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- In the last three years, a number of Internet Service Providers were established in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, only in the capital and its suburbs some access to the Net is possible.

- Moreover, computer hardware costs are unbearably high and using the Net often means blocking a whole telephone line normally used by many people.

- As a study showed, only a small, well educated elite knows how to use the Internet. Even at the University most academics have no idea what possibilities the WWW or e-mail offer.

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Today, the most common use of Internet in Sri Lanka is e-mail

Only a limited rich social group can use this new facilities

However, the new and emerging information services are quickly absorbed into the Sri Lankan soil

Internet in Sri Lanka

By Amal Rajapakse and Amara Dissanayake

Internet in the Sri Lankan Soil

Although the Internet's history goes back to the early 1960's it was relatively new to Sri Lanka until the initiation of the Project called LEARN (Lanka Experimental Academic & Research Network) in 1990 by the University of Moratuwa. It is the first step that launched towards the connectivity of academic and research communities in Sri Lanka to the Internet. Also, LEARN interconnects most of the academic and other research Institutions across the country. It has provided the Sri Lanka's first e-mail service, which was operated by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the University of Moratuwa.

Since 1993, academics in the country started to access the Internet by means of techniques such as international direct dialling - IDD on a fairly regular basis. However, in 1995 LEARN was connected to the real global Internet giving unrestricted access to its users.

In addition to the academics there are many other private computer users and business organisations who want to have access to the internet and the WWW. Therefore the need of such services emerged in order to provide the Internet access to anybody. An institution that provides access to the Internet in some form is called an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Lanka Internet is the Sri Lanka's first such ISP established in 1995. Now they provide necessary services such as Electronic Mail World Wide Web Access, FTP, Telnet and Gopher. Before Lanka Internet launch these operations Sri Lanka's communications capabilities were very difficult and the technology was expensive. Only a limited number of large multinationals and shipping companies was able to access the new technology.

In addition to the Internet facilities Lanka Internet also specialises by providing services such as Local Area (LAN) and Wide Area (WAN) Network solutions, Radio modem connections, and project management.

Country's second ISP was Sri Lanka Telecom which also hopes to improve the nation's telecom infrastructure which will be of benefit to the Internet users around the country. They provide both dialup and dedicated line access to the Internet for reasonable fees.

Later a number of ISP's joined the Internet offering full Internet connectivity to the people. However, in most cases access was restricted to users in the capital, Colombo and the suburbs.

Sri Lankan media joined the Internet with the support of Lanka Internet services by publishing the Internet editions of Sri Lanka's most famous newspapers, The Daily News and The Sunday Observer. This achieved global recognition not only among the Sri Lankans around the world but also among other people interested in tourism, politics, religion and sports such as cricket. In 1996, Lanka Internet has introduced a new and significantly lower tariff structure giving access to small business users and others. In the same year Sri Lanka National Web Site was inaugurated which provides a central point of entry for information on the country.

Some Problems of Using the Internet

To get connected to the Internet one needs to have a computer, a modem, a telephone line, an account with an Internet, a service provider and a web browser like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. However, in Sri Lanka buying a computer to a student, ordinary employer, or for an academic is a big problem due to the unbearable costs of computers and even the lower tariff structure introduced by the Lanka Internet. Also, it is extremely difficult to obtain a new telephone connection which is what is needed by a dial up user. Another big problem even with a telephone connection is the difficulty of making a call to a certain location. This is due to the network congestion.

There is a big difference between an ordinary telephone user and a dial up user who accesses the Internet. Once accessed to the internet, the time that a user spends is much longer than an ordinary telephone call. This blocks the associated telephone line for the entire duration of the user's access to the Internet. This makes a big demand on the telecommunication resources on a telephone network, in particular, in a developing country like Sri Lanka.

Thus, organisations such as the telecommunications should seriously look at the consequences of taking necessary steps to enhance the telecommunication infrastructure in good time to meet the users demand in accessing computer networks including the Internet. It is now essential to facilitate the provision of high speed digital leased lines between universities and research centres to expand the existing projects like LEARN to cover the entire country. Also, the telephone network infrastructure must be augmented in order to facilitate easy access through dial up connections.

Today, the most common use of Internet in Sri Lanka is e-mail, especially for international traffic. The number of email users is increasing exponentially. The other popular usage is the World-Wide Web, which is accessed for academic or business related information, news and entertainment. Scientific journals, books or other printed materials often take longer periods to arrive in the country. The World Wide Web provides anyone with timely access to information. However, one of the biggest problem faced by many internet users in Sri Lanka is the dearth of access to timely information.

Congestion of the international links is still a major problem today. This is mainly due to the lack of local interconnections. Some Internet services have suffered from a relatively high rate of downtime. One cause of this is outages in the submarine cable through which three of our Internet connections are routed. We need to provide back-up links to ensure that the Internet service, on which people have come to rely, is uninterrupted in the face of line outages.

In spite of these problems, a number of Internet service providers have already been come into operation. The lack of trained personnel is a serious problem for several ISPs. However, the number of providers with their own Internet links may remain constant or increase. This will provide customers with more choice, and may drive down prices further. The situation today is the concentration of service providers in and around the capital Colombo not in other areas. This is also a problem for the countryside users.

Using the Internet for Academic Purposes

While the second author was doing part of her research studies by collecting marriage proposals appearing on Sunday News papers (Sri Lanka) she found that the Internet was one of the most appropriate and convenient medium to collect the necessary information efficiently. For this study Marriage proposals appearing on the internet edition of the "Sunday Observer", and some other WWW sites could be used. The study was done among the Sri Lankan community living in and outside the country.

Who has the Access to the Internet to find a marriage partner?

The above study was done using the information of a very small national and international Sri Lankan community who have access to the internet. However, this social group is comprising either of well educated professionals or those who can afford to buy a computer and to provide themselves other necessary items like a modem, a telephone line, an account with an Internet service provider, and a web browser to use the internet facility.

So it is evident that only a limited rich social group can use this facilities who can afford to buy a computer and the necessary equipment. Also a good knowledge of English and basic computer knowledge is necessary to fulfil this goal. These facilities are not available to the rural areas and there the people have no idea about the email or internet facilities. Other Technical problems when using the internet are time to time power failure, lack of telephone lines or they are not working properly, usually a repair may take a lot of time. No timely access etc.

Finally, what we have noticed in the above study is that only a handful of people have the access to the Internet. In the developed countries like America even a school child has the email facility and the access to the WWW. But not even some professors in Sri Lanka have the email facility or access to the WWW. For example, even some higher educational institutes do not know that it is possible to use the internet to access a vast amount of information in many different areas of interest. It's also among many other problems that the majority of third world communities have to face. Much of the advantages due to the technological development are achieved only by a very small social group.

Although Sri Lanka suffers with many problems when using the Internet, it is interesting to note how fast the new and emerging information services are absorbed into the Sri Lankan soil. As an example, we may point out that there are thousands of private individuals now having Internet access through Internet Service Providers just a year after the introduction of such services in Sri Lanka. All these are the signs of the fact that the Sri Lankans are eager to and are capable of integrating with rapidly changing new Technology. However, it is sad to say that compared to the developed countries for a user in Sri Lanka the costs that he has to bear for using such a mass media is relatively very high and the facilities are also minimum.

Dr. Amal Rajapakse is currently doing research in the the area of Graph Theory and computer Applications in discrete Mathematics.
Amara Dissanayake is working as a PhD research student in Sociology KFU-Graz.

"zum Thema:" Nr. 24, 30.12.1998