Paving the Way for Internet-Rich Environments in Developing Nations
The Internet Society's Network Training Workshops
By George Sadowsky George.Sadowsky@nyu.edu
More than seven years have passed since the Internet Society began its series of Network Training Workshops at Stanford University in August 1993. In that time, the main workshops and those derived from them in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Africa have trained more than 2,500 students intensively in network connectivity, network backbone routing, resource discovery and information serving, national network management, and Internet-provider business skills.
Nearly every country has been represented. With one known exception, all developing countries have been represented within the student bodies of various workshops. Instructors and organizers have come from most countries in the developed world. All organizers and instructors have given voluntarily of their time, with no compensation given or expected. A minor amount of staff support has been provided by the Internet Society to give continuity and offer financial functions in support of these activities.
The activities have received generous support from both the business sector and the public sector. The training has been intense and has been supported by a variety of technical and industrial partners. For the largest workshop, almost $1 million worth of equipment was loaned by industrial organizations for workshop use, and universities in five countries have been generous in the use of their space for instruction and housing.
Of the various student bodies, about 15 percent are able to cover the entire average cost of attending these workshops. The remainder have re-quired either partial or full support to cover the average workshop costs and/or transportation expenses between their home and the workshop location. Both public and private donors have helped supply the funds needed. The Internet Society itself has provided close to $1 million over this period from its own funds to support these workshops.
The results of the Network Training Workshops have significantly accelerated penetration by the Internet into those countries, with concomitant benefits in many sectors of society. It is both symbolic and appropriate that the Internet Society has chosen to invest its resources in this manner.
In the summer of 1992, Enzo Puliatti and Stefano Trumpy got the idea of bringing a group of Africans to INET'92 in Kobe, Japan. They arranged a one-day workshop of talks prior to the meeting, oriented toward developing countries. At that meeting, there was a group of us--I remember Randy Bush in particular--who had done work in developing countries and who saw the possibility of expanding such a workshop into an intense training experience that would facilitate introduction of the Internet into the developing world. With the later addition of Steve Fram, then at the Institute for Global Communications in Menlo Park, California, and Art St. George at the University of New Mexico, we planned for a large workshop at Stanford University just prior to the INET'93 conference in San Francisco. Joanne Scott, then at BARRNet at Stanford, assumed the formidable task of local logistics and arrangements.
The first workshop was held on the Stanford campus, using student residences to house the participants and using university buildings for the classes. There were a total of 126 students from 67 countries and a total of 15 instructors, all of whom volunteered their time, which set a precedent of volunteerism that would persist until now. The workshop consisted of three tracks: basic networking using telephone infrastructure, routing, and resources discovery on the Net. This occurred at a time when very few developing countries were connected and the Internet was seen as only the precursor to the global information infrastructure.
The largest contingent of people at the first workshop--10 students--came from Colombia, including the director of Colciencias, the Colombian equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the United States. The director said they knew the Internet was going to be really important and they wanted to train enough of a critical mass so that they could make it happen in their country. The next-largest group came from the newly created so-called former Soviet Union, where George Soros's International Science Foundation paid for 30 people to come to the workshop. Those students are now networking leaders in their countries.
The 1993 workshop started a method of choosing candidates that remains today. First, candidates could be nominated by anyone, but ultimately were chosen by instructors regardless of institutional or political connections. Second, three criteria were established for choosing: whether the applicant was prepared to learn the material, whether the applicant was influential within his or her own organization with respect to the introduction and/or spread of the Internet, and whether the organization was influential within its country in terms of making good use of the public Internet. At the beginning of our work, we avoided candidates from PTTs because of a perceived desire to control the Internet in their countries; later, when that possibility was no longer viable, we began to train students who were with PTTs.
The workshop was notable in other ways. We were treated to one of the early demonstrations of spread-spectrum technology when the CEO of Cylink communicated--via spread-spectrum radio transceivers--with those of us inside the hall from a computer-equipped golf cart roving around outside the dining hall. And for one evening, individual residents of Silicon Valley hosted the students in their homes or in local restaurants.
We received solid encouragement and support from Larry Landweber, as well as a $50,000 contribution to the workshop budget. Lee Caldwell, then with Novell and traveling extensively throughout the world, believed strongly in what we were doing and convinced Novell to give us a grant of $100,000. Without these two contributions, the workshops would never have happened.
As a result of our success at Stanford, we planned another workshop for June 1994 in Prague. Recognizing that good management of incipient national networks was becoming an important issue, we created a fourth track, National Network Management, and persuaded two of our former students from 1993, Nashwa Abdel-Baki and Tarek Kamel, to organize it for us. This move started a tradition of identifying good students, some of whom would be asked to join the next year's instructional team.
Czech Technical University and its representative, Jan Gruntorad, hosted us in a combination of Krystal Hotel and university classrooms. For INET'94 and the workshop, MCI, British Telecom, and the Internet Society engineered the first E1 circuit into the Czech Republic, which was a major accomplishment.
There were about 160 students at the Prague workshop, including several students from Cuba who had applied to the Stanford workshop but were unable to attend because of visa restrictions. Participation from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union was again disproportionately high.
In 1995 the workshop was held at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, preceding INET'95. The four tracks from Prague were repeated, but with a larger student body of 190 persons.
The 1995 workshop was notable for creating the first spin-off of the workshop series. We had applied for a grant from NATO for a number of people from Eastern Europe on condition that we trained them in holding similar workshops in their region of the world. Jacek Gajewski and Oliver Popov were the coleaders of this group. Every night after dinner, our group would meet and discuss the many issues involved: pedagogical, logistic, financial, and political. But at the end of the workshop, Gajewski, Popov, and others were ready to return to Eastern Europe to hold their first successful training workshop in Warsaw later that year.
The organization they formed, CEENET (Central and East European Network), has since then sponsored two workshops per year on both technical and policy matters and has contributed greatly to propagation of the Internet throughout Eastern Europe. CEENET has now expanded its borders and has as members certain states in the Caucasus region as well as some of the smaller Asian states in the former Soviet Union, such as Turkmenistan. As in the parent workshop, all instructors and workshop staff are volunteers.
The issue of language is always present in international issues. At the outset, the language of networking was basically English; indeed, the language of informatics and computer science has been primarily English since the 1950s. Thus, the early workshops were taught in English, although attempts were made to use instructors who could work in other languages in order to assist students whose command of English was less than adequate.
Starting in 1996, in part because INET'96 was held in Montreal, the workshop expanded to include two tracks in French. Jacques Guidon of the University of Paris and INRIA and Pascal Renaud of UNITAR organized and executed the francophone part of the workshop. The entire workshop was hosted by McGill University and included 260 students and more than 40 instructors from more than 20 countries. And while the English part of the workshop included the same four tracks, a major curriculum revision during the winter of 1995-96 had resulted in substantial upgrading of all tracks to correspond to the current state of the network and the important topics to be learned. The francophone initiative owed its existence to generous sponsorship from both AUPELF-UREF and ACCT.
Alan Greenberg, energetic director of computing and communications at McGill, served as the local organizer of the Montreal workshop. As a result of the experience, Greenberg joined the volunteer workshop team and became workshop organizer for the next four workshops.
In 1997 the workshop was held at the Permata Training Center of Petronas Oil Company outside Kuala Lumpur. Because INET'97 would have no interpretation, the francophone tracks were temporarily suspended but were organized on a regional basis. In 1998 the workshop was held in Geneva, hosted by Cit Universitaire. Six tracks of instruction were taught: four in English and two in French. In 1999 French and English workshops were conducted at San Jose State University, and in 2000 workshops in both French and English were held at Keio University outside Yokohama, Japan.
The growth of regional and national workshops in the past few years points the way to the future.
Francophone regional workshops were pioneered in 1997 under the leadership of Guidon in Hanoi and Senegal. Since that time, Guidon and his set of bilingual volunteers have held workshops in Senegal, Benin, India, and Mali. The Mali workshop is special in that the training was conducted by Guidon and his team in conjunction with members of the Mali chapter of the Internet Society. It is now the framework for coming events and works with the national ISOC chapter, which acts as local coordinator. Future francophone regional workshops will take place in Madagascar, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Senegal during the next few months, with the goal of training roughly 150 new people. In addition, we will set up a permanent training room in each country with the help of INTIF for the computers, Cisco Systems for donation of routers and switches, and O'Reilly and Associates for documentation. The Fonds Francophone des Inforoutes is providing the bulk of the financial support for those events.
In 1998 a Latin American regional training workshop was launched under the direction of Edmondo Vitale and Ermanno Pietrosemoli. Meeting at the University of Rio de Janeiro, almost 200 students were trained in a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. In 1999 the workshop was repeated in Mrida, Venezuela, and in 2000 in Mexico City. The workshops have trained almost 200 people a year and have offered from four to eight tracks per workshop. An enthusiastic group of volunteers from both Latin America and North America have served as instructors for these workshops.
In addition to the many sponsors who have generously supported the workshops with cash contributions, there are a large number who have generously lent equipment and donated materials for the students. Several deserve special mention: Each year, O'Reilly & Associates, through the generosity of former ISOC trustee Tim O'Reilly, gives a collection of about 10 relevant books to each student attending the workshop. Cisco Systems has lent large quantities of equipment every year for use by workshop students.
The most recent workshop associated with INET 2000 illustrated that both the current business model and the training model need to change. Support for global training is dwindling for reasons both right and wrong. On one hand, it is no longer necessary to bring students to one place in the world to learn subjects that are increasingly available closer to their home, even though there will always be a core of advanced material that can best be presented to advanced students in conjunction with the conference. On the other hand, even though most countries have Internet connectivity, in many countries that connectivity is limited and many more trained people are needed to truly make the Internet available to a critical mass of the population.
Today the Internet is well established in many places in the world, and it makes sense to decentralize the vast majority of the training activities to as distributed a level as can be supported regionally and nationally. We can rely much more on regional and national staff who have been trained to supply the training closer to the target area--and therefore more inexpensively--to a larger number of students. The training workshops have in fact spun off the first wave of such efforts as noted previously.
The Network Training Workshops and their offshoots have resulted in major acceleration of the introduction of the Internet throughout the world, and the Internet Society, the workshop donors and supporters, and the many volunteers who have worked selflessly--generally giving up vacations--deserve enormous credit for this achievement.
A Great Deal More Remains to be Done?
Those of us who live in Internet-rich environments understand well the very significant benefits of the Internet for all sectors of civil society. We need to assess what we have done and what we should be planning and doing next, using our relative advantage to help spread the Internet and its benefits as broadly as possible across the developing world.
We are currently at a point in time when it is necessary to assess what has been accomplished, what remains to be done, who are the new actors who are helping accomplish these new goals, and how the Internet Society's relative advantage can be used to achieve the next set of goals. Clearly, the locus of training needs to shift more in the direction of regional, national, and local training efforts, using the local expertise that can increasingly be found in many countries in the world.
The Internet Society is currently embarking upon a program to establish Sustainable Internet Training Centers in several locations in the developing world. Although this program is still in its formative stages, it may provide a vehicle for continuing our efforts.
There will clearly continue to be room for workshops and other training activities at all levels, and we hope to continue to rely on the activism and volunteerism that have characterized the evolution of the workshops up to now. Such programs' benefits to developing countries are very large and affect the health, education, and level of economic activity that are enjoyed by their citizens. The Internet Society needs to continue this effort so that the expression digital divide is by and large an expression of the past and so that the Internet can someday be for everyone.