One Laptop Per Child

Jonathan McKeown jonathan+freebsd-questions at
Mon Nov 19 00:01:02 PST 2007

[Ted Mittelstaedt's words, heavily edited for brevity. Ted, please shout if I 
haven't caught the sense of what you're saying]

> Well, I know it's been a week since this came up but I'll toss in my
> $0.02 here.  I've been against this project since I heard about it.
> Fortunately, it appears to be failing.

> IMHO what these kids need are connections to the Internet and the
> knowledge store on the Internet, not a laptop. What a laptop that
> isn't networked to the Internet is going to do to help them I cannot
> guess.

> The idea of this project seems to have been to just dump a lot of
> laptops into these kids hands and trust that the network fairies
> will magically fly out and connect all of them to something they can
> use.

> The other problem of course is that laptops are more fragile than a
> desktop that is fixed, and very subject to theft, much more than a
> desktop.

> I suppose they figure ... the kid will be able to come up with the
> $10-$20 monthly equivalent to keep the internet connection to the
> thing going?  Assuming they even have a phone at all?

As I understand it, the OLPC project has produced an extremely robust laptop 
which can be human-powered. A group of these laptops will automatically form 
a wireless mesh network and make use, collectively, of any Internet 
connectivity that's available to any one of them. In sub-Saharan Africa, that 
may well be through cellular data. (Satellite is available too, but a lot 
more expensive).

Look at <> to see a social 
project by a cellular provider in South Africa which is putting telephone 
access within reach (both geographically and financially) of traditional 
rural communities. Note the statistic that Vodacom's cellular network covers 
93% of South Africa's population. Note also that this is being done, not as a 
free handout, but by creating a (slightly subsidised) business opportunity 
for local people, which is being seized with both hands. People don't need to 
be handed everything on a plate.

Now consider what a community can do when it can pool the cost of Internet 
connectivity - or what a force multiplier this is for government, 
non-governmental or even business intervention: this potentially reduces the 
problem of providing decent bandwidth to every farm and hut in rural Africa 
(or any other developing area) to a much simpler matter of wiring a few 
central points and letting the mesh networks take over the distribution.

> It would have been better to try creating a project that would
> produce a turnkey Internet network deployment that would be able to
> be dropped into any school anywhere, even if such a school consisted
> of a hut in the middle of a desert with a hole out back as the
> bathroom, no electricity, no running water, no telephone lines
> within 100 miles.

As far as I can see, the only bit of this equation OLPC isn't achieving is 
providing the Internet connectivity - and to be honest, I think that bit has 
to depend on local circumstances anyway. I think it deserves to succeed.

Jonathan (a sysadmin in urban South Africa)

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