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From: email@example.com (Brian Candler)
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 96 13:34 GMT-0600
Belize is a small developing country in Central America. Here in a nutshell
is the story of how at virtually no cost the University College of Belize
started with E-mail and finally got a full Internet connection. I hope it
provides ideas and/or inspiration for people trying the same thing elsewhere
in the World.
We got a uucp account on a computer in Puerto Rico in November 93, as part
of the OAS "CUNET" project (Caribbean Universities Network). It was
obviously going to be too expensive to run for ourselves, even polling only
once a day, so we started a dial-up uucp service shortly afterwards. By
charging US$25 per month plus a per-byte charge for messages, the system
paid for itself. As the system grew, we increased the number of polls per
day (eventually to seven), and reduced the monthly charges to US$15 for
sites with a domain, and US$10 for sites with a single E-mail address. At
the peak we had nearly 100 users. Our phone calls cost $1.60 per minute,
which we were easily covering by a per-byte charge of 1c per 220 bytes plus
the monthly charges.
After repeated requests to Belize Telecommunications Ltd (our PTT) for an
Internet connection which fell on deaf ears, finally they were bolted into
action - I think the turning point came when we asked them to quote us
for a leased line to the U.S., so we could run our own Internet service.
At that point we weren't yet bringing in enough monthly fees to pay for
it - but we weren't THAT far off. It was obvious even to them that there
was money to be made out of Internet.
Although I'm not sure exactly what went on behind the scenes, the government
licenced BTL (which is a private company) to run its Internet service only
on the condition that it gave free access to schools. So, they are offering
schools a free 28.8kbps port. Schools still have to pay for the leased
circuit to the exchange in Belize City- a problem for schools in remote
areas which is yet to be properly sorted out.
The downside of this is that BTL has told us we must stop running our E-mail
service. The reason they give publicly is that it's because we're getting a
free link; privately, they've told us we couldn't continue, whether we paid
for our link or not, because they have the legal power to stop us. However
we did tell them that we needed a free 64kbps rather than 28.8kbps, and they
The result is that we have a full Internet link, costing us only US$25 per
month (for the leased circuits to the local exchange). We have about 50 PCs,
which were already networked and running TCP/IP, so they all now have
Internet access. Our E-mail server has been running Linux all this time,
giving us the opportunity to get TCP/IP up and running well in advance.
There is a strong case to be made that a uucp E-mail service (such as the
one we ran) is not a "telecommunication service" per se. All that our system
did was store E-mail messages; the actual transfer of data was done through
BTL telephone calls which were paid for at the normal rates. However no
clear-cut legal decision has yet been obtained on this matter.
UCB has undoubtedly got a good deal out of this arrangement, as indeed will
other schools when they connect, but existing users of the UCB E-mail
service now find themselves having to pay two or three times as much as they
did before, even if all they actually want is basic E-mail. This is a
fundamental problem with monopolies, I'm afraid. The quality of service
offered by BTL also left much to be desired in the early days, and there are
still problems remaining.
Here is the pricing of the BTL Internet service.
9.6k $300 per month
14.4k $350 per month
28.8k $500 per month [free for schools]
64.0k $1000 per month
Plus: cost of leased circuit(s). For a 2-wire link within Belize City this
is $12.50 per month. Outside Belize City it is $5 per km per month.
Installation charge: one month's rental (e.g. $500 for 28.8kbps)
DIAL-UP (up to 28.8kbps):
Monthly fee: $30 per month
First 10 hours use: included in monthly fee
Next 10 hours: $4 per hour
Further hours: $2 per hour
Plus: activation fee $15. Storage fee $5/MB for usage over 2MB. This is for
full Internet access (SLIP/PPP) - for the duration of the call, your
computer becomes part of the Internet.
COMBINING UUCP AND INTERNET
For anyone who has been running uucp services, and finds dial-up Internet
service arrives in their country: you should realise that it is possible for
you continue your existing uucp transfers but routed via the Internet,
WITHOUT the knowledge or approval of your PTT.
How this works:
- Your machine dials up to your local ISP
- Your machine makes a TCP/IP connection to the machine which holds your
mail (anywhere on the Internet)
- Your machine does uucp transfers. Since TCP has its own error correction
there is no need for the overhead of the 'g' protocol, so normally the
't' protocol is used instead
- Your machine hangs up
The final result is that you run your uucp node in exactly the same way as
before, but with calls costing a tiny fraction - in our case, $4 per hour
for Internet instead of $96 per hour for international direct dial.
Note that you don't have to get UUCP service from your ISP, you just need
Internet service. In our case, BTL decided not to provide UUCP service at
all - since you can route multiple users' mail through a single account,
they thought it would lose them money because people would share accounts!
This is a shame because people simple end up getting UUCP accounts abroad,
and having to pay for them in hard currency too.
Many small uucp nodes are running Waffle software. Although this is a solid
DOS uucp implementation, its limitations are clear: one incoming call at a
time; calls not answered while the system is being used locally; minimal LAN
For those who have outgrown Waffle, and have the time and inclination to try
something more powerful, I can recommend Linux - although it's not for the
faint hearted! The software itself is completely free, although expect to
pay about $30-$50 if you want to obtain a copy on CD-ROM. It supports
multi-user access, TCP/IP LAN connections, uucp E-mail, has compilers for
'C' and many other languages, and is basically a rock-solid platform for a
mail server. Minimum hardware 386SX/4MB; use a 486/8MB if at all possible.
References: http://www.btl.net (Belize Telecommunications Ltd)
http://www.ucb.edu.bz (University College of Belize)
http://www.belize.com (General info on Belize)