Is the internet your lifeline, or your nightmare? People across Africa have been sharing their stories with BBC News.
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BEN EVERARD, MTWARA, TANZANIA
I've been working with Tanzanian schools, trialling a new style of computing specifically designed for rural Africa. It's called NoPC.
Instead of having a server in each school, we have one main data centre in the capital city, which is connected to the schools via the mobile phone network.
At each school we have five terminals that connect directly to the data centre in Dar es Salaam.
This means that the system at the school is far more robust, the hardware is less likely to break because the most vulnerable components (hard drives, processors, memory) are at the data centre, not the school.
The software is also maintained centrally.
All this drastically reduces the need to technicians to visit the school, which can add up to a sizable cost.
That often leads to computers not being fixed and being left to rot rather than being maintained.
We genuinely believe that this is a revolution in African computing, especially in rural areas where offices are not sealed and air conditioned, and computer technicians are hard to come by.
Here are some of your comments:
Phylis Mbungu says the web gives Kenyans access to microfinance loans
Here at the Small & Micro Enterprise Programme (SMEP) in Nairobi, the internet has been critical to the growth of our organisation from a small feeding program for the poor in Mathare slum to a microfinance organisation serving over 58,000 clients throughout Kenya. The internet allows us to connect our branches throughout Kenya, synchronising up-to-date information on loans and helping our officers to provide relevant financial services to our clients. We have also been at the forefront of mobile banking technology, using the internet to track loan repayments sent by clients from their mobile phones. Most recently, we have used the internet to grow our funding base and allow individuals around the world to connect with our borrowers through Kiva.org. In the future, we look forward to launching our website to offer web-based services and promote our organisation through e-marketing. The web has allowed SMEP to grow and improve, and as Africa gains access to better technology and faster internet, we will be better placed to fulfil our mission of alleviating poverty in Kenya through economic empowerment.
Phylis Mbungu CEO, SMEP, Kenya
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FELICIA PRICE, BURUNDI
Forget a pigeon, a mule would be faster than the service we have here in Burundi. Downloading anything larger than a simple Word or Excel file is a two to three day committment.
I am the Country Director for the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative here in Burundi. We work with the government, particularly with the Ministry of Health, to help build their capacity to provide high quality HIV/AIDS treatment. We are focused on increasing availability and access to antiretroviral medications, particularly pediatric formulations, improving diagnostic and laboratory capacities, human resources support within the public sector, and helping to build better monitoring and evaluation systems with the MOH. Our internet connection hampers our effectiveness in terms of our ability to disseminate information, stay in touch with government and other partners, and liase with our headquarters and donors. Outages potentially lead to missed opportunities. We are using a DSL line run by the country's largest phone mobile phone provider, UCOM and the problem is not just the speed but the lack of reliability. The internet just randomly cuts out several times a day. Sometimes unplugging and replugging the router helps but sometimes outages persist for several hours. During the workday the speed is a joke, any large files to upload or download have to be left overnight when usage on the network goes down. The situation for working remotely is even worse. After a stock out of nearly a year, UCOM recently introduced a new 3G USB modem which works about as well as the DSL in the capital and is supposed to work nationally on the mobile phone network but in practice does not work in about half the provinces even though phone service is generally pretty good. They've also been promising 3G service for Blackberries and other smart phones but I'm not holding my breath. Recently, having to respond to a last minute donor request for information while in the field, I was lucky enough to find a Red Cross field office with a dial-up conncection.
In addition to the work ramifications, it's personally quite difficult when you are living thousands of miles from home and rely on services like Skype to keep in touch. Voice calls tend to be okay after 5 or 6pm when everyone else has gone home and I have the network to myself but video is extremely poor and calls still tend to cut out so you spend an hour redialing and saying "can you hear me now?" in order to have a ten minute conversation. Likewise, sharing photos with family and friends back home is also a challenge.
All that said, I've been working in various parts of Africa for the past thirteen years so I remember a time when even this kind of access was unthinkable. I can remember a time when my only communication with home besides written mail was calling my parents once or twice a month from a scratchy landline at the post office so in that regard I really can't complain!