Spotlight on Issues
Stories by William Walker
April 15, 2000
Students in Guyana may now be able to get help with their homework via the internet instead of causing their parents to scratch their heads.
A new service called Homework High (www.homeworkhigh.com) [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] set up by a television company in the United Kingdom lets students from 9-16 years consult 100 teachers on a number of subjects. The teachers would not give the exact answer to a question but would provide tips according to an article in the Weekly Telegraph.
Subjects on the website include Science, Maths, Geography and History and there is a data base of 10,000 previously asked questions in the site's library along with a chat room where students can discuss topics.
Utilities commission gearing up for internetUnder the 1999 PUC Act internet service providers (ISP) are considered utilities and must submit to certain regulations.
Officer to be appointed
However this does not mean that the industry will be stifled and could mean benefits to ISPs in terms of better representation.
The Act defines a public utility as "any person who or which owns facilities used to provide or provides the following services.... the conveyance or transmission of oral, written, digital or any other form of messages or communications by telephone, telegraphy ...cable television telecom service providers and INTERNET ..currently offered to the public..."
Section 39 of the Act states the every public utility shall "...file with the commission in such form as it may specify, tariffs showing all rates actually being charged ..."
"In the case of rate increases the public utility shall give thirty days notice to the Commission and file with that notice a tariff stating ..the new rate or rates."
Jennifer Ganpatsingh, financial analyst and Allan Wilson, law advisor to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) spoke with Stabroek News about the implications of the Act on ISPs. They were both adamant that they did not want to be seen as restricting the growth of what they see as an important industry for the future of the economy. Wilson noted that the word regulation has a bad name which is associated with heavy-handed directives. Rather he saw the PUC's role as to "ensure that whatever is done is fair both to the ISPs and to the consumer."
Although the Act has been law since October the PUC has preferred to take a more cooperative approach to bringing the ISPs into the fold. A forum earlier this year was ostensibly planned to discuss with ISPs their concerns. However it was recalled that it degenerated into a free-for-all between the ISPs, GT&T and the PUC. Ganpatsingh said the PUC will shortly be appointing an internet officer as the first step in understanding the needs of the new industry. She urged the ISPs to file with the PUC, as a greater knowledge of their businesses will help them with better representation in relation to GT&T. The PUC is presently involved in the dispute over Voice Over Internet protocol (VOIP) international computer phone calls and Ganpatsingh remarked that while the ISPs are looking to the PUC they must meet their obligations under the law. Certain requirements include the filing of audited accounts and a deduction of 1% of gross revenues for the PUC's administrative expenses. Ultimately the ISPs should benefit from following the PUC regulations as they would be required to meet certain consumer standards which would result in greater customer satisfaction. Wilson said that the PUC has received some complaints about ISPs and it continues to encourage subscribers to contact it.
Both Wilson and Ganpatsingh stated there is no provision under the law for regulation of content and that the internet would be protected under the constitution under freedom of information.
To get on line you have to join the queue
ISPs have waiting lists
There are no longer queues for flour or gasoline but Guyanese must now wait in line to get online. As this survey shows all three of the commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have waiting lists.
Guyana Net [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] has 23 persons on its waiting list. There is a registration fee of $13,000 which includes the first month's rental which thereafter is $5,800 per month for unlimited access. Oliver Insanally the managing director said that the main problem is the lack of available lines for customers to get through to the internet. Insanally said the company had come to an agreement to terminate all of Guyana Net [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] customers' lines at the Brickdam headquarters of the phone company GT&T who would then run a data line over to the ISP. But this project has since been shelved although Guyana Net has received some more lines.
He explained that presently he has 129 lines serviced by 3 numbers The user's computer randomly hunts within these numbers until it finds a free line. At peak hours 7 pm to 10 pm these lines can become engaged. He tries to keep his ratio of users to lines at a reasonable level where even at peak times there are no delays. He noted that he had not had problems with bandwidth congestion. Insanally was also concerned about the cost of the phone lines - $4000 per month and he hoped that with the new arrangement of termination at the telecom building, this price could be reduced.
Insanally noted that the bandwidth charges were on the high side as he has estimated that a direct link would be 30-40% cheaper. There have been discussions with the other ISPs to share such technology but considerations of existing agreements and the need for continued cooperation with the phone company might make such a provision complicated.
(Guyana Net [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] is located at 234 Almond and Irving Streets, Queenstown. Tel 78860)
Internet Works [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] charges a registration fee of $4,500 for residential use and $5,000 for businesses with a monthly unlimited access charge of $6,200 for both. There is an optional $1,500 fee for configuration of the customer's Central Processing Unit (CPU). Otherwise they give you a booklet to do it yourself. At present there is a waiting list of some 350 persons but the company has just expanded its bandwidth to 640k so more customers will be on line shortly. He said that the current delays are caused by both a lack of bandwidth and of lines provided by the phone company.
Justin Singh support engineer of Internet Works [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] says that the company had deferred adding new customers as it did not wish to compromise the speed of access for its customers.
(Internet Works [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] is located at MDT, 234 Camp Street. Tel 53882.)
Solutions 2000 [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] charges $7,000 for personal users and $10,000 for businesses as a registration charge and this includes a technician to configure the CPU. There is a $3,800 deposit and monthly fees start at $3,800 for usage up to 30 hours; $5,500 from 30-80 hours; and $7,500 from 80 to 100 hours.
There is currently a waiting list of 10-15 persons. Michael Abrams whose title is futuristically the "Web Master" said that recent problems with lines for existing customers are close to being worked out but he said that presently there were no plans to increase customers since the 256K bandwidth the company buys from GT&T is at full capacity. He was expecting that Solutions would acquire bandwidth upon implementation of the new intercontinental cable Americas II that is to come on stream by this month. He hoped that this will also translate into lower prices for bandwidth.
(Solutions 2000 [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] is located at 167A Waterloo Street. Tel 52653)
Cybercafes bridging divide between the haves and have nots
Cybercafes are places where those without a computer can rent one to access the internet. For many Guyanese students, these cybercafes are useful for research.
Guybernet [please note: link provided by LOSP web site] on Hadfield Street has 16 computers hooked up to the world wide web. It rents out time on the computers to the public. Members pay a three-month fee of $1,000 and are then charged $400 per hour. Non members pay $500. There are three assistants on hand to help out. One of them, Anthony Brathwaite said that the school also offers classes in computers and the internet to students from 13 years of age. He said that most of the customers were students doing research for their studies either at secondary schools or at the University of Guyana. Rates for students are as low as $150 per hour. Most adults come in to check up on e-mail and some times to just surf the web, he said. When Stabroek News visited in the early afternoon things were quiet with only a few computers being used. Brathwaite explained that the rush is mostly after 3 pm when school finishes. (Guybernet is at 95 Hadfield St. Tel 38251-3)
Over at Byte 'n Surf on Middle Street opposite the Georgetown Public Hospital the surroundings are not like the office atmosphere of Guybernet. This is a genuine cybercafe transplanted from any North American city, offering snacks and refreshments. There are polished wooden tables and a television on in the corner wired with Nintendo. However, the only snag is the lack of computers - only three - which an assistant there said can discourage persons who have to wait. The company, which has only been up since July of last year, hopes to bring in three more in the near future and is confident that the internet will take off in Guyana. The assistant noted that most of the customers were adults who rented for $700 per hour, UG students at $600 per hour and primary and secondary students $500. The cafe does have equipment for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) that allows someone to make international phone calls via the computer free of charge. Adults mainly come in to check up on e-mail and to shop for goods and services over the web. (Byte n' Surf is at 288 Middle St. Tel 56841)
New vista opening up in education
Harnessing internet, info tech is key issue
NCERD is beginning to incorporate the information technology curriculum into secondary schools along with installing computers to help deliver the core subjects despite limited resources.
But Camillus McElhinney information technologist/subject specialist at the National Centre for Education Research Development (NCERD) which is devising an information technology curriculum cautions that the internet is not always the place to go for research material. He notes that the internet is a commercial creature and as such should a student want information they may end up being offered things for sale instead. McElhinney recommends that software encyclopaedias are more easily accessible and provide up to date information. He said students should also realise that the library is still a vital source for information.
Mohandatt Goolsarran, head of curriculum development and implementation at NCERD said around 20% of secondary schools presently have computers. Many of these are of varying quality having been donated by past pupils and donor organisations. McElhinney, who said that the distribution of computers is pretty patchy, observed that out of one donation of 60 computers only 10 were fit for use. As for hooking up to the internet basic problems of schools having phone lines are obstacles although a few city schools are on line. McElhinney said while children will experiment with the computers on their own there is a need for supervision and obviously formal teaching is required for the Information Technology (IT) CXC examination. Most teachers teach IT along with another subject, he said.
Under the Secondary Schools Rehabilitation Programme (SSRP) pilot schools will receive 4 computers each which departments in the core subjects will use as a tool to deliver their curriculum through the use of CD Roms.
At NCERD's Barrack Street headquarters there are two computer rooms with around 15 computers. These are used for training teachers both in information technology and for teaching how to deliver core subjects with a computer.
NCERD is also exploring the establishment of a database for the Common Entrance examination that will allow teachers to compile tests from a library of past questions.
Stabroek News asked a number of internet users their opinions on how to make computers and the internet an integral part of the education process.
Ronan McDermott a systems engineer at Industrial Engineering Ltd suggested that "the government has no money to invest in information technology (IT), so it must bring about improved access by encouraging individual and corporate investment in the technology. How about making donations of IT to primary and secondary schools tax deductible?"
Wayne Moses is a contributor to a popular web chat group that unites Guyanese from North and South America in a daily "cyber gaff". Topics run from serious observations on Guyana's political scene (Blackie was popular for a couple of days) to a never ending stream of dubious local proverbs such as "Don't mind how bird vex, it can't vex with tree". Conversation can become fixated on Guyanese cuisine with mailings entitled "eggplant haters", "Labba" or "carilla and shrimp". For those interested the website is http://gwebworks.com/guyana/guyana.html Moses writes that "the government should provide at least one decent computer and a good connection to the internet in every school in the country. As the schools' computer equipment increases then these computers can be networked and still share in the one connection. Better yet if the telephone company could invest in cable delivery infrastructure so that any school's internet connection is via cable modem, thereby ensuring adequate bandwidth for any number of computers connected via this connection."
Another member of the chat group suggested connections in public libraries.
McDermott believes that "the internet can bring all the online resources of the world into the classrooms of Guyana but only if the money can be found to equip and wire the schools. We need something radical to reverse the decline in Guyanese education - the internet might be a catalyst in this recovery."
Another contributor says that "the focus for communication within the country and a source for research and education are vital elements for a developing country."
The contributors also believe that while the tax free concessions on computer hardware given by the government are of use further measures should be put in place. McDermott: "This should be broadened to include all software/hardware/networking items."
Moses writes that the government "if it had any foresight, would also provide Internet cafes, or at least subsidize the private sector in this endeavour, so that for a small fee, the public could come in and access the internet. Refreshments would help pay for this service."
Stabroek News spoke to Trevor Benn a director of Guybernet, a non profit cybercafe cum school on Hadfield Street. Benn was a little more cautious on putting a computer in every school. Without proper personnel to train the students the computers would be underutilised, Benn predicted.
Government would have to become serious about training teachers and then offer them a special package to retain their services. Presently computer skills are in high demand and it is unrealistic to expect persons with such skills to work in the public school system, noted Benn. He doubted the government would be willing to find funds for such a longterm venture. Benn said that even Queen's College has to get assistance from former pupil associations to run its computer programme. He prefers a system of subventions to private organisations that would then set up programmes for schools to participate in.
Guybernet is presently negotiating to teach information technology to 160 students from a city secondary school and Benn hopes to open branches of the school throughout the country. The government could help in accessing computer equipment at a cheaper rate, suggested Benn.
He warns that a commitment by the government is needed to prevent an educational gap between those students whose parents are able to afford internet access and those still struggling to buy school books.
Byte 'N Surf Cybercafe on Middle Street where customers
can have a snack and tour the world of the internet.
Submarine cable would open up internet access A new cable link between the American continents with a direct connection to Guyana will likely open up internet access for this country's consumers.
Justin Singh support engineer of Internet Works says that waiting lists to join the internet could all be remedied soon when the new fibre optic submarine cable between the Americas is put on stream some time in April this year. Sources at the phone company predict that Americas II will handle the majority of intercontinental transmissions from Guyana with satellite systems being used as back up. The cable called Americas II will allow ISPs to expand bandwidth almost upon demand as opposed to the present MCI satellite system.
The Americas II cable system will span more than 8,000 kilometres and cost an estimated $375M which is being financed by an international consortium of 30 telecommunication companies including Sprint, AT&T, MCI and Embratel of Brasil. With internet demand doubling every three and half months the fibre optic cable will be able to transmit a total of 40 gigabits per second or 600,000 simultaneous calls and is ten times the present capacity of the Americas I cable laid in 1994.
Americas II consists of three rings: a north ring will start from Florida then connect to the US Virgin Islands. The South ring will connect the US Virgin Islands to Brazil, French Guiana (including direct connections to Suriname and Guyana, Martinique, Trinidad, Venezuela and Curacao. The west ring will connect the US Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico. According to a publication from Sprint this will be the first time a single cable will connect Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
It is estimated that internet users in Latin America are increasing by some 100% every month and the cable will according to the report "bring an unprecedented level of flexibility of use and assignment to carriers" with capacity well beyond the start of the 21st century.