There is now a movement to develop self-financed bottom-up internet infrastructure in Indonesia, using high-speed wireless internet technology. Money, technology and government help are not the keys. The dedication of many Indonesian volunteers to community education processes is the most important factor in developing this infrastructure.
Free education on various aspects of the internet is the key to help Indonesian society become receptive to this technology. Indonesians can then invest and build their own infrastructure at virtually no cost to the government or donor agencies.
For free education to succeed, information must circulate quickly. Internet based media disseminate information and knowledge far more quickly than conventional media. CD-ROM and web servers are typical methods to disseminate knowledge in electronic form in the public domain. The faster knowledge circulates, the greater its audience and as a consequence, the greater the value of the distributed knowledge. The ultimate goal is to transform communities into knowledge producers and writers through abundant freely available knowledge provided online.
Copyright inhibits the accelerated flow of knowledge and thus reduces the value of the information distributed. Not surprisingly, most Indonesian internet activists prefer to disseminate their knowledge free of copyright. This material, distributed free of copyright, is called 'copyleft' or 'copywrong'.
Indonesian internet activists such as I Made Wiryana, Michael Sunggiardi, Adi Nugroho, Irwin Day and Ismail Fahmi publish freely on the internet. Their work is available at the Indonesian Digital Knowledge Foundation (IDKF) http://www.bogor.net/idkf or from the Pandu Team Website http://www.pandu.org/. These websites contain more than five thousand articles and references on various aspects of the Internet.
Putting copylefted knowledge into the public domain can attract a surprising amount of funding and sponsorship. Depending on audience size, this sponsorship may surpass the salary of a professional executive with a permanent job in Jakarta.
The free distribution of this knowledge to the public creates demand for certain technologies and services. The private sector or other entrepreneurs can then profit by providing the required technologies and services to the public. The private sector views this process pragmatically; they support the person who created the market demand so as to continue to maintain and expand their market.
Sponsors also arrange seminars, roadshows and talkshows. The door price for a one-day seminar is only US$3 per person and includes snacks, Linux CDs and a magazine. It is normal for more than 300 people to attend each seminar, and this audience is multiplied through radio talkshows and various other programs in each city. This enables knowledge producers to continue to distribute their knowledge freely to the public.
The activists involved in these roadshows also provide free seminars in many schools. This program is arranged by the Indonesian School Information Network.
Internet mailing lists also assist the interaction and dissemination of knowledge. A few examples include email@example.com (more on information technology (IT) politics), firstname.lastname@example.org (IT beginners), email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the necessary knowledge is freely available, the public has started to invest their own money in infrastructure. Small to medium entrepreneurs are putting their money into IT businesses and re-investing their profits as their businesses go well. This cycle of business and investment may gradually accumulate the public's money in IT businesses and enable them to build their own internet infrastructure. This process has left the grassroots movement with much stronger roots in society than government initiatives.
Although the Indonesian government has invested a lot of money to shift the Indonesian people into cyberspace, it has been private sector investment and various sponsorships that have sustained the Indonesian internet.
Successive Indonesian governments have actually been a stumbling block for internet development. These governments have stifled creativity, as they require everything to be registered and licensed. Government policy lags behind developments and fails to provide the industry with a competitive safeguard. The government will not issue licenses for internet service providers (ISPs) using newer technologies for their connection. Small to medium enterprises, such as internet cafes, must also bear unofficial government taxes.
The Indonesian government has established several national teams to assist internet development. The National Development Coordination Body (BAPPENAS) used the concepts produced by these teams to obtain a World Bank loan in 1998.
The loan was approximately a couple of hundred billion rupiah, and is known as the Information Infrastructure Development Program (IIDP). Some IIDP projects are still on-going in 2002. However, as the loan has been used to pay international consultants to write concept papers, and has not been invested in infrastructure to help people access the internet, these hundreds of billions of rupiah have had negligible direct impact on the Indonesian people.
In 2001, the Ministry of Research and Technology launched Internet Cafe Technology and Science Technology CDs. Because the government's budget is limited, the onus for these activities has fallen on the private sector. The Internet Cafe Technology program aims to build 9000 Internet cafes through private sector investment. The investment will then be returned by the Internet cafe users though an access fee.
The Science Technology CD contains research done for the Ministry of Research and Technology. It is distributed freely to the public. The Sekolah 2000 foundation and Master Data, with a lot of private sector sponsorship, supports the production and distribution of the CDs.
The only government initiative that has significantly benefited the Indonesian internet community is the vocational schools Internet movement (email@example.com). Dr. Gatot H.P., the director of vocational schools at the Ministry of Education, is the driving force behind the movement. In 2001, he worked closely with other Indonesian Internet communities and managed to push over 1000 (out of 4000) Indonesian vocational schools onto the Internet, a commendable accomplishment.
There is still a long way before Indonesia's 1300 tertiary institutions, 10,000 high schools, 10,000 Islamic schools and 4000 vocational schools are all online. Currently only about 1200 schools and 200 universities are on the Internet.
The most convenient gauge of the development of Indonesian internet infrastructure is the expansion of Indonesian internet service providers (ISPs). IndoNet - Indonesia's first commercial ISP - was started by IndoInternet in 1994. Currently, over 160 ISP licenses have been granted, and about 60 ISPs are operational. Current large ISPs include IndosatNet, LinkNet, CBN, RadNet, Centrin and Indonet.
In early 2002, the Association of Indonesian Internet Service Providers (APJII) estimated that around four million Indonesians use the internet. Each year, the number of Internet users in Indonesia doubles. APJII claims that the majority of users are male, young (25-35 years old) and educated. About two-thirds of Indonesian users access the internet at various internet cafes (known as warnet in short for warung internet).
Aside from the commercial and legal ISPs, there are significant grassroots movements behind most of Indonesia's internet activities. These movements involve internet cafes using high-speed (11-54Mbps) wireless internet technology.
There are over 2000 internet cafes in Indonesia, most of which are self-financed. The Indonesian Internet Cafe Association (AWARI) was founded in May 2000. Its current heads are Judith M.S, Michael Suggiardi and Abdullah Koro. AWARI is fighting to expand our own network and implement a self-financed community based network to reduce dependence on Indonesian telecommunications provider services.
Most of the cash flow of these internet cafes actually goes into the coffers of the Indonesian telecommunications providers for line rental. The incumbent operators, Telkom and Indosat, have tried to use their power to distort the industry. They have also overcharged ISPs for incoming call lines and frequently rejected applications for lines. This has driven the community to seek alternatives to build our own independent network. The easiest way is the wireless LAN [Local Area Network] technology. At a cost of approximately US$150 / unit, anyone with a strong Linux background can easily integrate a LAN or a community to the Internet at a speed of 11Mbps, provided they have an external antenna with sufficient gain to reach the access point. Using such an antenna, I have integrated my LAN at home as well as my surrounding neighbourhood to the Internet for 24 hour access at 11Mbps for Rp 330.000 / month.
Building a low cost home-made antenna is not that difficult. A tincan with a 90 mm diameter and 215 mm length can serve as a 2.4GHz antenna with a range of three to four kilometres. It costs approximately US$5 to US$10 per antenna. Many internet cafes in Yogyakarta use this type of antenna to reduce their investment. They can also use old 486 [forerunner of the pentium chip] terminals running Linux to allow low cost investments and avoid copyright problems. The software drivers and information needed to set up wireless internet are easily found on the Internet.
The cost of satellite access for each cafe can be reduced to US$250-500 per month by sharing the connection between 10 to 20 internet cafes. These internet cafes use high-speed wireless technology to share the bandwidth. Considering some of these cafes take in US$50-100 per day from their customers, US$500 per month is affordable.
Based on the technology and business plan described freely at http://www.bogor.net/idkf, various internet cafe's have reduced the cost for public users to access the internet to Rp 5000 per hour. In Indonesian schools, the cost of accessing the Internet can be brutally reduced to Rp 5000 per month per student. This makes the internet accessible to a much wider range of people than simply those who can afford a personal computer. Many small to medium businesses and schools are now investing their money to build their own internet infrastructure. If a conducive policy is implemented, over 20 million Indonesians could access the internet with 4-5 years, without any loans from the World Bank, IMF and ADB.
Internet telephony (also called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)) is another emerging controversial technology that can be used to build a community based telephone network at very low cost. Government officials and the police are currently conducting unlawful sweepings to seize 'illegal' VoIP and Wireless Internet equipments.
These solutions may not be appropriate for some countries, especially those with tight rules on frequency usage. Most, if not all, the time, we run the equipments without any license. The government would like to protect the interest of incumbent telecommunication operators, which are paranoid about this new technology. Fortunately, the Indonesian media helps keep us from being jailed. We only hope to provide the best,low cost solutions for Indonesians to be integrated into the Internet and to reduce the existence of a digital divide.
High-speed wireless Internet is the necessary technology to build community based internet infrastructure without telecommunications providers. At the moment, there are more than 1000 corporate users or wireless internet and some residential users, like me at home. Most of the wireless internet operators hang out at firstname.lastname@example.org and are fighting for low cost, if not free, frequency licenses. We hope that people will not have to pay to use the air.
Educated, dedicated and militant people are the key to this community initiative to deploy infrastructure. It shows clearly the strength of community education in attempting to transform Indonesia into knowledge-based society.
Onno W. Purbo [email@example.com] is an independent IT writer, a former lecturer at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and a former Indonesian civil servant. Most of the copylefted reference and technical materials mentioned in this article can be freely downloaded from http://www.bogor.net/idkf, http://bebas.vlsm.org, http://free.vlsm.org and http://www.pandu.org/.