LUSAKA, ZAMBIA - Underserved areas in Zambia are being empowered through Internet access, as seen in the rural Macha community.
LinkNet Zambia, a multipurpose cooperative society, has provided Internet access in Macha through mesh technology, a system that allows all nodes to communicate with one another, offering redundancy in case any unit fails.
"If one point goes down, then all the points that are related to each other talk to each other," said Gertjan van Stam, LinkNet Zambia technical director. "When one unit goes down, then it continues to work with other units and is much more secure. It is quite new technology, just emerging right now."
With the help of Computer Aid International, which has donated computers and wireless routers, LinkNet has been able to sustain Internet communication in Macha through mesh technology, van Stam said.
LinkNet Zambia has been involved in the provision of low-cost Internet access in Macha since 2004 using two VSATs (very small aperture terminals), said Fred Mweetwa, the company's board secretary.
Internet connection in Macha has enabled communication, created new employment opportunities for villagers, and supported the communication needs of rural schools and hospitals, Mweetwa said.
The introduction of the Internet in Macha came three years prior to mobile technology and was embraced by the people as the only mode of communication, Mweetwa said. LinkNet Zambia also built acceptance in the community by building ICT literacy through training, he added.
The Internet is now being used in Macha's agriculture, education and health fields, Mweetwa said, and the technology has aided the community in documenting its cultural heritage for future generations.
Prior to the introduction of the Internet and a mini library housed in a LinkNet Resource Container, a "reading culture" did not exist in Macha, Mweetwa said. Now, the people of Macha are able to access books from the library and read newspapers on the Internet, which is especially important in light of the area's poor radio and TV reception.
Macha suffered a setback following a fire at the Vision Community Centre, which housed the community radio station and tele-center. A tour of the site, however, now reveals a new building that will house the Vision Community Radio Station, made possible through grants and equipment donated by the Media Institute of southern Africa. The LinkNet Resource Container has replaced the burned down Internet café that was also in the building, and LinkNet has supplied an IT support room and eight flat-screen computers.
Meanwhile, rural connectivity still faces technical, practical and political hurdles, Mweetwa said, including a lack of computer literacy, infrastructure and electricity; poor equipment and high bandwidth costs.
"We are paying $1,100 for our VSAT connection, and it is actually very expensive for the community," van Stam said, "but we have to do it if we [want] to change people's lives."