Home Latin America 2004 Sky-bridging the digital divide –VSATs and interactive distance learning

Sky-bridging the digital divide –VSATs and interactive distance learning

by david.nunes
Barry Spielman Issue: Latin America 2004
Article no.: 9
Topic: Sky-bridging the digital divide –VSATs and interactive distance learning
Author: Barry Spielman
Title: Senior Director of Corporate Marketing
Organisation: Gilat Satellite Networks
PDF size: 276KB

About author

Barry Spielman is the Senior Director of Corporate Marketing, for Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks. Before this position, Mr Spielman served as the Executive Director of the Global Board of Trustees of Bar-Ilan University and earlier as the Manager of Marketing for Communications at RND Networks of the RAD Group. A graduate of Bar-Ilan University’s Political Science Department, Mr Spielman emigrated to Israel from the US, following a graduate degree in National Security Affairs at George Washington University and several years of work at AIPAC and Washington area defence contractors. Mr Spielman was drafted into the Israeli Defence forces, where he served in a variety of public affairs-related positions, rising to the rank of Major. During his military service, Mr Spielman worked with the foreign press and headed both the Lectures and Visits Departments of the IDF Spokesman’s Office. During this time, he concluded a second Masters degree in Business Management through the Boston University Programme at the Ben Gurion University.

Article abstract

Around the world, governments are investing in rural telephony, Internet access and distance education programmes to foster the social and economic integration of citizens in remote locations. Typically, satellite-based VSAT satellite systems are used for rapid, low-cost deployment. Brazil’s GESAC programme now brings Internet service to 3,100 remote schools. Similarly, millions of citizens in rural communities will soon have access. Satellite-based continuing adult education in remote regions is already in use in many parts of the world.

Full Article

Distance education is rapidly becoming one of the most important initiatives in the quest to bridge the digital divide. Across the world, governments are investing in technology that allows its rural citizenry to benefit from advanced communications. High on the list of beneficiaries are students, the future of societies everywhere. Typically, in rural areas, satellite-based VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technology is the most appropriate technology. This is so for a variety of reasons, the main reasons being the ubiquity of the technology, the ability to deploy VSATs rapidly and their cost effectiveness vis-à-vis alternative terrestrial solutions. On the ground, lines going through rugged and sometimes impassable terrain are very costly and take a long time to deploy. VSATs support a variety of applications ranging from corporate enterprise solutions for large companies to broadband Internet access for small businesses and consumers. However, when it comes to rural applications, the satellite-based VSAT solution stands out, providing support for numerous applications ranging from rural telephony and Internet access to air traffic control and countless applications in between. Distance learning is rapidly becoming one of the most popular applications in these regions. Bringing Internet to schools VSATs are making a difference in people’s lives by providing distance education opportunities via satellite for populations in remote locations. Internet access is being brought not only to rural schools, but also to older populations who live in remote regions far away from universities, so they can continue their education via the Internet. Grade school students in remote communities are being introduced to advanced communications through the Internet connections that can, more and more, be found in rural schools. Farmers are being given access to the Internet and can now get advice and education regarding the practical problems they face, including diseases such as SARS. Here are a few examples: – Russia’s Modern Institute for the Humanities deployed a satellite-based network to provide Internet access, distance learning and video conferencing at the University’s branches located throughout the Russian Federation. The Moscow-based Institute for the Humanities, Russia’s largest Open University, is one of the largest universities in the world, with over 145,000 students; – China’s Central Agriculture Broadcast and Television School (CABTS) was chosen by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture to run the National Farmers’ Science and Technology Training Center and has established the China Distance Education Network using VSAT technology. CABTS is using a VSAT network to provide interactive distance-learning applications in its municipal schools. The need for such a network was emphasised by the outbreak of the SARS epidemic. The epidemic highlighted the need to deliver health education quickly to farmers throughout China’s vast regions in order to prevent the spread of the deadly disease; – The World Bank recently decided to provide a VSAT network to bring broadband Internet access to African schools. The project was made possible by a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A pilot programme involving schools in Uganda is now in progress and the VSAT network is expected eventually to reach hundreds of schools throughout Africa, especially in Senegal, Ghana and Tanzania. The GESAC example Perhaps the most striking example of the use of VSAT technology, however, is the Brazilian Communications Ministry’s GESAC programme. GESAC provides satellite Internet service to 3,100 remote schools and 100 other sites, including communication centres and army bases, via VSAT. The programme was established to provide Internet access to millions of citizens in rural communities and is the first government programme of its kind in Brazil. This large scale, unprecedented, project was deployed in only six months. No other technology other than satellite could even have come close to such a rapid deployment. This project, which the Brazilian government proudly stands behind, its president even going on national television to hail its success, is part of an official governmental concept known as ‘Digital Inclusion’ – a twist to the prevalent cliché of ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’.” The phrase may be different, but the results are the same. Rural Brazilians are, for the first time, gaining access to basic communications services. Students in rural areas are taking tremendous strides and working to catch up with the urban sectors of the country. One schoolmaster involved in this project says, “This project is of huge importance to people here. They can finally discover the world. People heard about the new technology and the Internet but never thought they would actually have access to it. The option of accessing information and knowledge excites everyone, young students as well as adults.” The GESAC project was initiated by the previous Brazilian government, but took on a new look, as it was customised to meet the e-government goals of the current President Lula’s administration. In fact, it may have become the flagship project of that administration’s ‘Digital Inclusion’ programme. Taking advantage of free software, and working through partnerships with the private sector, state and municipal ministries and non-governmental organisations, the GESAC programme‘s goal is to connect the rural parts of the country to information from the government and from around the world, through the use of the Internet. The Ministry contracted the services of a company specialised in satellite communications to provide satellite-based, always on Internet connectivity. The network hub is located in Belo Horizonte; it connects more than 3,200 rural sites across the country. The programme is considered a big success and the government is making plans to expand it. As was reported in the local Brazilian media in April 2004, GESAC will now integrate with CorreiosNet operated by the Post Authority of Brazil. Another idea, according to the report, includes establishing private telecentres in remote areas, similar to the ‘Cabinas Internet’ model in Peru. The government plans to have more schools connected to the network; more than 150,000 rural Brazilian schools are candidates for future connectivity. Other types of distance learning via satellite Continuing and adult education in rural areas: While providing Internet to rural schools is by far the most prevalent distance learning application using VSAT technology, there are other applications in use as well. Providing continuing adult education via satellite to those rural regions where there are no universities is a centrepiece of a programme the Australian telecom operator, Optus, is running for the Australian government. The satellite-based network deployment was part of the government’s Northern Territory (NT) and New South Wales (NSW) Interactive Distant Learning Initiative. The initiative was developed to establish a shared, broadband interactive distance learning (IDL) communications infrastructure for small rural communities and isolated homesteads in areas of New South Wales and the Northern Territories. Optus, the NSW Department of Education and Training, the NT Department of Employment Education and Training and also the Australian government lead the initiative. The program has been successful and has steadily expanded and an additional 2,500 sites were recently deployed. The network provides real-time streaming video, high-resolution graphics, full duplex audio, two-way data interaction and application sharing capabilities. The courses offered via the network cover primary, secondary and vocational material, including courses that are difficult or impossible to offer currently in remote and rural settings. Employee Training Another satellite-based education application is IDL (interactive distance learning) for corporate employees. In this application, large companies with many branches spread out across large geographical areas, take advantage of the broadband Internet technology supplied by the satellite, to train employees or update them on corporate developments, as they sit at their desks, rather than incurring the heavy costs of flying everyone to headquarters for meetings. The application makes it possible for more people to take part in the update or training, rather than having to focus on a smaller set of key employees to cut back on costs. One example of a company using this technology is Countrywide Home Loans. Countrywide initially contracted a company, in 1999, to provide satellite network-based IDL applications at its home mortgage offices around the United States. Countrywide recently expanded the capacity of the network to support multiple concurrent training sessions. A final word Satellite networks based on VSAT technology have long been established as an effective solution for meeting diverse communications needs. In many parts of the world communications infrastructure is either not available or is too expensive to deploy in areas outside the main city centres, thereby depriving large numbers of people of the benefits of everyday communications services such as telephone connectivity and Internet access. In these rural areas, satellite-based communication networks for distance education and other applications stand out as the best, if not the only, way to provide these communications services. However, as we have seen, VSAT technology does not only support those regions which lack basic communications needs. Large corporations, financial instutitions and small businesses the world over take advantage of the unique attributes of satellite-based technology from data transfer applications to broadband Internet access and Interactive Distance Learning, to train their employees. Although the introduction of a broadband-enabled infrastructure progresses steadily in major metropolitan areas, large numbers of home offices and small companies will still remain without high-speed Internet service. Here too, VSAT providers will lead the effort to eliminate this ‘digital divide’. Only VSAT technology can fulfill this promise; it brings remote points one ‘short hop’ away from the Internet backbone, regardless of their geographic location.

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