Thanks to AusAid's Community Sector Programme (CSP) People First Network (PFNet) shall be able to enhance the technical capacity of its rural email stations. Dr Charles G Kick, Community Development Manager of CSP and David Junior Ma'ai, PFNet Manager signed on behalf of their respective organizations.

Under the partnership agreement, PFNet shall, between April 1 and October 31 2009 carry out rural equipment replacement to identified rural email sites. PFNet staff will also make site visitations to educate community users of the importance of the web as a tool to rural development. The third component of the partnership agreement will see facilitation of participatory Strategic Business Plan development with stakeholders and partners.

Community Sector Programme, under this partnership agreement shall provide the necessary funding support worth SBD$350,000.00.

PFNet Manager, Mr. David Junior Ma'ai, speaking at the signing ceremony said he is very pleased with the positive gestures taken by CSP in providing this important support. "This Rural Email Station Strengthening support could not have come at a better time. The equipments in a number of rural e-mail stations have over-lived their lives and are in dire need of replacement. This support from CSP will certainly go a long way in making this happen to restore high performance of these facilities." Equipments that need replacement include solar batteries and laptop computers.

People First Network (PFNet) is established as a not-for-profit organisation through the Ministry Rural Development as a project of the Rural Development Volunteers Association (RDVA). It has received funding and technical support from the Solomon Islands Development Administration and Participatory Planning Programme (SIDAPP), a project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and also has received support through three locally-based diplomatic missions.

PFNet aims to:

- Facilitate point-to-point communications to and from the remote provinces of the Solomon Islands by expanding a network of community email facilities based on a robust, proven and sustainable technology that permits remote locations on islands across thousands of square kilometres to have access to (Internet-based) emails using a simple computer, short-wave radio, and solar power;

- Facilitate rural development and peace-related information flows among all social groups;

- Facilitate the exchange of information between communities and development programmes, NGOs, government offices, the media, businesses and other stakeholders.

The PFNet system, offering basic email services, seeks to improve connectivity while dramatically reducing the prices of communication, making it affordable for low-income users and sustainable over time. As a basic utility to all other activities, this affordable telecommunication and information network will assist the country, particularly low-income groups, in taking in charge their own development through improved logistics, information and knowledge. A particular attention is given to gender equity and democratic governance. This is in concrete terms what bridging of the digital divide means to the Solomon Islands.

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