Last week I attended an expo sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Communication that was about ICT opportunities in rural Kenya. The conjucture of rural and ICT obviously drew my attention (Read my post about internet in the village). I know the event was over a number of days but truth be told I only went one day and only one entry caught my eye (plus it was too hot and not very well attended).
The entry was a supposedly turnkey digital centre for use in rural areas. It was made of a cargo container outfitted with solar powered electricity outlets and structured cabling. It also had 8 PCs with TFT monitors placed on 2'x2' desks. The use of space was incredible, with a desk at the back end probably for the manager. A representative for Davis & Shirtliff (co-sponsors of the entry) was at hand to elaborate on the project.
The project is a private sector/public initiative fronted by the Ministry of Information. Davis & Shirtliff provide the solar power technology and Kenya Data Networks are to provide the networking (I think) and internet connectivity, the Ministry provides the rest. The initial setup cost is K.Shs. 2.5 m ($37,715). There was no indication on running costs but the bulk of this would be internet connectivity which was to be heavily subsidised by the government.
I think the initiative is a good idea, but I had some doubts with the approach. D&S are not specialists in solar power, so their margins might be unnecessarily higher. The solar power also has limitations on the power of devices which can be connected to it. The D&S rep recommended 40Watts or less which pretty much rules on copiers, laser jet printers, and even PCs. Their recommendation was to use laptops (Harry: too expensive). KDN have done a wonderful job laying fibre-optic cable contrywide and installing WiFi hotspots around Nairobi, but short of using the relatively expensive VSAT, I don't see how they will reach most rural areas.
The project is in prototype stage so there is still a lot of flexibility for redesign. You can be sure I will be contributing my two cents worth.