When High-Speed Internet Isn't, Try a Carrier Pigeon

South Africa’s largest Internet service provider has been one-upped by a carrier pigeon with a four gigabyte memory stick strapped to its leg.

Winston, the bird in question, took off for a 60-mile trip at the same time that four gigabytes of data were transmitted to a computer at the destination.

The plucky pigeon got there first, beating out Telkom’s ADSL service by more than an hour, according to BBC and other sources.

Wealthy nations, as well as the developing world, are often plagued by poor Internet connectivity — and the slow speeds come at a cost. The U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in an August study that rural economic growth and broadband go hand in hand.

Yet the United States itself is running a distant 28th worldwide in online connection speeds; South Korea is out front at first place, followed by Japan, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Within the United States, disparities widen even more: A study by the Communications Workers of America finds the Northeast is fastest, Southern and Western states are slower, and Alaska, with a connection speed of 2.3 megabits, is the slowest of all.

The same challenges have provoked unique solutions — and old-fashioned investment — in developing nations.

Rwanda is pushing to complete work on a fiber-optic cable that will bring high-speed Internet to East Africa, the BBC reports. The government is trying to leave behind its strife-ridden, impoverished past to become one of Africa’s technological leaders.

Internet access is limited in rural Colombia, yet still potent. Although many are illiterate, indigenous farmers have learned to use the Internet for political organizing, by going to free “telecenters” run by nonprofits where computer-savvy activists help get their message out.

“It’s not a question of Internet coming in and transforming us,” indigenous Web producer Vilma Rocio Amendra told the online magazine Upside Down World. “It’s a question of us taking these technologies designed for a globalized, consumerist world and turning them into a tool that’s useful for our needs.”

In Peru, Wikipedia took itself offline to help an education initiative spearheaded by the nonprofit One Laptop per Child, according to Karikuy of Peru.

The charitable group distributes small, solar-powered laptops to rural schoolchildren beyond the Internet’s reach, who then use an offline version of the digital encyclopedia.

Even Facebook has learned the value of fewer bells and whistles when the pipeline ain’t so fat.

Tech World reports that Facebook’s easier, breezier “lite” version has fewer graphics and toolbars, so people in parts of the world where the download is slow can still make their online connections.

–Ronnie Lovler/Newsdesk.org


“Bold Rwanda takes broadband leap”
BBC September 21, 2009

“SA pigeon ‘faster than broadband'”
BBC, Thursday, September 10, 2009

“Carrier pigeon faster than broadband”
Short News, September 10, 2009

“Internet access in Africa, slow to come”
Finding Dulcinea.com September 13, 2009

“Nationwide study of realtime Internet connection”
Communications Workers of America, August 25, 2009

“Broadband Internet’s value for rural America”
United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, August 2009

“Facebook trims fatty interface, builds tagging muscle”
TechWorld, September 11, 2009

“Rural Revolution in Colombia goes digital”
Upside Down World, September 9, 2009

“Wikipedia goes offline to help rural students in Peru”
Karikuy, August 31, 2009

“US Ranks 28th in Internet connection speed”
India Times, August 26, 2009

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