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The Big Issue

Top level News

Andy Rabagliati, the developer behind Cape Town's Wizzy Digital Courier , is making a similar effort to help under-resourced schools connect to the internet. Andy, however, is using an even simpler technology: the milk truck.

( Article published in The Big Issue, Cape Town)

Courier - on location

To be fair, it is not an ordinary milk truck. It is a milk truck equipped with a laptop computer or a small USB storage device. But it is a milk truck nonetheless. Why a milk truck? Because the milk truck makes daily deliveries to schools, even when those schools are in the middle of nowhere. While the milkman delivers milk, WDC delivers Internet and email.

Normally, if you want to connect to the Internet, you need a telephone line and a modem, a satellite uplink, or some other means of tapping into 'the Net'. Unfortunately, in South Africa, the necessary telecommunications infrastructure is not always there to tap into. Around a third of South Africans don't have a phone line, and roughly 88% of schools in the Northern Province lack an Internet connection. Telkom, the national monopoly-holder on fixed-line infrastructure, has promised to make access available to rural schools, but even when such access exists, the associated fees can be prohibitively expensive. Currently, the cost of Internet can be as much as the combined salary of two public school teachers.

To help these struggling schools, WDC has obviated the need for a phone line. A school using the WDC "delayed dialup" system does not have a live Internet connection. Instead, it maintains an offline cache of websites and emails. Students can write emails, but when they hit the "send" button, nothing happens. Emails are stored all day long, and then physically transferred - by hand, bicycle or milk truck - to a nearby location with a standard Internet connection. At that nearby location, the students' emails are sent, incoming emails are received, and requested web pages are downloaded. The next day, the incoming data is brought back to the school, and the new batch of outgoing data is once again loaded onto the truck.

For those schools that have their own phone line, delayed dialup can still save "a heck of a lot of money", as George Solomons puts it. George is the computer coordinator at Esangweni Secondary School in Khayelitsha, one of the first schools to use delayed dialup. At Esangweni, all the Internet requests are stored until the evening, when the emails and web pages can be downloaded en masse at reduced rates. When all the bills are tallied, WDC saves Esangweni hundreds of Rand each month. "Suddenly, we have cheap Internet", grins George as he looks around the busy computer room, "the only problem is, now I have to fight to keep the learners out of here."

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