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The Project

First Mile, First Inch (FMFI) is a multi-disciplinary series of projects exploring the technological and social consequences of least-cost telecommunications implemented in remote schools, clinics, and telecentres. The research explores how people interact with new technologies and the changes that occurs in their daily lives. The projects demonstrate how the first mile in poorly served rural and marginalized communities can be bridged with WiFi as well as other off-the-shelf DIY technologies.

The Development Goals

Although fixed-line networks in rural communities of developing countries often preclude innovative access, opportunities such as the unbundling of a network’s local loop or “last mile” and the provision of modest Internet access suggest that innovation requires a different mindset - an approach that empowers communities with a sense of ownership and control of communications infrastructure. To that end, FMFI aims to understand and challenge institutional frameworks, regulatory considerations and national policies.

The key long-term goal is sustainability: to help local communities build their own neighbourhood networks and cultivate the skills required to manage and even replicate the networks in the future.

The Context

The end point of large communications distribution networks-often referred to as the “last mile” - is usually the most challenging, most expensive and most difficult part to manage in rural environments. FMFI represents a paradigm shift towards “first mile” (the starting point of a network) and “first inch” (the immediate experience of the end user). The project aims to overcome failures in addressing the needs of rural communities through innovative, inexpensive access in various contexts, and to explore and document the sustainability of such access.

The Impact

At the local level, FMFI targets a variety of identified needs, for example: improving communication between doctors, health workers and clinic sisters in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa; giving students in remote Mozambique villages access to the curriculum for distance education and regular contact with their university tutors; providing ICTs and Internet access to rural schools in Namibia; and providing Internet access through a wireless terrestrial connection to the war-affected town of Huambo in Angola.

Equally important outcomes are the creation and growth of new partnerships with government, private sector, international aid agencies and organizations involved in technology research and development, and the publishing of a reference book for “first mile” and “first inch” implementation in a rural Africa context.

Research Objectives

  • To develop innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to implement “first mile” solutions
  • Change the behaviour in the use of ICTs – how the use of ICTs has changed community life
  • Cost and benefits of solutions – to quantify what is meant by low cost connectivity
  • Scalability and replicability of technologies – the viability of rolling out the solution
  • Influence on policy and regulation – demonstration of project benefits to the regulator
  • To publish a reference book for “first mile” and “first inch” implementation in rural Africa.

FMFI Philisophy

In order to overcome the barriers to access the Information Society we need:

  • a change in mindset putting the end user first,
  • bottom up momentum whereby communities are empowered and have a sense of ownership of their own communications infrastructure, and
  • community access to innovative ICTs and a “just do it” approach whereby communities can create networks that in turn create new demand for ICTs on shoestring budgets.


Telecommunications, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Access to Information, Grass Roots, Community Wireless Networks, Networks of Researchers, First Mile First Inch, Last Mile, Last Inch, Least cost connectivity, WiFi, Powerline communication, PLC, Health, Education, Telecentre,

Acasia Connectivity Africa IDRC CSIR Meraka Institute Angonet MICTI University of the Western Cape University of Cape Town SchoolNet Mozambique Connect Africa ISPU UCM Tshwane Metro

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre(IDRC), Ottawa, Canada.