AlterNex 1994-1995: a brief presentation

Carlos A. Afonso
Technical director, IBASE
December, 1995

Introduction

This report and evaluation covers the most intense period of AlterNex's activities, during which several significant new undertakings were carried out. During 1994-1995, AlterNex established itself as the first to provide all basic on-line and off-line Internet services (FTP, gopher, WWW, news and e-mail, as well as dial-up SLIP/PPP services) to the general public in Brazil, and consolidated itself as a leading international electronic networking service in the country.

Background

AlterNex is an international electronic information exchange system created in Rio de Janeiro by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses (IBASE). In May, 1990, IBASE joined institutions in other countries with similar objectives to create the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).

AlterNex is a significant project within the mission of IBASE-- an independent research, collaborative consultancy and service institution committed to the consolidation of democracy and to the demise of social exclusion in Brazil.

Created in 1988 as an experimental system, AlterNex started full 24-hour operation on July 18th, 1989, thanks to support from the UN Development Program (UNDP), CESVI (Italy) and above all the Institute for Global Communications (IGC, USA). AlterNex today has thousands of users in dozens of countries, mostly in Latin America.

Since June, 1992, IBASE is also a member of Brazil's National Research Network (RNP), which is currently carrying out the installation of the largest Internet backbone in the country-- the Internet/BR system. AlterNex is a generic Internet services provider, especially oriented to individuals and the community.

Environmental groups, human rights organizations, research and consultancy centers, foundations, agencies, interest groups and individuals can use, via AlterNex, the resources of APC systems, of small BBSs in several countries, or any available Internet system, as well as many commercial systems, for an effective dialogue with partners in Brazil and from abroad.

During Eco '92 in Rio, the AlterNex team, with support from APC and RNP, designed and coordinated installation and operation of UNCED ISP/Rio (Eco '92 Information Strategy Project in Rio), the only electronic information exchange system between the official space of the conference and the Global NGO Forum, providing full international connectivity via Internet and APC systems. ISP/Rio facilities were intensely used by hundreds of delegates, researchers, and especially NGO representatives of several countries, guaranteeing instant connectivity at minimum cost, since the entire system was based on service of non-profit hosts.

Since the successful experience of Eco '92, APC has been designing and operating Internet systems for events and processes linked to several UN conferences which involve NGO participation. Thus, APC developed and operated similar Internet services at the following UN conferences: Human Rights, Vienna, 1993; Population and Development, Cairo, 1994; Social Summit, Copenhagen, 1995; Women and Development, Beijing, 1995). As a result of this work of APC with the UN, the association has been accepted as a member of the United Nations' ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council).

AlterNex makes available, in collaboration with other APC systems, more than 900 international electronic conferences on hundreds of themes, open to all AlterNex users, in which some of the most important international organizations participate. These conferences are a large repository of information, and are updated, in some cases, almost every minute. It is mainly through this exclusive conferencing system that APC is today the main permanent international space for information exchange and debate among NGOs.

AlterNex is permanently connected to the largest computer network-- the Internet. Thus, AlterNex also offers all basic Internet services: telnet, FTP file copying, network infobases such as gopher and WWW, dial-up SLIP/PPP for all users, etc. AlterNex was the first Internet system in Brazil to make available a public WWW server (Nov., 1994).

Connection to AlterNex can be made through dial-up lines, leased lines, and packet switching networks (X.25). Users can also open telnet sessions and have access to public Internet infobases (WWW, gopher) on AlterNex from any Internet host. AlterNex is also a UUCP gateway for more than 100 BBSs in Brazil.

IBASE also participates in the operation of one of the national Network Information Centers of the Brazilian Internet. The Internet/BR NIC at IBASE serves potential Internet services providers, and, in coordination with the AlterNex team, also provides training and support services to final users

IBASE reserves the right to refuse subscription requests or cancel accounts whose users violate the operational principles of AlterNex, APC or other instances involved in the operation of the different networks in the Internet, as indicated in specific items of the subscription contract.

Since 1989, AlterNex has been a paid service. Users contribute in proportion to their usage, to help cope with the operational and development costs. Beginning in November, 1995, IBASE has ceased to spend institutional funds on the development and operation of the system, since it became self-sufficient.

Development facts and options

AlterNex started 24-hour operation six and a half years ago, using a Unix system with four dial-up lines and an X.25 circuit. At the time, it had a little more than 40 users. A major upgrade was carried out for Eco '92, including a significant equipment donation from Sun Microsystems Corporation which enabled the system to handle up to three thousand users. During Eco '92, AlterNex reached 1,500 users, but regular users afterwards stabilized around 800.

During 1994, and especially with the launching of the dial-up SLIP/PPP services in November, the number of regular users doubled to about 1,600. By then, the approximate distribution of users by type was the following: 50% individual accounts and 45% NGOs.

Growth in 1995 has been staggering for a small-scale Internet service-- it went from 1,700 users in January to nearly 6,000 in December. This growth has been basically caused by the tremendous interest on the Internet stimulated by intense media coverage. Most of the new users are individuals (many youngsters and senior citizens are joining the system). The current distribution by type of user is the following: 67% individuals, 20% NGOs, and 17% government and private companies. This growth led to a strenuous upgrade effort to cope with the growing demand, and stretched the project beyond its limits previously contained within a small research institute (IBASE).

The lack of Internet dial-up access providers in Brazil has forced AlterNex to create its own access centers. The Rio access center, which operated with 11 phone lines in August, 1994, now has 60 lines, with 60 more being installed during January-February, 1996. We have also opened an access center in Sao Paulo (Brazil's largest metropolitan area), with 20 phone lines, to be upgraded to 90 lines by March-April, 1996. The Sao Paulo center is connected to AlterNex in Rio through an exclusive leased Internet circuit. We expect nearly 12,000 users in Rio and 10,000 in S o Paulo by the end of 1996.

We are also upgrading our X.25 circuit to Brazil's packet switching network. However, access through this service in Brazil is frequently more expensive than connecting by long-distance to our dial-up lines.

Our link to the Internet is also being upgraded to 512 Kbps (Brazil's Internet backbone currently runs at E1 level or 2 Mbps).

Another significant service we provide since 1994 is UUCP. More than 130 BBSs in Brazil are able to provide international e-mail and news services through our UUCP gateway.

Our central processing facilities are based on a network of Sun SPARC machines. More SPARC 20 stations and storage servers are being added during January, 1996, to cope with the continuing growth in demand (expected to reach 30,000 accounts by December, 1996).

The Network Information Center operated by RNP and IBASE is operational since August, 1994. It currently has a training center with hands-on facilities for training in computer network user tools (up to 12 people per class). This training is being provided by AlterNex staff. RNP is also supporting the development of low-cost client software kits based on public domain or shareware programs to use all Internet services in graphic mode. More than 5,000 copies of the shareware client kit for Windows have been distributed since the end of 1994. Two fully licensed versions of the Windows client kit are ready to be distributed at low cost (should be the least expensive of the Brazilian market) beginning in February, 1996.

The core objective of IBASE's networking program is information dissemination, facilitation and animation. This includes promotion of thematic networks (labor unions, women networks, issue-oriented networks such as environmental, human rights, the Campaign Against Hunger, etc), developing new information dissemination mechanisms, and facilitating access to the network's infobases. The recent developments in hypermedia technology are being made available to NGOs and individuals to create their own WWW information services on our host.

Organization development

The NIC, AlterNex, and related electronic networking activities of IBASE fall into what we call IBASE's Strategic Networking Program. In order to respond more properly to the challenge of reliably running a large Internet system, IBASE has created a services company as a fully-owned subsidiary of the institute. This company is in charge of operation and technical development of the system. Net returns from the company will be employed on IBASE's core social programs, and will subsidize continuing services to non-profit organizations and progressive networks.

For more information on IBASE and AlterNex:

IBASE
c/o Carlos A. Afonso, Technical Director
rua Vicente de Souza 12-- Botafogo
22251-070 Rio de Janeiro BRAZIL

fax +55-21-537-9185
URL: http://www.ibase.org.br/
e-mail: cafonso@ax.ibase.org.br

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Insitut d'Informatique - 19/10/2000