IN Transylvania, where most homes do not have phones and most
office workers still use manual typewriters, teenagers are taking a
surfboard to the Internet.
Victor Moldovan, a student at Tiberiu Popoviciu Technical High
School in this region of northern Romania, so far has used the
world's biggest information network to get the latest results of
the Grammy Awards, Top 10 song lists from the United States and
Britain, and the invaluable lyric sheets for rock group Nirvana's
"Smells Like Teen Spirit."
The late dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, would be gnashing his
teeth. But in post-Orwellian Romania, students at Victor's school,
and at 80 others, are barely testing the Net's potential:
uncontrolled, affordable access to millions of users worldwide.
"We're still figuring out what we can do," Victor says.
Students and staff at the the school, 180 miles north of the
capital, Bucharest, know they may be grabbing more gigabytes than
they can handle. "We were teaching computer science here for years,
but without computers," says computer-science teacher Gabriella
Balan. "Now we have computers and e-mail, and we're still learning
what we can do with them."
Projects like this one, backed by the New York-based Soros
Foundation, have helped fuel an explosive expansion of the Internet
in the formerly communist countries of Central Europe. In the first
six months of last year, the number of "hosts" connected to the
Internet -- the basic measurement of Internet size -- grew by 81
percent worldwide, according to the Internet Society. But over the
same six month period, the Internet Society registered an increase
of 122 percent in Hungary, 169 percent in the Czech Republic, 466
percent in Romania, and by nearly 1,000 percent in the Russian
"We knew it would grow, but nobody knew it would grow so
quickly," says Janos Bajza, who maintains the backbone of the
Hungarian national network from the offices of the Hungarian
Computer and Automation Research Institute. "With the traffic
constantly increasing it's been a real race to increase the
capacity of the system to meet demand."
The expansion of Internet access has particularly dramatic
implications in this part of the world, where communist regimes
long discouraged access to even basic information. "The old system
trained people to restrict access to information, to disclose as
little as possible," says Matt Lyon of the University of
Pittsburgh, who is coordinating a project in Budapest to connect
diplomacy schools in eight East European countries. …