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Tech & Business: Fixing the missing link

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By Joyce Kyeyune Tonda

Posted  Tuesday, December 17  2013 at  00:00

While Project Link made international news on renowned global tech sites like ZDNet , CNET, Wired, PC World, Mashable and others, in Uganda, the backyard of Project Link, it garnered scant public interest except for the local tech community that immediately grasped its watershed significance.

To put Project Link in perspective: how many times have you sat at your desk in frustration waiting for an important document to attach because someone was waiting for it on the other side of the continent 24 hours away, waiting to make a critical business decision? As soon as the document attached you clicked ‘Send’ and you got a message ‘Not connected’.

I clearly recall the telephone call I received from an Internet Service Provider after five years of discontentedly using their service to inquire whether I would be interested in their promotional bundle. Instead I gave him a polite mouthful and referred him to two other highly discontented colleagues.

Without sounding very pie-in-the-sky, the problem of poor unreliable internet connectivity is as bad as curable, preventable illnesses that plague developing nations like Uganda.

Where once our mothers and grandmothers sold us cures for all manner of ailments through oral tradition and boys were taught by watching alpha males, today, most of the information we need to solve literally any problem is readily available online. Except we have no reliable internet access.

Imagine a mother whose baby suddenly develops strange symptoms in the late evening. She has no means of traveling to the nearest health centre-and if she makes the trip she will be lucky if she finds a doctor there. If this mother knows that the information she needs is online and she has an internet enabled phone, she will move heaven and earth to find that information.

The point is, when people have internet access as reliable as the sun, then their lives will improve because of access to a wide information base that many people are busy helping make and (in most cases) freely accessible.

Project Link, is Google’s ambitious initiative to improve internet access, debuting in Kampala. Even if it is for selfish reasons (Get more people googling for information so we can sell more ads), it will sky rocket the speed of business transactions; improve access to useful knowledge for development; help establish thousands of profitable internet based businesses and make history of the nightmare of constant migration to the newest ISP.

Rightly so, there are skeptics. How many times have we been promised super-fast reliable internet, by new kids on the block only to enjoy a few months of bliss followed by inconsistency, weekly disruptive upgrades and pirate ships that seem to love fibre optic cable?

Google’s Project Link essentially bridges the gap between international undersea cables and local ISP networks, enabling high speed, high capacity internet to be brought cheaply to the end user. Local ISP costs are reduced which should ultimately reduce the cost per MB.

As ISPs tap into Project Link, endless opportunities present themselves for savvy business people- a reliable platform to launch inter-country e-learning on a large scale; reliable internet based communication like video conferencing; the rise of an industry of local content developers; and a strong e-commerce sector with unlimited possibilities.

In the mid-90s when Mo Ibrahim brought Celtel to Uganda, everyone said- “There’s no demand for mobile phones in Uganda”. But like Mo, Google rightly believes, if we build it, they will come.

The author is the Managing Editor Enterprise Technology and Director, The Knowledge Management.