Motivation for TEK

While the Internet has revolutionized information delivery for most of us, for many communities in the developing world it remains an economic and technological challenge to access online resources. High charges for telephone and ISP access can quickly grow unaffordable, and low-bandwidth connections limit the amount of material that can be viewed per session. Because phone lines are limited (e.g., a single phone in a school) it is often difficult to time-share between Internet and voice. Furthermore, unreliable network and power infrastructures can sometimes block Internet access altogether.

The motivation behind TEK is that, in many areas, the cost of email access is significantly lower than full-fledged Internet access. Email is cheaper because it can be downloaded directly from a local Internet Service Provider (ISP), rather than requiring an interactive session over saturated international links. As illustrated in the following table, email can offer between a 2X and 35X cost savings in many low-bandwidth areas. Furthermore, this differential is critical for enabling affordable access, as the monthly cost of Internet alone is up to 2X higher than the monthly household wage.

Country ISP Cost of Internet (Percentage of Household Income) Cost of Internet ($US) Cost of Email ($US) Cost of Internet /
Cost of Email
Malawi MalawiNet 155% 28.30 0.80 35.4
Kenya 79% 40.30 5.46 7.4
Nepal WorldLink 24% 8.41 1.20 7.0
Vietnam NetNam 29% 20.02 3.15 6.4
Nigeria MetroNG E Services 226% 91.44 17.11 5.3
Argentina Cablenet / Intercom 2% 8.85 2.02 4.4
Albania Adanet 7% 19.00 5.00 3.8
Australia average 1% 19.44 5.30 3.7
Sri Lanka LankaNet 17% 23.50 7.50 3.1
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe online 7% 4.93 1.64 3.0
Ecuador ecuanet 14% 29.00 10.00 2.9
South Africa average 5% 13.10 4.72 2.8
Papau New Guinnea Daltron 44% 25.00 9.16 2.7
Romania EcoSoft 5% 18.00 8.50 2.1
Mexico Net Solutions 12% 81.00 50.00 1.6
Saudi Arabia average <1% 12.00 8.00 1.5
Notes: Data from ISP Websites (July 2005), UNDP Development Report 2004, and WorldBank 2003. Monthly Internet access was calculated as 30 hours online or the unlimited rate (whichever was cheaper). Monthly household income was derived from GNP per capita, ignoring the richest 20% of the population and using a household size of 2.5. Rates for Australia were averaged over the following ISPs: AceNet, Ask Aussie, Australia Internet Solutions, and Arachnet. Rates for South Africa were averaged over Artslink and Sybaweb ISPs. Rates for Saudi Arabia were averaged over Atheer and Zajil Retail Services ISPs.

The data from the table above is available as an Excel spreadsheet and is presented graphically in this presentation.

Delivering Web content over email is even more important for some locations, where there is no interactive connectivity whatsoever. For example, the People's First Network in the Solomon Islands provides store-and-forward connectivity over an HF radio network. While no direct Internet access is available, villagers use TEK to retrieve Web content. Similarly, First Mile Solutions provides store-and-forward connectivity to communities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Costa Rica, and India, and relies on TEK for all Internet content.

There are also additional benefits of using email to transfer information. By avoiding interactive online sessions, queries can be sent and received at night when phone lines and Internet rates are significantly cheaper (up to 9X cheaper in Pakistan, see spreadsheet above). Downloading results via email also shortens the connection time, thereby decreasing phone costs. Furthermore, viewing search results offline provides a quick and reliable user interface, and establishes a local database of shared information.