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Greetings Afrik-ITers!
 
Sorry for the delay on this.  I've been swamped these past two days
preparing from a meeting on the AfricaLink program.  I do appreciate
all the kind comments that have been sent to me recently in regard to
these postings.
 
On Wednesday April 3 a meeting was called by the US Department of
State for the United States International Telecommunications Advisory
Committee (ITAC) Ad Hoc on the implementation of the Leland
Initiative: Africa Global Information Infrastructure Gateway.
 
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.
 
Before proceeding, it should be emphasized that this was an
organizational meeting for an advisory group.  It was attended by
Africans - at least one Ambassador, numerous others from the African
diaspora.  Far from being a meeting of USAID on how to wire Africa,
it was essentially informational, before USAID and its partners go
to Africa to roll up their sleeves to begin exploring with Africans
how to help them bring the Internet on line, hopefully building on
what they have already done.  I hope you'll view the comments of
Lane Smith and the others in that light.
 
Lane Smith began speaking at the meeting at about 10:35am:
 
The object of the meeting is to form a relationship with the private
sector in telematics.  The Leland Initiative project was organized
very fast at the request of the White House during two months last
summer -- which was indeed very fast for USAID.  A team will be
leaving in three weeks for West Africa.
 
We are looking for a workable mechanism where we can all share our
knowledge and ideas.  Congress is concerned that we not interfere
with the private sector.  We don't want to interfere with you.  [I
believe by "you" Lane was referring to those in the room who are in
the private sector.]
 
[The lights were dimmed, and an overhead projector was switched on.
Subsequent comments were accompanied by charts and tables.]
 
The Global Information Infrastructure or GII initiative is
Vice-President Al Gore's initiative to promote the Internet and other
communications technologies.  The Internet was initially a product of
the university and military communities.  Today it resides with a
wider public.  There are by some estimates 52 million accounts.
 
What lies ahead?  Electronic commerce, a virtual university,
telemedicine, activities in support of democracy...
 
[A map of connectivity was displayed.]
 
In Southern Africa, only 3 of 100 have telephones.  Elsewhere on the
continent, while the map indicates a level of connectivity, this
connectivity really only extends to the capital cities in most
countries outside of South Africa.
 
USAID has a WWW site.  But note that only 1 per cent of the "hits"
[user accesses] comes from countries where USAID provides assistance.
 
[For those unfamiliar with the WWW, or World Wide Web, this may
require a bit of explanation.  USAID maintains a WWW server, or
computer, that anyone with TCP/IP access to the Internet anywhere in
the world can contact to view pictures, text, and also to listen to
sound recordings.  All WWW servers have the capability of monitoring
who access the information.  USAID has compiled statistics on origin
of access.  Counting all the times someone has downloaded a USAID
WWW page, which is called a "hit", only 1 per cent of those "hits"
were from countries receiving assistance from USAID.  Lane was
pointing this out, I believe, as a problem that requires a solution.
 USAID would like to see far more hits from Africa, hence there is
the Leland Initiative to address this problem.]
 
Note this:  Africa spends annually $900 million on charges for
telephone calls within the continent.  The entire USAID budget is
only $700 million.
 
The Leland Initiative has three strategic objectives (SOs):
 
SO1: Policy -- we seek cost-based services, and a level playing
field for the US and local private sectors.
 
[When Lane says "cost-based" service, I believe he means that a
telephone call that costs the telephone company US$0.20 per minute to
deliver to a consumer should not be billed to that consumer in the
amount of US$5.00 per minute.  Rather, the cost to the consumer
should reflect the cost to the telephone company, with a reasonable
allowance for profit.]
 
SO2: Viable service providers in Africa, providing technical support,
and training in various areas including sound business practices.
 
SO3: Applications, the user base, which is the heart of this project,
and where there is the most ground to be broken.  For example, in
Mozambique there is TCP/IP available in the capital, but few have
access.
 
Lane noted that he himself receives 200 messages per day via
electronic mail, of which only 10 to 20 are critical for his work.
To assure he reads the critical messages, he has to read them all.
The problem is the effective use of information.  The massive
availability of information can be a problem.  We must learn how to
handle flows of information productively.  We don't yet know how to
do this, but we're learning.
 
Teams will be sent to 10 countries through September of 1996 to
develop a proposed action plan.  Plans will vary by country.  If in a
particular country policy (SO1) is not a problem, then the team will
look at SO2 or SO3.  If policy is a problem, then John (Mack of the
State Department) will be invited to assist.  We want to involve the
private sector in opening doors.  We'll also involve the State
Department, NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space
Administration), and perhaps even the US Navy in negotiating
agreements.  We'll also work with the Internet Society.
 
What role is the US private sector willing to play in
service-provider development?
 
Under SO3, we will work with existing US projects, adapting them to
formats suitable to take advantage of the Internet.  We'll take
advantage of our partnerships, e.g. with NASA or the Internet
Society, and hope to be flexible.
 
Results 5 years from now?  Improved connectivity, increased access,
and enhanced ability of Africans to find solutions to their own
problems.
 
The lights were raised.  This concluded Lane Smith's presentation.
Questions were then entertained from the floor.  I'll jot down my
notes from this next session soon.
 
I welcome any corrections or additions.  I'm good with a keyboard,
buy I'm a terrible reporter!
 
Jeff @ Washington, DC USA
 
AfricaLink -- http://www.info.usaid.gov/alnk
Tel 1-703-235-5415
Fax 1-703-235-3805