One Laptop Per Child

Ted Mittelstaedt tedm at
Sat Nov 24 03:31:36 PST 2007

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-freebsd-questions at
> [mailto:owner-freebsd-questions at]On Behalf Of Jonathan
> McKeown
> Sent: Monday, November 19, 2007 12:07 AM
> To: freebsd-questions at
> Subject: Re: One Laptop Per Child
> [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.

Sigh.  Well, let me preface this by saying I work at an ISP.  And
we still have a number of dialup customers, clinging along despite
most of our customers who have long ago gone on to our DSL network.
Some of our service area, in fact, is in between Portland OR and
Astoria OR and Seaside OR.  You can call that area up on a map.
Well, let me tell you that voiceline service is available to ANY
subscriber in that geographical area.  But, espically along the
coast, NOTHING faster than a 28.8k modem is available in as little as
3 miles away from towns like Seaside.  Many of those subscribers are
deep in forested areas and satellite isn't even available either since
they have no clear view of transponders in the sky.  And this
is right in the United States.  There is no cellular because there
aren't any cell towers, either.  These folks are really struggling,
we are regularly coaching people into moving off use of client-server
e-mail applications such as Outlook and onto web-based applications
simply because the e-mail messages they are getting today are getting
too large to be downloaded in a reasonable period of time.  And
that's just e-mail!!

To put it simply, the network your describing isn't viable for
accessing the web - at least, not in the way you and I and the majority
of the world is rapidly becoming used to accessing it.

This "mini-cellular" network your describing doesen't have the
bandwidth to do it.  And if you did plunk down a satellite connection
that had the bandwith, it would be usable for bulk data transmission
only, not interactive, due to the high latency.

In a few years it's going to be standard for most websites to require
a 1.5Mbt connection just to browse at a reasonable speed.  And few
sites are putting in alternative text sites.  This is a serious
concern for the disabled community who is finding an increasing number
of sites unusable by their special access software.  In fact, one of
the hottest arguments today in web design is whether the ADA can be
applied to major websites - and the lawyers are saying it can be.
Some sites have already been threatened and one or two sued to be
brought into compliance.

> > 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.

They aren't providing it because it CAN'T be provided, at least, not
cheaply like they want it.

There is what you might call a bandwith triangle.  One side is price.
One side is interactive high bandwidth.  One side is population density.
You cannot get low price and usable high bandwidth in a low population
density area.

For high population density urban areas, you can do high bandwidth at
a low price.  Or you can do low bandwidth at a low price in a low
population density area.  But your not going to get interactive high
bandwidth at a low price in a low population density area.

> Jonathan (a sysadmin in urban South Africa)

South Africa really cannot be used as a model for how the Laptop
Per Child program will work in Africa.  SA is far too different from
the rest of Africa.  LpC may work there because essentially, SA is
a fruitcake.  You have pockets of fully developed candy scattered
throughout the underdeveloped cake.  But right now, you have no
civil war, you have no serious wars the military is involved in,
you can feed yourself, you have a banking and economic infrastructure,
a democracy, free press, the government isn't corrupt, and the
majority of the country isn't some
religion that demands an eye-for-an-eye or some other such
impossible philosophy.  Your fundamental problem is getting the
people in the cake part educated, and getting the economy in
those sections transitioned into a modern economy.  Your rich enough
for the candy part of the fruitcake to fund the development of
the cake part, and that is why programs like Vodacom will work.

But most of the rest of Africa isn't like that.  Instead, the
problem in places like Angola are that there is no infrastructure
in most places.  There is no fruitcake, it's just all cake with
a few isolated pockets, and they are coming off a major civil war
that didn't solve anything, it's quite likely that unless the
next ten years solves some problems, that their children will
start up the war again.  Namibia is bad for other reasons -
population density is such that you don't have critical mass in
most places for Internet access to work, and there's little
money in the country to invest in access points.  Zambia is
the same - not enough seed money to fund infrastructure.  And
all those countries are very soon going to have a much more
serious issue to take care of as their HIV-positive population
ages and develops AIDS and ends up dying off.  What money resources
that might have been available to plunk into infrastructure are
going to go into care for sick people.  And the more the county
becomes developed the more people will demand better and more
expensive care for AIDS patients.  The US is seeing this mirrored
in the baby-boom, it isn't AIDS that is the problem, instead,
what the political system will be grappling with is how to run
an economy with the majority of people retired.

Basically what you have with the Laptop per Child is a program
that can only work if these things are manufactured with the
economy of scale of a TV set, and will only work if a support
infrastructure to support the laptops exists.  It's not enough
to just drop a laptop in every childs lap.  You have to put in
place the suport infrastructure to make the things usable.  And
not just the hardware repair and networking support - you have to
localize (translate) all the software into each kids language.
While stuff like software localization can be done out of the
country and once done, replicated, stuff like setting up repair
depots and Internet connectivity for the things must be integrated
into the country.


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