Sylhet, WiFi and ‘telephone ladies’

It’s starting to feel like I’m just relaying information from The Daily Star but I read this article, by Sayeedur Rahman today and it kinda fits in with things …

Recently, the use of wireless networks, and in particular wi-fi, has drawn a lot of attention as a relatively low-cost way of getting fast network access to rural areas and less-developed country like Bangladesh. Wi-fi is not the only wireless networking technology, of course. Packet radio, microwave links and even 3G phone networks could all do a similar job.

But wi-fi is the latest cool thing and — not entirely coincidentally — a growing number of companies and market analysts have started touting it as the next big thing, the focus for a second-generation internet-style boom.

Learn Foundation, a Sylhet-based non-profit charity set up in 1997, has worked to reach computers and the internet to isolated rural areas of Bangladesh, using wireless technology. The Foundation has already built seven radio towers in seven villages in the region and aims to establish a broadband network in a 2,500 square kilometre (965 square mile) area.

which is interesting enough but even more encouragingly, a bit further on in the article …

GrameenPhone ladies provide villagers with a vital link to services such as hospitals and to relatives both at home and abroad, in a country with the lowest number of phones in South Asia. Villagers flock to Village Phone ladies to use a mobile to call relatives, friends or business associates, paying for calls by the minute. The Grameen scheme has been hailed as a successful example of introducing technology to the poor.

The mobile technology has literally changed many village phone ladies’ life. At present, 32,000 village phones are at work in 52 districts and 50,000 Bangladeshi women are making a living as GrameenPhone Ladies, as they are known. And so emerged Bangladesh’s ‘telephone ladies,’ who gained social importance and income from selling wireless service to fellow villagers.

The women, who power their phones with solar panels, now make $500 a month, about the same amount as earned by the typical CEO of a Bangladeshi bank and a lot more than a Bangladeshi’s average annual income of $380. As for the villagers there is no more traveling to the city to make phone calls.

Regarding the first bit– what can I say — I’ll soon be able to blog wirelessly on my laptop from a remote village in Sylhet more easily than from the centre of Brum (but I’d have a problem recharging the batteries — I suppose I could try wrestling the solar panels away from the ‘telephone ladies’ … but I expect I’d lose).

On the latter, I seem to remember watching a news report about women in South Africa doing almost exactly the same kind of thing and making a (relative) fortune from it; which kinda begs the question – what are the blokes up to?

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