Can the whole Africa get free Wi-Fi? Paul English thinks so


When Paul English, the co-founder of travel search engine, says that he has a "big, big project" ahead of him, he's not kidding. That's because he's planning to cover all of Africa with free Wi-Fi, and he wants it to be "completely self-sustaining," to boot. He aims to bring this about through JoinAfrica, a non-profit/for-profit mishmash that'll get underway this summer. English himself has already gotten his hands dirty, using the wealth he's gained from his website's success to buy satellite dishes and the other equipment needed to deliver Wi-Fi to villages in countries such as Uganda and Zambia. "Having e-mail and Skype has been transformative for the handful of villages I've worked in," he said. Now he wants to expand those efforts — which will probably take the better part of a decade — using his own money as well as having African companies build upon the networks he creates and enlarging them over time. The African Wi-Fi will, for the most part, be the kind of Internet connection you'd have in a public library here in America, meaning you'd have access to sites such as Wikipedia and Gmail and services such as Skype, though bandwidth-intensive video streaming and "non-essential" stuff, like pornography, would be restricted. Will he be able to pull it off? English is in talks with potential partners to help provide infrastructure, and has already solicited the support of half a dozen African countries. It's a small start, but English isn't looking to keep it small: "If you take something, raise it up a couple of notches, and say, let's do something on a massive scale, it changes the conversation."