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AFRIK-IT  March 1996

AFRIK-IT March 1996

Subject:

Getting Wired -- Workshop at USAID

From:

Jeff Cochrane USAID AfricaLink <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Tue, 26 Mar 1996 20:52:18 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (90 lines)

On Tuesday March 26 a workshop was held at USAID headquarters in the State Department building in
Washington, DC USA.  I took a few notes.  These notes are not complete, and represent only what
was of interest to me personally.  These are not official notes, and should not be considered an
official record of the proceedings.  I'm doing this because I'm interested to hear your reaction to
the proceedings.
 
I hope you will find these notes interesting.
 
I arrived early and parked my bicycle across 21st Street -- the State Department has no bicycle
racks, so I locked my bike to a No Parking sign under the watchful eyes of a couple of policemen
guarding the entrance and wondering what I was up to.  There was a crowd of people standing at the
information desk inside, since all non-employee visitors must present identification and be
escorted into the building.
 
A room with about 120 chairs was reserved.  There were about 140 in attendance, standing along the
walls or sitting on the floor in some cases.  Nearly everyone (except me) was very nicely dressed.
I had a neck tie in my bag, but after a bike ride on this warm spring morning, I didn't feel like
putting it on.  The visitors all had very big green badges hanging around their necks, labeling
them as VISITOR!  I felt sorry for them.  We USAID and State Department types had our small IDs on
chains mostly tucked into pockets.
 
I arrived early with my cup of coffee from the State Department cafeteria, and had a nice seat
next to Wendy White of the National Academy of Science.  Wendy said she'd visited just about every
corner of the building, passing the cafeteria two times, before finally arriving at the room. The
State Department was designed by a cruel architect who does not want anyone to find their
destination without first taking a tour.  For example, it is common to find room number 1510
immediately next to 1220.
 
We were welcomed by Joan Dudik-Gayoso of the USAID Global Bureau, who introduced Ambassador Sally
Shelton, the Assistant Administrator of the Global Bureau.  There was a constant buzz from the rear
door as late arrivals discovered to their dismay that they'd have to sit on the floor.
 
Ambassador Shelton noted we are using information and communication technologies more and more,
but we seldom step back and look at the big picture.  This workshop is an opportunity for us to do
that.  Information technology must be a part of all our activities, an essential tool that we must
use in light of the budget cuts USAID is facing.
 
The Ambassador noted the signing of the Gore-Mubarak initiative in Egypt.  (Gore is Al Gore,
Vice-President of the USA and an Internet enthusiast).  Egypt is an interesting case.  A goal by
1999 is for all secondary schools to be wired to the Internet.  On a recent visit she observed
students accessing USA databases from their school in Egypt.  The next step is to link rural
schools.
 
The next speaker was Mike Nelson, Special Assistant, Office of Science and Technology Policy,
Executive Office of the President.  Mike talked about the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) and
developing countries.  The goal is the wiring of every village on the planet, providing everyone
with faster and less expensive access to information.  How is this to be done?
 
The President and the Vice-President are sharing a vision of the future.  The USA is ahead of many
other countries in this respect.  Elsewhere there is often a paranoia about information
technologies.  America is investing in new technologies, applying them within government.  We can
be a catalyst in demonstrating how to wire schools, hospitals -- providing seed funding.
 
The most important thing we've done in the USA, and what we're urging other countries to do, is a
transformation of telecommunications policy.  We have rewritten our 1934 telecommunications law,
going from regulated monopolies to competition.  What we need to do is make the telecommunications
industry like the computer industry, in which there has been a 50 per cent drop in costs every one
and a half years.
 
We believe in the power of demonstration, of showing what the technology can do.  This is not to
say that we will pay for the GII, but we can convince others to make the necessary investments.
Their investment will in turn serve as a demonstration that convinces still others to invest.
 
But we must also focus on content.  No one will get on the information superhighway if there is no
place to go.  The US Information Agency is experimenting with new technologies to disseminate
information content.
 
We're excited about a project called GLOBE in which children share information over the net about
environmental problems around the world, for example comparing acid rain data.
 
In May the G7 countries will meet for 3 days in South Africa to discuss the nature of an
information society and the GII.
 
USAID doesn't need a whole new initiative here, but rather needs to integrate information
technologies in existing projects.  For example, information technologies might be used in a
project to help a farmer gain access to a parts supplier to get broken equipment back in service
quicker.
 
We need the help of the people in this room with telecommunications problems at the grass roots.
Monopolistic PTTs charge 2 to 10 times what they should for basic phone service, sometimes more for
access to Internet services.  You can work to have them lower these charges.  We need more open
markets for US companies to deploy new technologies.  Be evangelists for information technologies,
using them in your own work around the world.
 
*******************
More reports later.  If others were present and care to add or correct, please do so!  I'm a
terrible note taker, so there are bound to be errors.
 
Jeff

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