The City of Pirai (population 25,000) in Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil launched the Pirai Digital Project (http://www.pirai.rj.gov.br) in February 2004. The project was started in the late 1990s when the municipality received a small modernization grant from the Federal Government. A portion of the grant was used to build a fixed-wireless IP network to connect government offices, but authorities realized that broadband connectivity could be extended to a larger area at little extra cost. Starting in 2001, the city won a number of grants and loans to develop their digital project. The municipal government formed an advisory board consisting of representatives from government, residential associations, academic and nonprofit organizations, business and labour unions to manage the project’s evolution.
The Pirai Digital Project uses a network based on Wi-Fi technology that covers the entire city. The network serves 39 telecenters with 145 computers in public buildings; 20 telecenters in schools, with 188 computers serving over 6,000 students; and 20 access points in public libraries and other institutions with 66 computers. Each telecentre has an average of 220 users per day. The network uses free Linux software and is centrally managed. It offers Internet, E-mail, discussion groups, news, document management, e-learning, hosting, messaging, and e-government services.
The project was considered central to a plan to diversify the local economy and attract new investments following the privatization of the state-owned power utility. Integrating the ICT needs of the public sector, business and educational institutions was a major objective of the project. The emphasis is on four areas: e-government, education, public access and SME adoption. A private company with majority municipal ownership was also created to commercialize services to households and businesses.
The use of low-cost networking technologies, combined with open source software, dramatically reduced network costs, allowing Pirai to provide broadband services where traditional fixed-line operators could not justify the investment. Despite the low cost structure, funding still presented difficulties as the city could not obtain grants or loans from the central government to fund network deployment. The municipality was able to get around the lack of funding through the use of partnerships and low-cost technology. The city joined forces with local businesses possessing the required skills, and with a telecom operator that helped connect the wireless nodes. A group of universities offering online courses agreed to oversee network implementation. Innovative network management and technology choices allowed Pirai to reduce the project’s costs dramatically, and made it possible to finance the project from the municipal budget, with only minor financial aid from the federal government.
Sources: “The Microtelco Opportunity: Evidence from Latin America”, F. Bar and H. Galperin, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Information Technologies and International Development, Volume 3, Number 2, Winter 2006, 73-86. www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/itid.2007.3.2.73 (free registration required)
Intelligent Community Forum www.intelligentcommunity.org/clientuploads/PDFs/TopSevenIC2005.pdf
“New Models for Universal Access to Telecommunications Services in Latin America”, P. Stern and D. Townsend, Regulatel, 2007. www.regulatel.org/SU_Peter_31_08_07/Full_report-COMPLETE-June_11,2007.Edited_PAS_v.1.pdf