Net entrepreneur wants to give free wireless to Africa


Paul English, who cofounded travel search engine, wants to blanket Africa with free and low-cost Wi-Fi by partnering with local telcos. JoinAfrica would have a free tier of servive with basic email and browsing but no heavy bandwidith apps. The for-pay tier would include audio and video. He plans to self-finance much of it, if needed.

From his home in Boston, English says he’s already bought satellite dishes and other gear and helped hook up villages in a number of African countries over the past decade, from Burundi to Uganda and Malawi to Zambia. “Having email and Skype has been transformative for the handful of villages I’ve worked in,” he says. He cites the example of a doctor who, unable to diagnose a patient’s rash, was able to take a photograph of it, email it to a doctor in Boston, and then communicate online to find a cure–turns out the mystery rash needed immediate treatment.

Most of those using such a free service would probably access it via mobile devices like cell phones, which in many Third World countries, is the primary means of access to the net.

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