OLPC and FabFi mesh networks bring Internet to Afghanistan

OLPC is working in 9 schools and 5 cities in Afghanistan. Many of the schools have some limited Internet connectivity at home, but most families still don’t have Internet (though they may get GPRS coverage if they have access to a cell phone) in their neighborhoods or home compounds.

In Jalalabad, this is changing in part thanks to a mesh network run by FabLab Jalalabad. Through their FabFi network, many children with XOs and their families have access to the Internet (and Wikipedia) for the first time. Fast Company wrote up a good story on this, following the New York Times’s lead last Sunday (commentary).

Similar FabLabs with mesh networks have sprung up elsewhere, most notably in Kenya. I hope to see them spread more widely in Africa and Asia – it seems like a robust and scalable model for engaging communities in maintaining their own networks.

Building Technical Support in Afghanistan

With roughly 4,000 laptops deployed, we’re still in the beginning stages of the initiative. It’s a good stage to be in, especially for building our technical support in advance. So what’s the best way of doing that?

One idea that has been proposed:  setting up partnerships with students at Afghan universities. We’d recruit teams of student volunteers to provide ongoing support to teachers and pilot projects. Throughout the whole process, OLPC would provide ongoing support, feedback, access to spare parts and technical advice.  Of course there are still a lot of details to iron out.  Right now we’re planning to call it the Afghanistan Children’s Connectivity Project, involving individual Connectivity Centers in community hubs in each region.

This year, the United States Government requested $105.9 billion for military operations in Afghanistan. The numbers break down into $68.1 billion requested by the Department of Defense for 2010 and a $33 billion supplement requested by the Administration to support the 30,000 person troop surge in the area. It’s funny to think that providing every child in the country with an XO would cost about $800 million — or 3 days of that military spending.