Toward an Internet Census for Developing Nations

Larry Press,
Luis German Rodgiguez,

Governments and international organizations regularly gather economic and census data for use by administrators, policy makers, legislators, investors, and others. This paper discusses the extension of such work to the Internet, with emphasis on developing nations. The paper begins with a description of a survey of 23 academic networks with international connectivity (IP or UUCP) in 21 Latin American and Caribbean nations. After summarizing the results of that pilot survey, we discuss questionnaire revisions, survey problems, and conclude by proposing further steps toward a network census for developing nations.

Toward an Internet Census for Developing Nations

Governments and international organizations regularly gather economic and census data for use by administrators, policy makers, legislators, investors, and others. Several of these surveys are relevant to telecommunication. For example, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports numbers of telephone lines, telecommunication staff sizes, investment levels and plans, and many other statistics in an annual report [1]. The World Bank [13] and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) [6] also gather data on telecommunication infrastructure as part of more comprehensive economic and social surveys. UNDP is primarily concerned with developing nations, which are also the focus of our work.

Several organizations also gather Internet census data. For example, Lottor [11], periodically conducts an automated host count by "walking" the DNS to count hosts, and attempting to ping a randomly selected sample of those he finds. Quarterman [10] uses a random sample of the hosts Lottor discovers, and distributes a questionnaire electronically. Landweber [7] compiles an international connectivity table regularly, but it is limited to noting what type of connectivity exists -- IP, UUCP, Bitnet, etc.

Pitkow [9] and Yahoo [14] have conducted commercially-oriented surveys of self-selected WWW users, and O'Reilly Associates [12] used traditional survey research techniques to estimate user counts and characteristics. These surveys focus primarily on IP connected hosts in the US, and they are geared toward consumer demographics.

As a first step toward a more detailed census of connectivity in developing nations, we drafted a questionnaire (Appendix A), and distributed it to administrators of 23 academic networks with international connectivity (IP or UUCP) in 21 Latin American and Caribbean nations. After a summary of the results of that pilot survey, we will discuss questionnaire revisions, survey problems, and conclude by proposing further steps toward a network census for developing nations.

Summary of Results

The questionnaire covered 5 general areas -- coordinates, the network, users, user support, and success stories. The coordinates section identifies the network and the person responsible for the survey. The network section is intended to shed light on budget and charging policy and the technical characteristics of the network. The User section is geared toward learning about users and the hardware and services they have access to. Since we wish to emphasize users, we also included a section on their support. (While there are many constraints on the spread of networks in developing nations, we feel the most difficult to overcome is the lack of a large, widely distributed, demanding, well-trained user community [2]). The final section asks about successful applications since these can be used as examples for others, and in justifying network investment.

Table 1 shows basic information on the networks we surveyed, and illustrates the variance in these networks. They range from a small UUCP network with 50 active users and dial-up, UUCP connectivity at 2,400 bits/second to modern IP networks. Note also the discrepancy between the number of "active" users and "registered" users. This reflects the cost and difficulty of using networks in developing nations.

Table 2 shows the budgets of the networks and the way they are spent. The large percent devoted to international connectivity suggests that intranational and intraregional cooperation might result in overall savings.

Table 3 summarizes the services provided the network users. We would expect that over time, the proportion with email-only service will fall, because of evolution from UUCP to IP connectivity. Note that users with access to an intranational shell or PPP account may still be restricted to email on international traffic, as, for example, in the case of CENIAI in Cuba.

Table 4 shows the affiliations of the users of the networks surveyed. Since we only contacted academic/research networks, the academic figures are high. While the first network initiatives in developing nations were typically (though not always) academic, there are now growing numbers of commercial service providers. We expect predominantly academic networks to continue serving their sector, but, to varying degrees many are now offering or considering commercial service in order to sustain themselves. There will be different legal frameworks and educational subsidies in each nation, but the academic- commercial boundary will soften.

More detail and discussion of these results are presented in [5]. The full replies to these questionnaires as well as others gathered at the INET '95 Developing Nation Workshop, may be found at [8].

Questionnaire Extensions and Revisions

An extended version of the questionnaire was used in a study of Cuban networks [3, 4]. It delved into more detail on the 4 networks with international connectivity and their subnetworks with questions on mission, staff, general topology, central location vs. outlying centers, special purpose server applications, inter and intra-national data link and transport protocols, databases, custom software, other networks served, and plans for the future, and traffic volumes.

Most of the questions added for Cuba focused on the network, but we would also add user and implication focus. Press [2] suggests 5 areas in which networks might assist developing nations -- economic productivity, health, education, democracy, and quality of life, and we could add questions that focused on each of those areas, for example:

Economic productivity: how many locally and foreign owned business are on the net?

Health: how many clinics, hospitals, and medical research centers are on the net? How many physicians?

Education: how many universities, high schools, and primary schools are on the net? How many teachers at each level?

Democracy: how many NGOs, political parties, and elected officials are on the net?

Quality of life: how many nodes are in capital cities as opposed to smaller cities, how many regional capitals are on the net, how many packets are routed within the capital, to other cities within the nation, within the region, and outside the region?

It is clear that answering such questions would require cooperation beyond the networking community. Social scientists or specialists in education, health care, and so forth would have to be involved in an impact-oriented survey.

Note that in addition to gathering answers to these questions, a network-impact survey should report them as percentages, for example, the percent of high-school teachers on the net. It would also be interesting to asses the government role in encouraging networking. What percent of the budget of the network is underwritten by the government, foundations, international organizations, users, etc.?

Surveying Problems

While a longer questionnaire would paint a detailed picture, there is an obvious tradeoff between survey complexity, and the time required to complete it. Furthermore, while we are focusing on networks with international connectivity, they provide gateway service for other sub-networks, and our contact people may not have good information on those connected networks. With the Cuban survey, repeated follow-up was needed to obtain sub-network information.

Networks are heterogeneous so need different questions. For example there is no need to ask about application servers when investigating UUCP networks. Even where the same question is meaningful for heterogeneous networks, the answers may not be comparable. For example, overhead and support budgets are spent on different services in a nation with an advanced IP network than in a nation just starting out with UUCP.

This problem is compounded by the inconsistent interpretation of questions. For example, in Table 1, it is clear that some networks dated their first operation from the time the project was begun and others from the time they established their current connectivity. In conventional surveys, this problem is addressed by including detailed instructions and explanations of questions or by using trained interviewers. A network-based survey can use a listserver for questionnaire recipients to overcome this problem.

There is also the possibility of inaccurate reporting -- fudging up or down in order to influence policy, funding, prestige, or due to lack of time spent gathering information. For some questions this could be mitigated by independent validation, for example, by surveying users.

Unwillingness to cooperate is also a problem. Our reply rate was 61%, which can be seen as a half-full or half-empty cup. In addition to the time required to complete the questionnaire, there may be some fear of informing "competitors," about your network. (For example, some networks skipped the budget section). On the other hand, we are encouraged by the fact that most participants provided complete data, and companies do share competitively sensitive data in established surveys by trade associations and others. For example, software companies provide sales and cost figures for the Software Publisher's Association market research. National representatives and ministries also participate in surveys by the ITU, World Bank, and UNDP. The latter deal with complex issues such as those we have suggested in our user-oriented survey revisions. Participation is also facilitated by our ability to use the net for coordination and follow-up. At some time in the future, user demographic information may have commercial value, which could be used to partially offset survey cost {footnote 1}.

Next Steps

As indicated above, the questionnaire should be revised. Network administrators should participate in this process, as they know what is possible to report, what information they would like to have, and must ultimately spend the time to complete the questionnaire. A first step is therefore the expansion of our list of contacts in and beyond Latin America and the Caribbean, and identifying network administrators willing to guide this work. They can coordinate using an email list explicitly limited to discussing the questionnaire for revision and consistency.

With a revised questionnaire in hand, we would like to update the survey semi-annually. The detailed results will be posted on the Internet, and summaries reported in print and electronically. We would also like to prepare a user-oriented questionnaire both as an end in itself, and to validate portions of the network survey. This would have to be administered with the cooperation of network administrators.

There are difficulties in conducting an Internet census, but the results would be useful in setting policy and satisfying our curiosity. The fact that there can be no perfect survey, should not dissuade us from doing the best job we can.


  1. In developed nations, companies are beginning to think of the Internet as a consumer marketing tool, and are investigating demographics. Today, commercial applications in developing nations are more typically in support of business and professional organizations, as number of users is still too small to constitute a consumer market. This will change with time.

  1. ITU, "World Telecommunication Development Report," International Telecommunications Union, Geneva, 1995,
  2. Press, Larry, "The Role of Computer Networks in Development," Communications of the ACM, in press.
  3. Press, L., "Cuban Telecommunications: Background, Internetworking, and Policy," RAND Corp., in press.
  4. Press, L., and Aramas, C., "Cuban Network Update," OnTheInternet, in press.
  5. Rodriguez, Luis G., and Press, Larry, "Metodologia para la Evaluacion de Redes," in "Documento de Referencia sobre las Redes en America Latina y el Caribe" to be published by UNESCO, Union Latina, and Fundredes.
  6. UNDP, United Nations Development Programme Report on Human Development, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995,

Table 1,
Networks Surveyed
                                                International Link
                    Operate     Reg.    Active     Speed   Leased/
Network    Nation     Since    Users     Users    (Kbps)  Switched

RECyT      Argentina   1990    1,117       624       384         L
BOLNET     Bolivia     1991    1,200       800        64         L
REUNA      Chile       1992      500       500       512         L
RdC        Chile       1991    2,500     2,500       256         L
Red Cetcol Colombia    1994   10,000                 128         L
TELECOM-CO.Colombia    1994      700       400        64         L
CENIAI     Cuba        1982      732       732        14         S
ECUANEX    Ecuador     1991      202       165        19         S
RAIN       Nicaragua   1994    1,100       900        14         S
CNCnet     Paraguay    1993       60        50         2         S
LEDNET     Paraguay    1989       70        60         2         S
RCP        Peru        1991    7,716     6,900       128         L
REDID      Dom. Rep.   1992      120       100        10         S
RAU        Uruguay     1991      325       266        64         L
REACCIUN   Venezuela   1990    2,500     1,800       128         L

Table 2, Network Budgets
             Budget         Equip. &   Comm. O'head.
Network    ($ 1,000)  Staff Sftware.    Link   Other

RECyT         1,300      40%      15%     30%     15%
BOLNET           48      40%      60%
RdC              80      24%      20%     45%     10%
Red Cetcol    2,000
CENIAI                   41%      17%     28%     14%
ECUANEX         100      50%      20%     10%     20%
CNCnet           45      55%      20%     25%
LEDNET           37      73%      16%             11%  
RCP              98      57%      55%     17%      4%  
REDID            10     100%
RAU             250      18%      28%     53%
REACCIUN      1,300      15%      20%     50%     15%

Table 3, User Services
             Email     Dial      Dial    Direct
Network       Only    Shell  SLIP/PPP        IP

RECyT           82%       2%        1%       15%
BOLNET                  100%
REUNA            8%                80%       12%
RdC                                85%       15%
Red Cetcol
TELECOM-CO.NET                   0.02      0.98
CENIAI          40%      60%
ECUANEX         90%      10%
RAIN             2%      15%        3%       80%
CNCnet         100%
LEDNET         100%
RCP             65%      10%       10%        5%  
REDID          100%
RAU             68%       6%                 26%
REACCIUN                100%       15%        1%  

Table 4, User Affiliations
           Univ. & Rsrch.                                Intl.
           Staff Students   Govt.  Commerce       NGO     Org.    Other

RECyT         48%      10%     18%                 14%      10%
BOLNET        20%      15%     15%        5%       15%      30%
REUNA         20%              10%       60%        3%       7%
RdC           25%      45%      5%       15%        5%       5%
Red Cetcol    30%      50%      5%       10%        3%       3%
TEECOM-CO.N    1%      29%     22%       29%       14%       5%
CENIAI        82%               3%       12%        3%
ECUANEX       20%               5%                 60%      15%
RAIN          20%      60%      2%                 10%       8%
CNCnet        35%              15%        8%       15%       4%      23%
LEDNET        50%      10%     10%                 15%      15%
REDID         20%       0%     10%        0%       50%      20%
RAU           70%              17%                  4%       3%       6%
REACCIUN      70%       1%     10%       10%        4%       5%

Appendix A: Global Networking Survey

This questionnaire was administered between February and June, 1995. These are the questions we asked, but they have been renumbered for exposition.

Section 1: Coordinates

Network Contact person/point:
Postal address:
Telephone Number:
Fax Number:
e-mail address:

Section 2: Network

1.  Description

       Operating since         _____
       Registered users        _____
       Active users            _____ (connected at least once a
                                      month during the last 3 months)

2.  Do you charge for services     Yes []  No []

       If Yes, specify charging methods (check all that apply)
               ____ Free to end users
               ____ Fixed charges to end users
               ____ Variable (usage-based) charge to end users
               ____ Free to end institutions (such as a university)
               ____ Fixed charged to institutions
               ____ Variable (usage-based) charge to institutions

3.  What is the approximate annual budget for your network 
    connection and/or information center?    _________________USA$

4.  Of that budget, approximately what percent is used for

       _____ communication equipment
       _____ computer equipment
       _____ communication charges
       _____ technical staff
       _____ management staff
       _____ support staff
       _____ facilities
       _____ software
       _____ overhead
       _____ other ______________________

5.  Type(s) of connection(s) or gateway(s) out of your country

       _____ IP
       _____ UUCP
       _____ Fidonet
       _____ Bitnet
       _____ Other _______________________

6.  Communication links(s) out of your country (for each link)

       Speed                   ____
       Leased or switched      ____
       Vendor                  _________
       Where do you connect?   ________

7.  Approximately, what percent of hosts on your network run

       ____ an FTP server
       ____ a WWW (http) server
       ____ a Gopher server
       ____ a list server
       ____ a news server
       ____ a dial-up bulletin board
       ____ a library catalogue

8.  Approximately, what percent of the hosts in your network communicate via

       ____ IP
       ____ UUCP
       ____ Fido
       ____ Bitnet
       ____ Other ________________

Section 3: Users

1.  Scope of the network (check all that apply)

        Academic                []
        General Research        []
        Government              []
        NGO                     []
        Commercial              []
        Special Interest Group  []      Specify________
        Other                   []      Specify________
2.  Approximately, what percent of your users would you estimate as being

       _____ University and research faculty staff
       _____ University students
       _____ Government employees
       _____ Commercial employees
       _____ NGO employees
       _____ Employees of International organizations, e.g., 
              (UNESCO, PNUD, OAS, IADB, and World Bank)
       _____ Other   ______________________

3.  Approximately, what percent of your users have

       ____ e-mail only
       ____ dial-in access to a command line account on a host
       ____ dial-in SLIP/PPP connectivity
       ____ full-time IP connectivity

4.  Approximately percent of the users of your network have 

       ____ Personal computers running DOS
       ____ Personal computers running Microsoft Windows
       ____ Personal computers running Unix
       ____ Personal computers running Mac OS
       ____ Unix workstations
       ____ Other workstations
       ____ Unix minicomputers
       ____ Other minicomputers
       ____ Unix mainframes
       ____ Other mainframes
       ____ Other ________________

Section 4: Help-desk and user support

1.  Is there a help-desk or other central point for queries?  Yes []  No []

       Postal address
       Telephone number
       e-mail address

2.  Is a general user guide available?  Yes []   No []

       Paper   []      Electronic []

3.  User group support activities
       Describe here activities to support user groups in using the network.

4.  Training activities and workshops
       Describe here activities to train and inform user support staff.

5.  Other activities
       Describe here any other activities on your network you consider
       relevant.  Comments (plans, etc.) 
Section 5: Success stories,

Could you give some examples of users or applications which best illustrate the value of your network?

               Thanks for your cooperation!!!!