What really is the cost of implementing an OLPC project? OLPC itself says it needs $30 Billion annually to reach all the children in the world, at an initial cost of $208/laptop according to the Libya MOU. But this is just the beginning -- the laptop, school servers, satellite Internet, and set-up costs (including a team of advisers). We're still missing key components for success of the OLPC experiment -- what is missing from these calculations?
Should "Apply for New Loan" be a new boot option?
Training costs - Without training, the OLPC experiment will fall flat with a lack of support staff and educational curricula integration. I was involved in a project with similar goals, focused on literacy and numeracy, with a laptop component as a means to this end, (Nick reminds us that "It's an education project, not a laptop project"). Nevertheless, this project trained teachers and set up educator networks to diffuse the knowledge, and can provide us with a ballpark figure for training costs. You can read the final report on USAID's Development Experience Clearinghouse site. The end result was 200 trained teachers whose responsibility it was to share the knowledge with their larger networks of teachers, who all would reach 43,500 students. The program cost 6MM over three years, or $138/child, or $27.60/laptop/year (spread over 5 years) in training costs.
Hardware maintenance - OK, so it's well designed, but no computer can stand up to the beatings they take in the developing world for too long. Power fluctuations, heat, dust, floods, hurricanes, goats, insects (I once lost a webcam to an ant colony)... They will break, get lost, or stolen. Let's presume there's a 5/100 loss rate per year, requiring full replacement (and really, almost any problem in these systems means full replacement - even if "standard" parts are the culprit, there are no Fry's nearby). At $148/laptop, that’s $7.40/laptop/year.
Software maintenance - Let us hope that the OLPC laptop monoculture doesn't have some security glitch that creates a billion-strong zombie army, and that there's a working upgrade mechanism. Presuming that OLPC remains true enough to their F/LOSS convictions, there should be no licensing costs. Let's be optimistic, and say that between international e-volunteers wanting to help and the training costs above, that this is free.
Internet Access - As Zimbabwe found out, Internet access isn't free. While SES has offered a $1/laptop/yearWhat happens when the satellite-Internet bill comes due, goes unpaid, and suddenly this entire investment loses a huge chunk of its value? What if there's a change in government policy/leadership? Or if their budget simply can't afford it? Will the on-the-ground experts be able to switch the OLPCs to an alternate connectivity model? The UN Digital Divide Report for 2005 listed the global average of 20 hours/month of connectivity as USD$36.91. This average hides a USD$56.31 cost for low-income countries. Let's double the cost to get up to 40 hours/month of usage and presume 10 laptops sharing each connection (these are dial-up connections for the most part, remember!), which costs $135.14/laptop/year.
|PER LAPTOP INVOICE, 5 YEARS|
|Setup (1-time fee)||
|First Year $1||
|5 Year Total||
At the end of five years of training, continued Internet, and maintenance, the actual cost is USD$972 per laptop, almost quintuple the Libyan estimates, and ten times the original laptop cost. Of course, a more expensive computer system would just drive all of this upwards, so at least we're starting cheap. This all reminds me of Namibia's SchoolNet rejecting Microsoft's "gift" of MS Office (sans operating system!). For the OLPC project to succeed, it needs to accept that it's selling a $100 laptop with an $872 support plan, and find countries that can afford it as such.