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August, 29th 2014

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Twilight on the streets of Sao Felix do Xingu, Brazil. (Photo: Steve Hamm)

Twilight in Sao Felix do Xingu, Brazil, a frontier town of the Rainforest. (Photo: Steve Hamm)

By Steve Hamm, IBM Writer

(SAO FELIX, Brazil) The Internet takes a torturous route to get to Sao Felix do Xingu.

A private company has built a series of radio signal repeater towers, powered by solar panels, which bring the Net 400 kilometers from a neighboring state to downtown Sao Felix.

Once it gets there, it stays put. There’s very little connectivity elsewhere in a municipality that’s the size of Portugal. For those who have it, mainly government offices and businesses, it’s expensive and slow: $500 a month for 1 megabit-per-second service, or $100 for 128 k speed.

“It’s hard working there. It’s the Amazon reality,” Rodrigo Freire, TNC’s director for climate change strategy in Brazil’s AmazonBasin.

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In contrast, an Internet user in the US or Europe typically pays about $35 per month for 10 megabit-per-second service.

This situation presents challenges for municipal officials who are helping landowners register under Brazil’s Forest Code and using The Nature Conservancy’s PAM portal for monitoring deforestation.

Farmers, ranchers and other landowners typically have to drive (sometimes hundreds of kilometers) to municipal offices to register their land. Once there, they’re frustrated by the slowness of Net access.

How slow is it? Dominic Harries, one of 10 members of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps who are in Belém, Brazil, this month helping TNC further develop Pam, ran a simulation using an Apple developer tool, “Network Link Conditioner.”

Steve Hamm, IBM Writer; On assignment with the IBM Corporate Services Corps in the Brazilian Rainforest.

Steve Hamm, is on assignment with IBM’s Corporate Services Corps in the Brazilian Rainforest.

It took about 30 seconds to initially load the landing page of the PAM service. After that, pages came up more quickly. But maps were very slow. When technicians download high-resolution images, they have to come up with other tasks to do while they wait for the maps to load.

“The technology they have come up with is brilliant, but it’s hamstrung by slow Net access,” says Dom. “It’s very frustrating. It’s hard to get things done.”

So, what can be done about it? We need your help.

Do you have ideas for bringing better Net access to Sao Felix? (They’ve tried satellite service, but it’s hampered by intense cloud cover in the rainy season.) Are there successful methods that have been tried in other remote areas? Please weigh in today on our “Contribute Ideas” crowdsourcing tool.


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