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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 15:43 GMT
Taiwan's Aboriginals go broadband
By Caroline Gluck
Digital Planet, Taiwan

Aboriginal Taiwanese children
Aboriginal Taiwanese have struggled with access to education
Given the vast quantities of electronic equipment manufactured in Taiwan it could be assumed that it was one of the most wired countries in the world - but there still remain communities in the country who are isolated from the web.

Now the government wants to change that, and plans to bring broadband to everyone in the country by the end of the year.

One of the most recent beneficiaries of this ambitious project is the village of Shan-Mei, home to 700 people from the Tsou tribe, in the remote Aboriginal mountain area in central Taiwan.

It is the latest place in the country to get broadband - part of a government plan called the "universal service obligation," and funded by contributions from all of the island's phone companies.

"The policies of the universal service obligation are very important," explains Charles Lin, a member of the National Communications Council.

"We have to make it true for the people in the rural areas, especially in the mountains. The Aboriginal people in the mountains cannot get any access to broadband at all."

Virtual education

Mr Lin stresses that the project is "trying very hard" to treat Aboriginals equally in terms of broadband access.

Traditionally the community has suffered economically, in part owing to its isolation.

But the people in Shan-Mei - in particular the children - have embraced the new technology enthusiastically.

At the primary school, they are setting up their own personal websites, and packing them with pictures, favourites and interests.

Once we had broadband, I was so happy - it was like we had won the lottery
Internet cafe owner Chan Chou Lie
It took over two months to lay the fibre-optic to Shan-Mei and was funded by the Taiwan Fixed Network, a subsidiary of Taiwan Mobile - which also provided training and provided 75 computers.

"My belief is that these children may already have lost out as far as traditional, classroom education is concerned," says the company's Vice-chairman Daniel Tsai.

"But as far as virtual education is concerned, they still have lots of time to catch up. Once villages like this have a broadband connection, they can have long-distance education - everything can be on video and digitised.

"So it's very worthwhile for us to be able to make a small contribution."

Busy terminals

Elsewhere in Shan-Mei, local farmers are now marketing their produce on the net, while local restaurants and hotels are using it to promote their services.

Indeed, the arrival of broadband has brought on a new burst of entrepreneurship.

For example, a newly-opened internet cafe is regularly packed - the computers are loaded with gaming software and every terminal is busy.

"It is much more convenient for the residents," says the cafe's owner Chan Chou Lie.

"Once we had broadband, I was so happy - it was like we had won the lottery."

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