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New US Company Tackles 'Digital Divide' in Ghana - 2001-09-04

Of Ghana's 19 million inhabitants, only 20,000 are Internet users. A U.S. company hopes to create the beginning of a surge in Internet use, first in Ghana then in the rest of Africa.

Young entrepreneur Mark Davies created a high-tech company in the 1990's in the United States, expanded it, sold it at great profit, and decided to take some time off.

Back-packing through West Africa, he says, he encountered much enthusiasm for the Internet, but not much Internet access.

He returned home and set up "BusyInternet", a company that plans to improve Internet access in Africa by bringing in its own infrastructure, rather than depending on local utilities. Mr. Davies said, "What we are doing in Ghana is in some ways completely insulating ourselves from the local environment. We are buying and installing a generator. We are putting in satellites on the roof to give us an Internet connection.

With the help of Ghanaian partners, BusyInternet will open a high-tech development center this November in a former factory in Accra, Ghana.

Managing director, Roger Oppong-Korantang says the center will offer training and meeting rooms, office space, workstations for low-cost public Internet access, and a cyber cafe. "This is going to help business," he said. "It is going to help in terms of promoting Ghana in Africa. It is going to really put Africa, and Ghana in particular, on the world agenda."

Mark Davies shares those hopes, but he says his company is just a facilitator. The future, he says, is in the hands BusyInternet's partners in Ghana. He said, "We do not really have a vision for how business or education should develop. We think there are lots of local people who understand what the needs are much better than we do. Our vision is to go in and create this enabling environment where that type of program can take place."

If it works in Ghana, Mr. Davies says, BusyInternet could install similar centers in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Uganda. "I think this model can work in almost all the African economic hubs of the continent," he continued, "and so we are looking for partners who are eager, ready, and willing to execute this kind of vision.

Mr. Davies says he is also looking for countries that are not mired in bureaucratic regulations that make it difficult for companies like BusyInternet to bring in the necessary equipment and manpower.