hub, and between this hub and the wider Internet.
When the network was established, it was used to facilitate the rural networking needs of sectors such as education, health, finance and agriculture. Already, byApril 2003, PFnet had:
PFnet also provided substantial information resources and news on it’s web site and was active in facilitating the flow of trusted news between communities. This was an important part of peace building in a nation torn by ethnic conflict.
Other technologies were also field tested, including an LEO satellite service and portable ground station which was developed for non-profit use in development, along with the creation of a "humanitarian bandwidth pool".
(By) April 2003, nine stations had been established with at least eight others scheduled or under funding negotiation.
Later, PFnet (planned) to deploy as many as 25 remote email stations across the nine provinces of the country. This is pending available funds from aid sources. By around 2006, well before mobile telephony was availble in rural areas, there were up to 30 stations:
Key stations grew into better equipped "learning centres" as part of an integrated strategy to strengthen the education sector. However, when the system was in place, it was very simple to add any number of stations on a modular basis.
For example, an NGO upgrading rural clinics, a bank implementing a micro-credit scheme, or an environmental group running an eco-tourist site, may all wish to include a communication component to their projects. Similarly, information providers such as radio stations or electoral monitors can use PFnet to send dispatches and received reports from their staff in the field. PFnet also proved crucial to small business entrepreneurs in fisheries or agro-forestry, for example, who need to maintain contacts with clients, suppliers and shippers.
Provisions could therefore be made for the standard equipment and installation costs (approximately USD 6,000 in total), to enable sites to join the PFnet network for regular email connectivity. The PFnet programme could supply the equipment and expertise for deployment, training and maintenance of the remote stations.
References to PFnet in the literature