In February, Ira Magaziner, a policy advisor for President Clinton, spoke to the Bohemia Foundation at the Liechtenstein Palace about the need for Central European countries to increase their on-line presence. In the February 18 article in The Prague Post covering the event, Magaziner was quoted saying that the number of people on the Internet would grow to 100 million next year, and could climb to 1 billion users by 2005.
Although the estimate for next year is probably reliable, the 1 billion expected users by 2005 is more than likely an exaggerated number. The growth of North American and Japanese users will slow down as many families and schools are already on-line. Also, the Western European growth rate will decrease shortly thereafter. The heart of Magaziner´s optimistic estimate is the inclusion of Central and Eastern European countries and the developing nations of Africa and Asia. To help his estimate come true, Magaziner is travailing and giving speeches that urge countries like the Czech Republic to increase their efforts to go on-line.
Well, Mr. Magaziner, that´s all well and good; however, whose going to pay for this increase?
Telecom´s phone lines are not the fiber-optic info-superhighway needed for good home access. Many of my students have complained that they cannot achieve a stable connection above 9.6 Kbps. 14.4 Kbps is the standard minimum for WWW browsing, and realistically a 33.6 Kbps connection or higher is required. Perhaps, Telecom has some extra profit squirreled away in some hidden account, but I seriously doubt that they have the capital and the desire to upgrade all the wiring throughout the Czech Republic.
There are other alternatives to phone modems. Many residents in Prague have 18-inch satellite dishes for their TV´s. If the satellite providers wanted to, they could launch a satellite(s) into orbit that would be dedicated to providing internet access to their subscribers. Again cost is the question. Do these companies have the money to put up another or several more satellites?
Another possibility is the use of cable modems. These have been used since 1996 in Canada and the United States--led by the two giant cable companies, Rogers Cable and Warner Cable. The advantages to this method are that it would use existing cables that are used for providing cable TV and that the speed of connection approaches that of a T1 connection.
Realistically, it is possible for the Czech Republic´s infrastructure to support large scale Internet usage in the next decade; however, the most important question is now raised--who is going to pay for all the home computers?
With the average cost of an apartment in Prague being higher than the average salary earned in the Czech Republic, it is very hard for people to afford the necessities of life, let alone a personal computer. The near 10% inflation rate compounds this problem. There seems little point in saving money (for a large purchase like a computer) when your bank interest rate is lower than the inflation rate.
If the Czech Republic really wants to join North America, 1st World Asia, and Western Europe on-line, then the private corporations of this country have to make a bold gesture--the donation of older 486´s and low-end Pentiums to schools and the poor. I do not know how the taxation system here works, but I suppose that the government would give a tax break to corporations who give computer gifts.
This could also foster a relationship between the corporate world and the community. Along with the computers, the MIS (computer trouble-shooting) departments of the corporations could also provide training for teachers, students, the elderly, etc. The obvious benefit of this would be the Internet education of these groups; however, the corporate sponsors would also benefit as their employees (the trainers) would increase their sense of self-worth and self-esteem (thus increasing productivity) through.
As usual, I am just guessing at the situation here in the Czech Republic. Many of you out there are more informed about the current situation than I. Feel free to clarify, negate, augment, or change my ideas for me with a response to Ikaros.