An Iowa man who’s working to ease “information poverty” in developing countries says many in the U-S wouldn’t believe it, but just half of the people in the world have ever made a phone call. “It’s hard for us to conceive of it given that I have a phone in my pocket and one in my hand,” says Cliff Missen, director of the University of Iowa’s WiderNet project. “In the very poorest countries in the world these kinds of technologies are just not available.” Missen, who has worked at a university in Nigeria, says folks in the third world have other infrastructure to worry about — like passable roads — before they can even think about phone lines. “Some of the universities that we’re working with are making some tough choices,” Missen says. “In one university I’m working at they spend the equivalent of 24 full-time professors’ salaries for a tiny Internet connection that is only as good as a phone modem connection here.” According to Missen, just one in seven people in the world has access to the Internet. “More and more people will get access to the Internet, but even in areas where there is access now it’s really, really slow,” Missen says. The WiderNet project is helping universities in Africa, Bangladesh and Haiti download millions of digital files onto their campus computer systems so they can access the information that way rather than dialing-up the Internet.
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