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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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)
gateways were installed at Web Networks (Canada), IGC (USA), GreenNet
(UK), Laneta (Mexico), Comlink (Germany), Nordnet (Sweden) and Worknet/Sangonet
IGC gateway provided some of the only means of communication between
NGOS in the rest of the world and NGOs in Central America
Web networks gateway provided the first connection to an email host
in Zimbabwe and the only means of communication to Cuba during 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
Pegasus gateway provided the earliest means of communication to members
of the PACTOC network in the Pacific Islands
GreenNet gateway provided connectivity to almost 50 small hosts in
Africa, South and South East Asia and Central and Eastern Europe
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.
Adam, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 1997
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.
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.
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.
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."
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).