Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cu internetul vine viitorul

Moldtelecom, the telecommunications monopoly in Moldova, has expanded broadband DSL internet access. It is now available in everyВ raion (county) hub, and an offer for the next month and a half includes free connection and equipment. The prices are as follows:

For unlimited 64 kilobits per second (kbps) access: 240 lei, or $18.50, per month.
For unlimited 128 kbps access: 360 lei, or $27.75, per month.
For unlimited 192 kbps access: 480 lei, or $37.00, per month.

By comparison, a dial-up connection is promised at 56 kbps but usually connects at 51 kbps (in the U.S. as well). A usual cable modem or DSL connection in America costs $40 and connects at 256 or 384 kbps.

This connectivity is still expensive, but it's a step in the right direction. I have privately vacillated in the past year about how much of a difference computers and the internet make in a developing country. Lately, I have become bullish again. The internet is the only window to the rest of the world that isn't programmed by a government television company, which is one reason why Val Popovici runs his Romanian-language news blog, as linked to on the right side of this page. It is also, as I am currently reading in Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, a way for individuals and businesses in the developing world to connect with industrialized nations, their businesses and their universities.

From the stories that I read, it seems to me that Ukraine is a country that grasps the importance of technology and is on its way to becoming the next India. They are improving their infrastructure and have a large talent pool of young people with computer skills. Businesses are setting up operations there.

In contrast, Moldova doesn't seem to get it. Why, for example, are computer classes taught only beginning in seventh grade, and then only for one day a week? The average American or Western-European middle schooler has an instant messenger screen name, a blog and a MySpace account; the vast majority of Moldovan university students have never used e-mail. These computer skills, along with the international language of business, English, are absolutely vital for Moldova to move higher in the world. Why are they not receiving these computer skills?

As for Mereseni and other villages, DSL isn't here yet. But considering that dial-up internet in people's homes was a relatively new development in Moldova when I arrived less than a year ago and raionВ hubs already have DSL connectivity now, it seems possible that DSL could travel the six km from our hub of Hincesti to Mereseni over the course of the next year. If that happens while I am still in the country, I will be running around like crazy trying to find a private group of investors to fund a four-computer internet cafe in the village sharing a DSL connection.

Until then, I will have to be satisfied with the beginners' computer lessons that I will be giving teachers at my school after Easter vacation (Orthodox Easter is on the 23rd this year, and a one-week vacation follows). Lesson one? How to turn the computer on and how to use a mouse. It's just like when I taught my grandmothers how to use computers, except they spoke English. It can't be too hard, though. After all, the Romanian word for "click" is lifted directly from English, so I can still say, "Click pe acela," and not get lost in the translation. I figure that if Moldovans can understand the word "click," then using a computer, surfing the internet, and catching up with the rest of the world are just a few more clicks away.


At 9:40 AM, Blogger Chris Grant said...

Trust me, only about 25% of my students (at good univiersities in Chisinau) are computer functional few could be considered literate. I have come to appreciate your thoughts on Russian TV after recent interchanges in my classes--I can now pick out my Russian speakers by whether they say "the only reason the US is in Iraq is to take all their oil because the US has no oil reserves." Rubbish--not the reason we are there...don't like the reasons we are there but that ain't it. Sorry for the rant...take care--hope to see you soon.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Charles Myers said...

You can always teach them your lesson with computers from when you were three... the way to get Dad's attention when he's working on the computer at home and ignoring you is to turn off the big red switch at the back of the computer (that was 20 years ago when we only had two computers in the house, and a smoking 19.2K link from home to work).

The other thing to keep in mind is that you should free yourself from the thought of wired DSL connections. In rural America and other countries, people are forming wireless consortiums to bring internet access from major hubs to remote areas (Appalachia is a typical underserved area... see this article "Wireless Broadband Access in Appalachia
(Connectivity is Essential to a Competitive Economy)"
. Another story on national public radio about the internet in rural West Virginia is enlightening. A few enterprising people could bring the internet to Mereseni before wired cables arrive. IEEE Spectrum had a very good article on rural computer access also.

Since you mention "The World is Flat" (and actually the same physical book that I read), I would recommend that you take a look at my blog on experiences in Moldova during my trip to visit you in early March (if I do come again, it will be in spring, not the end of winter). My "Reflections in the final day in Mereseni" is all about the impact that technology could have on Moldova; I do believe that connectivity could be a major contributing factor to growth.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Charles Myers said...

One other small technical comment. Cable modems (and DSL) are typically asmyetric - a higher download speed than upload. For example, our Comcast cable modem here is 256K upload, but over 2MB download.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Cristina said...

I am not sure how, but the village not far from Mereseni, named Bobeica, has managed (as far as I know) to obtain some sort of internet connection. If this is true, it can be used as a model for Mereseni and other communities. It is worth looking into it.



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