Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Dili Village Telco

David Rowe and Lemi Soares

A Village Telco is a DIY telephone company that uses mesh Wifi and VOIP to build telephone networks without infrastructure like cell phone towers or land lines. The goal of the Village Telco project is to provide affordable telephony for people in the developing world. It is built entirely with open software and hardware.

The Dili Village Telco is the world's first roll out of Village Telco technology. We are deploying 100 Mesh Potatoes to implement a free local call telephone network in Dili, the capital city of Timor Leste, one of the poorest countries in Asia. Mobile and fixed phone service is available in Dili but simply too expensive for the average Timorese.

A Village Telco is built from low cost, rugged Wifi telephony devices called Mesh Potatoes. Each Mesh Potato provides a single fixed telephone line to the end user, and is connected to other Mesh Potatoes via a mesh Wifi network. Mesh Potatoes are robust to developing world environmental conditions (e.g. accidental abuse, weather, static damage, poor electricity supply) and are designed for low power consumption.

The Mesh Potato is an "open hardware" design and runs Linux and other open source software. The Village Telco team designed the Mesh Potato specifically for our needs - custom, open, hardware for the developing world.

The Dili Village Telco project is gathering important technical, social, and business model data for the Village Telco. This project is being support by ISIF and ISOC grants and Atcom, who have manufactured a special batch of Mesh Potatoes for this project.

In this presentation we will talk about the roll out - what went right with technology and more importantly what went wrong! We will also present the social and business outcomes - i.e. how did this project change peoples lives and how can we make Village Telco networks sustainable businesses for local people in the developing world.


Letter on issuing visas to U.S. in Dili

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
via fax
February 2, 2011

Dear Secretary of State Clinton,

We are writing to you about the inability of East Timorese citizens to obtain visas to the United States at the U.S. Embassy in Dili. We urge to you to take action to remedy this situation as quickly as possible.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) worked to develop understanding and cooperation between the peoples of the United States and Timor-Leste for nearly 20 years. Since independence nearly eight years ago, we have paid close attention to U.S. government efforts to build strong U.S. relationships with the new nation of Timor-Leste. We believe that the current situation is having a negative impact on that relationship.

For many years, ETAN has hosted and met with Timorese here in the U.S. We have brought a number of them to visit and speak with community groups and public officials. The lack of proper consular facilities in Dili has resulted in delays, frustration and added cost to these trips. Frankly, East Timorese are forced to waste too much time and money by having to travel to Jakarta for their interviews, where they often confront unsympathetic officials with little understanding of the situation in Timor-Leste. Unfortunately, some who are well-qualified to receive visas are turned down.

There is no need for these obstacles to valuable cultural, educational and other exchanges with the United States, which lead many East Timorese to question this treatment as second-class.

In the past , we have been told that the delay in opening visa facilities in Dili is due to the cost. Last year, the U.S. was Timor-Leste's second-largest aid donor, and more than $100 million is in the pipeline for the next few years. This aid provides vital support for government and international NGO programs for health, education and good governance, but it cannot overcome stories of bad personal experiences with the excessively burdensome visa process.

We believe a small investment in issuing visas in Dili would greatly pay off in increased good will between the peoples of our two countries.

We understand that most or all U.S. officials closely involved with Timor-Leste favor this. We urge you to make it happen.


John M. Miller
National Coordinator, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network

Ambassador Judith Fergin
Kurt S. Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Janice L. Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs
Joseph Y. Yun, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
members of Congress


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