The Next Chapter – The Last Mile Connectivity Foundation is Born

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Bhore Foundation president Mr. Shiva Maharaj makes a generous donation of $30,000 to support the Last Mile Connectivity Foundation Inc.

Fact : More than a billion people do not have access to cellular networks, three billion people live without phones and five billion people do without internet access in the world. – TechCrunch

 

Without internet access people are cut off from anything that does not occur in their village. Additionally weak internet connectivity is a significant barrier to introducing higher quality of education in remote villages in India. Solving the connectivity issue will provide opportunities for asynchronous learning, easy accessibility to information, and higher education quality at an affordable cost. 

We would like to repeat the successful pattern of establishing internet connectivity at Adharshila at other similarly disadvantaged educational institutions in India. We have developed a network of close and trusted advisors in India that research and identify such institutions for us to engage with. The location that we have targeted for assistance in 2016 is the Rajat Jubliee School in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, in the very remote Sunderbans district. We too have learned that the approach to getting connectivity for each of these schools could very well be unique in each instance, and that we need to proceed is a very deliberate manner to identify the telecommunications partner(s) to be used for each institution and have to verify conclusively that such connectivity can be set up successfully before committing funds to that project.

The Bhore Foundation has very generously extended funding support to us for the second year in a row, allocating $30,000 for 2015-16 to be used as continuation of the network connectivity efforts we started then, initially with the Adharshila school. Our experiences in 2014-15 with the Adharshila school’s connectivity efforts have led us to the conclusion that we can provide the best stewardship for, and maximum transparency into, the use of funds received from the Bhore Foundation – and indeed other sponsors, when we have them – by establishing a Not For Profit organization incorporated in the US that will be used solely to manage the administration and distribution of funds to the selected schools as and when we have established the set of partnerships and vendors that can provision the network connectivity to those schools. We have already submitted the Articles of Incorporation of this entity, to be called The Last Mile Connectivity Foundation Inc., to the office of the Secretary of State of Illinois, and we hope to have confirmation on its establishment in the next few weeks. The Foundation will operate in the US as a 501(c)3 charitable foundation. In anticipation of filing with the IRS for this 501(c)3 status, we have included in the Articles of Incorporation the following text as the objectives of the Foundation:

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Deploying Last Mile Connectivity to Remote Villages in India

BACKGROUND

 Weak Internet connectivity is a significant barrier to introducing higher quality of education in remote villages in rural parts of India. Solving the connectivity issue will provide opportunities for asynchronous learning, easy accessibility to information, and higher education quality at an affordable cost. Broadband connectivity will allow students and teachers in schools such as Adharshila, located in district Sheopur in Madya Pradesh, approximately 180km from Gwalior the ability to access email and the internet. Availability of broadband connectivity will also provide the infrastructure to conduct remote teaching through video sessions as well as explore possibilities with remote healthcare.

Streaming video, required for real time interactive remote classroom instruction, requires a reliable, fast internet connection, one that supports on the order of 2Mbps (Megabits per second)– 6Mbps transmission speeds. To provide some context of what this means, a typical “3G” cell phone network offers speeds up to 2.5 Mbps and the more advanced 4G networks provide between 7 and 20 Mbps network speeds, the speeds being greatly affected by the presence of physical structures such as buildings, hills and other physical topographies that act as barriers to the “line-of-sight” required between the cell tower(s) and the user’s mobile phones.

The network speeds in a region are also greatly impacted by the absence or presence of cell towers in that region; the further apart the towers are placed, the weaker the signal between them becomes, resulting in slower network speeds available for use.

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In rural India – and this is especially true in the remote region of the country in which Adharshila is located – cell phone towers are spaced as far apart as they can be to just be able to provide low-bandwidth, voice and SMS communications. This how telecommunications companies have been able to make their costly investments in cell towers economically viable in these low income, low population density rural areas.

Current Status

Over the past year, we have engaged several of the largest cellular telecommunications service providers in India to assess the feasibility of providing us with cellular network based internet connectivity at Adharshila. These companies are household names as cellular service providers in India, including Reliance, Airtel, iDEA, and TATA. We even engaged a service provider – Sify Communications – that specializes in rural area communications. However owing to the extreme rural location of the school, none of these providers were able to provide connectivity with the bandwidth and reliability required for our needs.

Image2Figure 1: Cell Tower Coverage Map For Areas Around Adharshila

To further illustrate the point, the cell tower coverage map above shows that Adharshila, located inside the red circle, has no cell towers in the vicinity hence providing broadband connectivity to Adharshila using ground-based cell towers is not an option.

Despite these initial disappointments, we are pursuing another option to provide internet connectivity to the school. We have begun an evaluation of geo-stationary satellite based internet connectivity, the so-called VSAT network connectivity. VSAT connections are slower than ground-based cellular connections and cost more to use. On their own, they wouldn’t suffice for the streaming video needs of the school. However, we have found a service option that uses advanced video compression techniques that allows relatively high quality video to be run in real time over a relatively low speed network connection. As of this writing, we are working with the two entities that provide these two services, VSAT and video compression, to evaluate the feasibility of putting them together to service Adharshila’s needs. The assessment should be completed by the end of September 2015.