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Universal Service Funds & connecting schools to the Internet around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
maybe there's another way to support this?
maybe there's another way to support this?

We need to connect our schools to the Internet. While it may not (yet) be viable to do so in many countries, few education policymakers would question this general aspiration.

Of course, questions related to the speed and nature of this connection are being articulated and considered in different ways around the world, with answers determined by a mix of factors, including what is technologically feasible, what is pedagogically useful and, in the end, what is affordable. Calculations around what it may cost to connect schools to the Internet, and to keep them connected, in ways that are useful and relevant to learners and teachers (as well as to administrators and families), differ widely from place to place -- as do approaches on how to pay for these costs.

Over the past two decades, I have spent a lot of time helping to facilitate policy planning sessions with governments around issues related to technology use in education. Whether this work was part of efforts by the World Links program, linked to the use of the ICT in Education Toolkit supported by infoDev and UNESCO, or as part of more mainstream World Bank advisory activities, mechanisms and approaches by which countries can connect their schools to the Internet have always been a major area of discussion.

It may seem like a small thing, but one of the signature successes of many of these planning efforts wasn't the development of a related policy document outlining a vision and approach for how new technologies could and would be used to support a variety of education objectives. That was almost always the stated goal, but, as anyone who has worked in policymaking circles knows well, committing something to paper is no guarantee that what was drafted will ever actually be implemented -- nor that what's implemented will in the end have any beneficial impact 'on-the-ground'. No, in many cases the most important thing that happened in practice was to connect a diverse set of actors from outside the education sector together with the 'usual suspects' from within education ministries. The fact that you had, in the same room and at the same time, education officials sitting together with officials from the telecom authority, and the IT and finance ministries, as well as representatives from civil society and the private sector -- often times we found that this was the first time ever that all of these groups had talked collectively about how they might work in coordination to help meet some of the shared goals that all of them had related to technology use and education.

One mechanism that is integral to initiatives to connect schools in some countries (and thus which features prominently in these sorts of planning discussions), but which is largely unknown in others (and thus doesn't feature at all), is the use of so-called Universal Service Funds to help pay for such efforts.

For those not familiar with the concept or practice:

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Illicit financial flows growing faster than global economy, reveals new report
The Guardian
$991.2bn was funneled out of developing and emerging economies through crime, corruption and tax evasion in 2012 alone, according to the latest report by the Washington-based group, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), published on Monday.  The report finds that, despite growing awareness, developing countries lose more money through illicit financial flows (IFF) than they gain through aid and foreign direct investment. And IFFs are continuing to grow at an alarming rate – 9.4% a year. That’s twice as fast as global GDP growth over the same period. Though China tops the list of affected countries in terms of the total sum of money lost, as a percentage of the economy, sub-Saharan Africa was the worst affected region as illicit outflows there average 5.5% of GDP.
 
Development’s New Best Friend: the Global Security Complex
International Relations and Security Network
The United Nations’ blueprints for the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reveal an interesting trend. Whereas the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused exclusively on development initiatives, the SDGs look set to interweave security into what was once solely a development sphere with the inclusion of objectives that seek to secure supply chains, end poaching and protect infrastructure. This shift reflects lessons learned from 15 years of implementing the MDGs and, even more so, broader global trends to integrate security and development initiatives.

Quote of the Week: Bill Gates

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“I certainly love the IT thing.  But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things, like child survival, child nutrition.  As a priority? It’s a joke. Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of.  Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t.”

- Bill Gates,  an American business magnate, investor, programmer, inventor and philanthropist. He is the founder and current Chairman of Microsoft.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Is Connectivity a Human Right?
Facebook

“For almost ten years, Facebook has been on a mission to make the world more open and connected. Today we connect more than 1.15 billion people each month, but as we started thinking about connecting the next 5 billion, we realized something important: the vast majority of people in the world don't have access to the internet.

Today, only 2.7 billion people are online -- a little more than one third of the world. That is growing by less than 9% each year, but that’s slow considering how early we are in the internet’s development. Even though projections show most people will get smartphones in the next decade, most people still won’t have data access because the cost of data remains much more expensive than the price of a smartphone.

Below, I’ll share a rough proposal for how we can connect the next 5 billion people, and a rough plan to work together as an industry to get there. We'll discuss how we can make internet access more affordable by making it more efficient to deliver data, how we can use less data by improving the efficiency of the apps we build and how we can help businesses drive internet access by developing a new model to get people online.” READ MORE 
 

Three Pillars for Prosperity in Montenegro

Željko Bogetic's picture

Over the last decade Montenegro has trebled its gross national income (from $2,400 in 2003 to $7,160 in 2012), has reduced its national poverty headcount from 11.3 percent in 2005 to 6.6 percent in 2010, and enjoys the highest per capita income among the six South East European countries.

Despite this considerable progress, however, Montenegro remains a country in need of a new economic direction. The global financial crisis has exposed Montenegro’s economic vulnerabilities and has called into question the country’s overall growth pattern. The period between 2006 and 2008 was characterized by unsustainably large inflows of foreign direct investments (FDI) and inexpensive capital, which fueled a domestic credit consumption boom and a real estate bubble. When the bubble burst in late 2008 and in 2009 real GDP shrank by almost 6 percent, triggering a painful deleveraging and a difficult recovery that is not yet complete. With the base for Montenegro’s growth narrowing and the country’s continued reliance on factor accumulation rather than productivity, it has become clear that this old pattern cannot deliver the growth performance seen just a few years ago.
 
So, what kind of growth model can drive Montenegro’s next stage of development in the increasingly competitive environment of today’s global economy?
 
As spelled out in the recent report “Montenegro – Preparing for Prosperity” this country can go a long way toward returning to the impressive economic gains it was making just a few years ago by emphasizing three critical areas of development: sustainability, connectivity, and flexibility.
 

Connecting Cities for Growth

Parul Agarwala's picture

The emergence of mega-regions, as metropolitan areas merge to form a system of cities, has demonstrably contributed to growth in the developed countries. With South Asia experiencing one of the highest urbanization rates, connecting cities presents opportunity to mobilize people, goods and services, and develop supply chains over larger spatial areas. However, this also implies unraveling overlapping commuting patterns, economic linkages, social networks, multiple jurisdictional boundaries- which add to the complexity of decision-making for policymakers and practitioners.

Trade: The World Is Not Flat Yet

Otaviano Canuto's picture

Thomas Friedman’s bestseller The World Is Flat highlights the strong forces pushing the world towards a single economic platform. The technology-fueled globalization in the provision of services, and the widespread organization of production processes as global value chains are part of his narrative.

South Asia and the Geography of Poverty

Otaviano Canuto's picture

The world has become relatively less poor in the last few decades. People under conditions of extreme poverty -- that is, living on less than $1.25 per day -- have declined as a proportion of the world population, from 52 percent in 1981 to 22 percent in 2008.

Broadband for schools?

Michael Trucano's picture
if only this tree were outside my school!
if only this tree were outside my school!

Schools should be connected to the Internet. Most people, I suspect, would agree with that statement (although a few dissenters may contend that such a statement does not go far enough, and that all schools *must* be connected to the Internet.) Indeed: Lots of countries around the world have been, and are, engaged in efforts to connect all of their schools to the Internet -- and for those schools that are already connected, to connect them faster.

The efforts of the United States in this regard that began under the 'e-rate' program in the 1990s have been much studied and emulated around the world, and countries as diverse as Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey have sought in various ways to utilize Universal Service Funds to help connect the un-connected. Korea has perhaps gone the furthest in rolling out very fast connectivity to all of its schools. Armenia will soon (if has not done so already) have completed connecting all of its schools to the Internet; when I last checked (in late 2012), Uruguay had almost done so as well. Given current technology infrastructure and available funds, not all countries are of course yet able to connect all schools, even if they consider this to be a priority. (Even in a country as developed as Uruguay, 70 schools were reported still to be without electricity in early 2012 -- not being connected to the electrical grid can make efforts roll out connectivity to all a little more difficult ....) In countries where almost all schools can be connected via existing means, a lack of supporting government policies and/or incentives for groups to connect the unconnected schools can mean that, even where connections to the Internet are technically feasible, they may not be commercially or practically feasible. Some recent work by the World Bank found that 95% of all schools in Indonesia could theoretically be connected to the Internet now, if the political will could be found and provided certain policies and incentives were put into place. (Connecting the remaining 5% of schools -- no small number, in a country as large and diverse as Indonesia, with over 13,000 (!) islands and 250,000 schools  -- would be much more difficult, as many of the schools in this 5% category are quite remote, and there are as a result often significant, and very costly, infrastructure challenges to overcome.)

OK, if all schools should (or must) be connected to the Internet, what should be the nature of that connection?

Again, most people would probably agree that, in 2013, all schools should have broadband connections to the Internet. This is, in fact, a common theme in many of the national policies related to ICT use in education one encounters around the world, especially in the more 'advanced' (OECD) countries, and increasingly in middle income countries as well. Reasonable people may (and do!) disagree about the extent to which school connectivity should be prioritized compared with other pressing needs in the education sector, but, while there may be a lack of consensus on the relative importance, the general importance of connecting schools, and indeed in doing so at broadband speeds, is a widely held goal in much of the world (even if it is not always practical in the near term). That said:

What exactly does 'broadband' mean when we are talking about connecting schools to the Internet?

It turns out there is no simple answer to this query. Indeed, there are lots of different answers, depending on where you are and the context in which you are posing such a question.

weDevelop: Can We Create an Empowering Web of Development with the Individual at the Center?

Tanya Gupta's picture

Development organizations operate at the global level, partnering both with countries to implement country strategies, and within sectors to tackle sectoral challenges.  NGOs on the other hand, operate at the grassroots level, working with individuals towards the betterment of communities.  Development organizations have the advantage of resources, many years of experience and knowledge but are generally several degrees removed from the individual.  NGOs are in touch with the needs of citizens and are able to respond quickly to challenges but unable to scale up.  The two have worked together, but so much more can be done.  Over the last several years the dynamic has undergone a fundamental change.  Cue to technology, which is fast emerging as a game changer in the world of development.  Technology enables linkages based on mutual agreement (e.g. development institutions-NGOs) as well as linkages that evolve organically (e.g. a grassroots human rights group in Kenya that builds a relationship with a Swedish development institution focused on social inclusion). 


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