Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 24, December 1998 


Potential of the Internet - developments in connectivity

Joseph Slowinski
Joseph Slowinski is Associate Instructor, Indiana University, 3130 Education, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA. Fax +1 812 856 8116, e-mail:; and Assistant Editor, Institute for the Study of Russian Education,

Since the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989, the Internet's enormous growth has led to the availability of an unprecedented amount of global information. Today, anyone with access to the Internet can instantaneously access as well as disseminate information anywhere around the globe. Technology holds great promise in regard to enabling developing nations to participate more actively in global information flows; yet, throughout the developing world, many impediments hinder the development of an information society.

The global average of Internet users is 1.6 users for every 100 citizens. In economically developed nations, the rate is between 10 and 20 per cent of the population. Clearly there is a division between the information `haves' and `have-nots'. For the developing world, two major factors must be overcome to ensure a participatory role in the world's flow of knowledge: weak information-oriented infrastructure, and the language of knowledge flows.

Access to information in the developing world is limited and telephone reliability remains a stumbling block. According to the International Telegraph Union (ITU)'s World Telecommunication Indicators Database, approximately 90 per cent of calls in developed nations, but only 50-60 per cent of calls in developing nations are connected. Inconsistent electricity supplies present a further problem in some areas.

Language use of the World Wide Web further inhibits information transfer. In October 1998, Euro-Marketing Associates reported that more than 66 million people accessing the Internet do not communicate in English. Yet access is extremely limited for non-English speakers (readers). A recent study by Alis Technology reported that, of 30 million web sites worldwide, 4 per cent of the pages were in German, 1.6 per cent in Japanese, 1.5 per cent in French, 1.1 per cent in Spanish and 82 per cent in English. Even Euro-Marketing Associates' lower figure of 60 per cent of web pages in English shows an English language density in cyberspace which inhibits the access and use of knowledge disseminated through WWW for the majority of people in the world.

Although present-day realities are inhibiting the developing world's participation in global information flows, information technology offers a relatively inexpensive method of disseminating knowledge from the south to the rest of the world, challenging the traditional north to south dissemination of information. Information technology holds the opportunity for developing nations to rewrite their histories by disseminating their own views in their own words and images. The relatively free nature of the World Wide Web allows scholars, organisations, communities and individuals to participate in the international public sphere. Yet this shift in global information flow is dependent upon access to the global information superhighway. How can this be accomplished?

Recent technological advances offer some exciting means of shifting the balance in the information age. An Internet browser entitled `Video-on-Line' (available free at is capable of searching the web in 20 languages including Afrikaans, Ewe, Fan, Fulani, Hausa, Ibo, Kimbundu, Nyanja, Somali, Swahili, Tswana and Wolof. According to the UNDP, this browser is being used by over half a million individuals. Another multilingual browser called Tango allows the viewing of web pages in more than 90 languages.1

Also useful, although less geared to Africa, is a program from `Internet with an Accent' providing Internet tools for constructing web pages in 30 languages.2 The same company produces a word-processing product which translates Windows commands into eight languages and allows you to write documents in 30 languages. Alta Vista provides for searching WWW pages in 25 languages ( It also provides a free on-line translation service between any of six languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian ( Software which will translate 5KB of text from/to the six languages is available for personal computers.3 At this stage these machine translations can be inaccurate but the future should yield improvements in the quality of translation.

In regard to infrastructure development, one initiative promising to provide access to rural citizens in several African nations is the African Information Society Initiative (AISI), created in May 1996 by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Conference of Ministers which comprises 53 African ministers of social and economic development and planning ( The AISI is developing rural telecommunication centres to provide access to the information superhighway for agriculture, business, education, health and other critical spheres. Similar telecommunication centres have been very successful in rural Scandinavia, and African ministers believe that setting up such centres will lead to `leapfrog' development, since rural people in Africa could have access to the most up-to-date technology and knowledge in the world. For those in developing nations with access only to e-mail, GetWeb, an initiative of the International Development Research Center in Canada, enables users to receive an e-mail with the text of a requested WWW page.4 Web forms as well as web searches can be completed using the GetWeb services.

Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all citizens of the earth have the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The global proliferation of information technology is a reality; in 1993, 137 nations were connected to the Internet while today 241 have access. But access is far from becoming a reality for many living in Africa. None the less, appropriate forms of technology can lead to the acquisition of information as well as the dissemination of knowledge from citizens living in developing nations. With the technological initiatives discussed in this article, the developing world can look forward to producing and disseminating as well as retrieving information from around the world.

1. Tango costs approximately US$60 from

2. Internet with an Accent available for US$99 from Accent Software at

3. Uni-directional translator software is US$29 while bi-directional costs US$49 from Systran at

4. How to Retrieve and Search the WWW through E-mail
Send a message to In the body of the message, type GET URL. For example, if you wanted the following page, then you would type GET In addition, the following are available to send web pages to e-mail accounts: Use Send rather than GET Use Send rather than GET Use Send rather than GET Use Send rather than

[BPN, No. 24, 1998. p. 11]

^^Back to top

Return to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 24, 1998>>

home about us news resources subscribe
newsletter forum search

© Bellagio Publishing Network 2002-2005.

Go to Top Go to top
Go to top Go to Top