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WSIS Stocktaking
Wi-Fi in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Photo credit: YRMacedonia

People living in towns in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia enjoy Internet access, but what about those in the countryside? A recent survey showed that rural areas were lagging behind technologically. In response, the government has undertaken a huge project to bring Wi-Fi coverage to rural areas. The aim is to make sure that everyone in the country has the opportunity to join the information society.

Internet kiosks

A project to install 680 Internet kiosks throughout the country has been successfully implemented. These kiosks are sited outside the main entrances of schools and they enable wireless Internet access for everyone within a range of 250 metres. The popularity of wireless networks arises from their accessibility, cost and flexibility.

Putting the emphasis on wireless networks is a choice that has been made largely on economic grounds. From a logistics point of view too, wireless networks can be installed anywhere. Needless to say, the installation costs for a wireless network are much lower than for a wired network. Not having to dig up streets and drag cables reduces expenses. The cost of implementing Wi-Fi technology is lower than the cost of laying broadband cables throughout the country. Also, once a wireless network is up and running, Wi-Fi can be provided to users at a low cost. Another attractive characteristic of wireless networks is flexibility.

Bringing technology to rural areas

Internet providers previously had little economic incentive to offer services in remote or rural areas of the country, resulting in the relative underdevelopment of those areas.

The Wi-Fi project has acted as a stimulus for operators. Each administrative region is divided into 13 subregions, and three operators are chosen to provide services in each subregion, on the basis of the offers that they make through an online bidding system.

Contractors have to provide a fast maintenance service, and are on call every hour of every day. Any defects are picked up by a monitoring system, which issues alerts as well as providing statistics on the use of the kiosks.

Security and child online protection

The downside of wireless networks is security. Anyone with a laptop and wireless card — and the necessary skills — can easily get hold of sensitive data by connecting, say, to a company network. A high level of security requires both a good strategy and the right technology to protect data.

Putting the kiosks near schools is intended to encourage schoolchildren to access the Internet using the terminals provided. This of course raises the question of protecting young people from offensive content. The answer has been to implement stringent security measures to filter out pornography, along with other nasty content such as incitement to aggression or hatred.

Towards the information society

The real payoff from bringing Wi-Fi coverage to remote and rural areas is to stimulate progress towards the information society. Open access to the kiosks will prepare the people of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the modern economic market and the global competitive economy, which are driven by information technology. The project will also both motivate and support the development of the ICT sector in the country. A general improvement in business and the economy is likely to follow.

Expected benefits

As a Wi-Fi nation, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hopes to project an image of a tech savvy and innovative country. Such an image is not only desirable in terms of prestige, but also is likely to attract foreign investment. As a tool, the Internet is expected to improve the productivity and efficiency in public administration and the business sector.

Internet access is also expected to stimulate democracy in the country. Through discussion forums, blogs and social networks, it will be easier to involve citizens in decision-making processes.

In education, the Internet encourages interactive teaching, involving students and teachers in the learning process. Students will have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and learn about many different cultures.

In business, the availability of Wi-Fi Internet access will open up new markets and act as a catalyst for new services. Business deals will be concluded more quickly in the new competitive environment. There will be a growth of e-commerce and e-banking.

In The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, rural users will at last be able to join their urban compatriots in enjoying the advantages of mobile Internet connection.


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