Between 1990 and 1997, Internet 'gateways' using simple 'store-and-forward' technology called 'Fidonet**, provided in many cases, the only means of cheap, efficient electronic communications to thousands of individuals, NGOs, Acadamics, Researchers and quasi-governmental departments in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.
Due to the particularly robust nature of the Fidonet protocol (incorporating sophisticated error correction and providing very high of data compression), that it was designed for use on DOS based PCâ€™s and was a â€˜store-and-forwardâ€™ technology (meaning people could compose and read their email offline) it proved to be very appropriate for use in situations where phone line quality was poor, reliable electricity supply problematic, costs of communications expensive, and where people had access to low specification hardware(mainly 286 and 386 PCâ€™s).
** Fidonet is the â€˜protocolâ€™ (a special set of rules that end points in a telecommunication connection use when they communicate) which is used by networks of computers which communicate with one another via telephone calls.
For many of the above reasons, Fidonet technology provided the basis for the the first use of email and electronic conferencing for many NGOs and individuals in developing countries.
However, most of the networks which provided email and electronic conferencing services to NGOS in the North (in the late 80â€™s and early 90â€™s) used a different protocol as the basis of communication â€“ the UUCP (unix to unix copy) protocol. The Fidonet and UUCP protocols were incompatible, meaning that people who sent email from systems using UUCP based protocols, were unable to read email sent from systems using the Fidonet protocol (and vice versa).
The solution to this problem was to build â€˜gatewaysâ€™ or â€˜hubsâ€™ which would convert information coming from UUCP based systems to a format which would be understood by FidoNet based systems (and vice versa). These gateways were developed and installed at many APC member networks in the early 90â€™s and between them provided some of the only means of affordable electronic communication between NGOS in developed and developing countries. International phone calls were made on a daily basis from the gateways, to over 50 small hosts in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, delivering mail from, and collecting mail to, their respective user communities.
Between 1990 and 1997, it is estimated that somewhere between 2 and 5 million messages were sent across the Fido gateways, at a cost of about $0.30 per message. This compared very favourably with the cost of an international (or even STD) phone call (often costing between US$5 and $10 per minute) and faxes.
Fidonet gateways were installed at Web Networks (Canada), IGC (USA), GreenNet (UK), Laneta (Mexico), Comlink (Germany), Nordnet (Sweden) and Worknet/Sangonet (South Africa).