Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Internet dream becomes a reality

Digital Planet
Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

A wi-fi ariel in Nepal
Wireless technology has connected 42 remote villages in Nepal

A Nepali teacher has finally turned his dream into reality by connecting his remote mountain community to the internet.

In 2001 Mahabir Pun wrote to the BBC World Service's technology programme, then known as 'Go Dig'. He wanted to connect his village to the internet after the local high school received four used computers as a gift from students in Australia.

However, the lack of a phone line in the village made an internet connection almost impossible.

The only viable option was a satellite connection but the cost of this was beyond his means.

He went on to write an article for BBC News Online asking listeners for advice and received many responses from people all around the world offering their solutions.

Connecting classroooms

Several people also came forward to offer their help voluntarily and suggested wireless networking.

The idea was successfully tested between two villages in Nepal and as a result, Mr Pun was able to turn his vision of a networked Nepal into reality.

"At that time I got many emails from people around the world who told us about this technology that existed in the market," said Mr Pun.


We had to actually smuggle all the wireless equipment from America and Europe and build the network illegally

Mahabir Pun

"There were also some other people who were not interested in the technology but who were interested in helping to build classrooms in the school.

"They also helped to find equipment and grants from universities to build the network," he added.

Seven years on, he has now wired up 42 villages with a total population of about 60,000 people.

"The technology hasn't changed the day-to-day life of people because they have to work in their field, raise cattle and grow food.

"However, it has made their lives much easier when it comes to communicating between villages, with relatives living in the city or working abroad," said Mr Pun.

The future is near

There is now a telemedicine project, Voice over IP (VoIP) phone calls, internet terminals and places where people can trade goods from live yaks to handicrafts.

"We are using the wireless network for health, providing telemedicine services to the remote villages," said Mr Pun.

"We have connected three villages for testing to a city hospital because there are no clinics in the area.

Nepalise children using computers
Some of the first computers used were donated by other countries

"So, whenever people get sick, they can at least talk to the doctors and they don't have to go all the way to the city," he added.

One of the main challenges for Mr Pun was being able to gather all the equipment and construct wireless networks during a period of political and civil unrest in his country.

"The conflict in Nepal led the government to ban the import and use of all wireless equipment," said Mr Pun.

Maoist rebels were intent on setting up a communist republic against the constitutional monarchy.

"The rebels were very suspicious about our network, so we had to actually smuggle all the wireless equipment from America and Europe and build the network illegally," he added.

When King Gyanendra's rule ended in April 2006 the rebels agreed to talks on how to end the civil war and a peace deal was agreed in November.

"We got back democracy and after that we told these stories to the Members of Parliament in Nepal and asked them to legalise our wireless networks," said Mr Pun.

The project is now in its fourth phase and another 19 villages are set to be connected by the end of this year.



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