In the beginning
there was FIDO....
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Between 1990 and 1997, Internet 'gateways' using simple 'store-and-forward' technology called 'Fidonet**, provided in many cases, the only means of cheap, efficient electronic communications to thousands of individuals, NGOs, Acadamics, Researchers and quasi-governmental departments in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.

Due to the particularly robust nature of the Fidonet protocol (incorporating sophisticated error correction and providing very high of data compression), that it was designed for use on DOS based PC’s and was a ‘store-and-forward’ technology (meaning people could compose and read their email offline) it proved to be very appropriate for use in situations where phone line quality was poor, reliable electricity supply problematic, costs of communications expensive, and where people had access to low specification hardware(mainly 286 and 386 PC’s).

** Fidonet is the ‘protocol’ (a special set of rules that end points in a telecommunication connection use when they communicate) which is used by networks of computers which communicate with one another via telephone calls.

For many of the above reasons, Fidonet technology provided the basis for the the first use of email and electronic conferencing for many NGOs and individuals in developing countries.

However, most of the networks which provided email and electronic conferencing services to NGOS in the North (in the late 80’s and early 90’s) used a different protocol as the basis of communication – the UUCP (unix to unix copy) protocol. The Fidonet and UUCP protocols were incompatible, meaning that people who sent email from systems using UUCP based protocols, were unable to read email sent from systems using the Fidonet protocol (and vice versa).

The solution to this problem was to build ‘gateways’ or ‘hubs’ which would convert information coming from UUCP based systems to a format which would be understood by FidoNet based systems (and vice versa). These gateways were developed and installed at many APC member networks in the early 90’s and between them provided some of the only means of affordable electronic communication between NGOS in developed and developing countries. International phone calls were made on a daily basis from the gateways, to over 50 small hosts in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, delivering mail from, and collecting mail to, their respective user communities.

Between 1990 and 1997, it is estimated that somewhere between 2 and 5 million messages were sent across the Fido gateways, at a cost of about $0.30 per message. This compared very favourably with the cost of an international (or even STD) phone call (often costing between US$5 and $10 per minute) and faxes.

Fidonet gateways were installed at Web Networks (Canada), IGC (USA), GreenNet (UK), Laneta (Mexico), Comlink (Germany), Nordnet (Sweden) and Worknet/Sangonet (South Africa).

  • The IGC gateway provided some of the only means of communication between NGOS in the rest of the world and NGOs in Central America
  • The Web networks gateway provided the first connection to an email host in Zimbabwe and the only means of communication to Cuba during the USA embargos
  • The Comlink gateway was critical as a hub for communications from and between email hosts in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia during the war in the early 90’s
  • The Pegasus gateway provided the earliest means of communication to members of the PACTOC network in the Pacific Islands
  • The GreenNet gateway provided connectivity to almost 50 small hosts in Africa, South and South East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe
  • The Laneta gateway

 

The use of Fidonet technology provided the basis for developing a ‘critical mass’ of pioneering email users, technicians and decision-makers in the field of ICTs. Many of those involved with the early Fidonet based systems are today recognised as pioneers in promoting Internet connectivity in their countries.

Lishan Adam, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 1997

"Since the 1987 low cost electronic communication networks have increased in importance and appropriateness as tools for development and social change in Africa. The poor telecommunications infrastructure and the cost of long distance interactive calls to remote hosts prevented active participation and were beyond economic means of those residing in Africa. The proliferation of NGO networks using electronic mail, interactive data bases including conferences as important tool for exchange of information resulted in the adoption of low cost networking technologies in Africa.

Low cost e-mail and interactive data base networks were practiced and preached by Interdoc an international and interdisciplinary partnership of NGO and NGOs network. The main focus of Interdoc was improving information exchange for social change through the provision of low cost access to e-mail and data bases. In 1990 Interdoc hosted a conference on a theme of "information exchange for social change" which provided opportunities for development of ideas, and projects including technical issues. Fido and low cost communication systems was suggested to be the tool for developing countries.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) on the other hand promoted low cost conferencing among NGOs worldwide. APC is a global communications network which provides environmental, development, peace and human rights networking and information resources to over 17,000 subscribers in 94 countries.

One of the significant impact of APC was the provision of Fido gateway for African networks. GnFido gateway connects African countries which cannot be connected via the main 'Zone' gateway in South Africa. In addition APC provided a forum for various users and system operators to cooperate in areas of technical developments for gateways, user end and host software, documentation, translation etc. This ensured that the progressive nature of the information exchange is matched by user led technology."

Note: grey thick line indicates a fidonet connection – the hosts which do not have grey lines attached have full internet connectivity (this map doesn't list the ICG/Laneta/Comlink/Nordnet connections).

 

Statistics from the Gnfido Gateway Oct 1992 - March 1996: List of African and Asian hosts sorted by Start Date

 

  • Kenya - ELCI Oct-89
  • Uganda - Mukla Dec-90
  • Zambia - UNZA Dec-90
  • Zimbabwe - Mango Oct-91
  • Senegal - Endadak Dec-91
  • Ghana - Ghastinet Feb-92
  • Tanzania - Costech Mar-92
  • Ghana - Foeghana Apr-92
  • Kenya - ARCC Apr-92
  • Philippines - Emc Apr-92
  • Tunisia - Endarab Oct-92
  • Ethiopia - Padis Jul-93
  • Gambia - ACHRDS Jul-93
  • Tanzania - TanHlthAug-93
  • Bangladesh - UBINIGSep-93
  • India - Bombay Sep-93
  • Eritrea - ADAL Apr-94
  • Angola - Angonet Feb-94
  • Eritrea - EISA Apr-94
  • Kenya - Arso Apr-94
  • Sri Lanka - Lanknet Apr-94
  • Tanzania - Ceest Apr-94
  • Tanzania - Marie Apr-94
  • Kenya - Thorntree Jul-94
  • Ghana - AAU Sep-94
  • Nigeria - Fepa Sep-94
  • Sierra Leone - USL Nov-94
  • Morroco - EndamagDec-94
  • Tanzania - Unidar Dec-94
  • Cameroon - Camfido Mar-95
  • Nigeria - GACOM Mar-95
  • Uganda - Tmail Mar-95
  • Nigeria - Arcis Apr-95
  • Nigeria - Chestrad Apr-95
  • Nigeria - LTDPA Apr-95
  • Chad - Chadnet May-95
  • Nigeria - Hisen May-95
  • Ghana - Accra Tel. Jun-95
  • Ghana - UG Jun-95
  • Uganda - Muknet Jul-95
  • Gambia - Geisnet Aug-95
  • Ghana - UCC Aug-95
  • Ethiopia - Hornet Sep-95
  • Ghana - GCES Oct-95
  • Ghana - UST Oct-95
  • Nigeria - Efnet Nov-95
  • Tanzania - Hnettan Nov-95
  • Kenya - UMSG Jan-96
  • Sierra Leone - Sec.Jan-96
  • Kenya - ShaneFeb-96
  • Mali - Balanzan Feb-96
 
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