Manchester and WiFi

NYTimes writes about how WiFi is bridging the digital divide in East Manchester, one a prosperous town:

By using radio transmitters and other wireless equipment supplied by Cisco Systems, the city has turned a six-square-mile area into a Wi-Fi hot spot. Residents can receive high-speed Internet access by mounting a small antenna on their homes and inserting a card into their PC’s.

The network covers 4,500 houses, in a motley neighborhood that ranges from tidy terraced homes to bleak housing projects. About 730 homes have signed up for the service so far. Mr. McGonigle hopes to connect 1,500 homes by the end of the year, and 2,500 by the middle of 2004.

For 16, or $26.50 a month, people can have unlimited Internet access. A cheaper package, for 6, or $10, a month, gives access to a Web site called EastServe, which offers e-mail, online chat groups, and news and information tailored to East Manchester.

What gives Mr Jonas confidence is the palpable social effect the Internet has had on the economically downtrodden people of East Manchester. The chat groups on the EastServe Web site crackle with debates, ranging from whether Britain should adopt the euro to the proposed design of a statue that will stand in front of the new Manchester soccer stadium.

Irene Johnson, a lifelong resident, said East Manchester languished through three grim decades after the steel and cotton mills shut down. “Everyone I knew signed up for the dole,” she said. “It was degrading.”

Now, she said, a sense of community has been reborn. “You hear kids in the schoolyard talking about what they saw on the Internet,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I would never have imagined it.”

These are some of the ideas that need to be applied in the emerging markets.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.