The People First Network, or PFnet, is a rural connectivity project that aims to facilitate equitable and sustainable rural development by enabling better information sharing and knowledge building among and across communities forming the Solomon Islands. The project has established a system that permits remote locations to have Internet and email access using a computer, short-wave radio, and solar power. The purpose of this telecommunication and information network is to assist the country, particularly low-income groups, in taking in charge of their own development through improved logistics, information, and knowledge. The network also enables discussions around issues such as gender rights and constitutional reform.
Communication Strategies: 

PFnet's strategies include facilitating point-to-point communications to and from the remote provinces of the Solomon Islands, and then using this network and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) to facilitate the exchange of information concerning rural development and peace-building between communities and development programmes, NGOs, government offices, the media, businesses, and other stakeholders.

PFnet has two key components. One is a newly expanded Internet Centre in Honiara, which PFnet Manager describes as the "electronic post office" of PFnet's rural email network. The new Centre has 25 customer terminals consisting of 15 computers with built-in CDW CD burners, web authoring software, office software, and all major browsers. These tools enable residents of the capitol city to access the Internet for writing emails, searching for information, or posting information to share with others. The Centre generates revenue (the project aims to become self-sufficient). Students and women are encouraged to use the facilities, which also provides practical, hands-on training. The aim of this service is capacity building for information sharing and rural networking.

The second component of PFnet is the network of email stations located in remote islands across the country. The 9 stations are located in provincial clinics, community schools, or other accessible and secure public facilities. The stations use a short-wave radio (already ubiquitous and well-known in the South Pacific), a low-end computer, and solar energy. Several times a day, each remote email station connects to the hub station in Honiara automatically. Incoming or outgoing emails are transferred between the remote station and the hub, and between this hub and the wider Internet. Email operators help customers send and receive emails at a nominal cost. The rural email service is linked to an indigenous business development service that helps business people access online business information and attract joint venture partners. One community station serves as a farmers' technical and marketing advice centre. Another, located at a rural teacher training college, is used to educate teachers about the use of ICTs and expand their sub-network. PFnet plans to deploy an additional 25 stations throughout the islands.

The PFnet website is also a source of information for rural information sharing and communication. Examples of resources available include a library, portal, vacancies, news from the provinces, and a Community Projects database. The latter contains micro-projects that have been organised by rural communities themselves; a message in this section of the site indicates "If you have a rural community development project which you want promoting, please contact us and we can post it on the web site. It will be linked dynamically to the home page of the province in which it is located."

PFnet also organises face-to-face workshops. For instance, the ICT Strategy Building Workshop invited stakeholders to participate in identifying, analysing, and prioritising problems and issues related to the use of ICTs for development in the Solomon Islands. The workshop featured a participatory method called Object Oriented Project Planning.

Finally, PFnet carries out research. Organisers have conducted trials to deliver distance learning courses by email and have field-tested an LEO satellite service and portable ground station, along with a "humanitarian bandwidth pool".

Development Issues: 

Technology, Rural Development.

Key Points: 

Prior to PFNet, the only means of communication with the outside world for most remote locations in the Solomon Islands were short-wave radios and satellite telephones, both of which could be too expensive or burdensome to use. Organisers say that residents of some islands would have to wait as long as 6 months before mail would arrive.

The Solomon Islands Development Administration Planning programme (SIDAPP) was a project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) that ended in December 2001. In January 2001, SIDAPP initiated PFnet, which is now organised as a project of the Rural Development Volunteers Association (RDVA), which is affiliated with the Rural Development Division (RDD) of the Ministry of Provincial Government and Rural Development. PFnet - established as a non-profit organisation - is housed within the RDD offices.

PFNet will be highlighted at the World Summit on the Information Society in December 2003 in Geneva.

Partner Text: 

PFnet has received funding and technical support from SIDAPP (and UNDP/UNOPS); Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP); the diplomatic missions of Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of China; The University of the South Pacific, Kastom Garden Association; The Ministry of Commerce Online Business Information Service; The Japanese Grassroots Assistance Programme; the Solomon Islands Association of Rural Training Centres; and The AusAid Community Peace and Restoration Fund.


Yahoo News story, "Remote and Rural Solomon Islands Joining the Worldwide Web", summarised in SANTEC September 2003 Information Update No. 1 (sent to The Communication Initiative on September 5 2003); and PFnet site.