Transylvania Goes On-Line with Internet
Colin Woodard, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 Federation.
"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. …