African Technology Landscape

Historically, the use and development of ICT tools was not swift in Africa. Until the late ‘90s, ICT tools like web, VOIP, databases, mobile apps, computer software and online collaboration tools were not used extensively. Therefore, ICT was not really engaged in homes and many businesses. Except for a few multinationals, international organizations and government technology agencies, ICT was mainly accessed in form of fixed and mobile telephony and satellite technology services. The cost-benefit ratio of integrating ICT to business activities, and for educational and domestic use was unfavourable. The technical expertise for its setup and maintenance was relatively scarce. Unfortunately, there were no ICT policies to drive economic development through widespread adoption.

Around the mid-90s, some passionate entrepreneurs and technocrats, in conjunction with democratic African governments, realized the potentials of intense ICT adoption on Africa’s economy and fully embraced its transfer to the continent. Consequently, many African countries began to apply more technology to their economies and the need for relevant ICT4D policies was identified. The initial evidences of ICT adoption came as indigenous ISPs that offered highly scalable internet services to many SMEs, cybercafés and some homes. But the rate of ICT adoption was slow and the pricing of services were unaffordable. So, it was difficult to realise widespread digital culture among natives of the continent. However, when the telcos arrived, the focus of ICT services gradually shifted to individuals and the prevailing mobile tech moved from 2G to 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G and 4G/LTE.

Today, many Africans are able to use web tools, computer apps, mobile apps, portable internet devices and e-payment services for both their business and personal activities. Yet, the continuity in price reduction and widespread tech adoption among a continental market of about 1.099 billion bears more promise for the future of technology in Africa.

Posted in Community | Leave a comment

20 Years of Philippine Internet

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

 

I was 20 years old when I first got exposed to the internet. Having come from a family that did not own a computer, I barely knew how or why to go “online.” Right after graduating in 1998, I became a research assistant for a university professor who introduced me to emails.

Being the non-techie that I was, you can only imagine my astonishment when I found out that a computer can “connect” with other computers worldwide. Since then, the internet has pretty much become a part of my research profession.

Today, the internet is a part of everything. The United Nations declared that access to it is a human right. The World Bank has been touting the economic impact of broadband connectivity. And the developed world is abuzz with wonderment about the so-called Internet of Things.

Who knew that the internet would become this big?

Back in 1993, connecting the Philippines to the Internet began as a small “project” proposed by Dr. William “Bill” Torres, former director-general of the National Computer Center, who “discovered” that the internet can be brought into the country as acommercial product.

The government, through the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) under the project administration of Dr. Rodolfo “Rudy “ Villarica, gave an initial grant funding of ten million pesos. This amount was used to buy equipment and pay for the leased line connecting to the United States, with a capacity of 64 kbps costing about $10,000 per month back then.

Both Dr. Torres and Dr. Villarica are now known as the fathers of the Philippine internet.

On March 29, 1994, PILNET (later on, PHNet), which consisted of a bunch of engineers from various universities, connected the Philippines to the internet. And the rest is history.

Twenty years hence, cost has significantly gone down and internet in the country has expanded to government offices, businesses, households, and individual citizens. The Philippines has adapted well to this technology so much so that it has recorded the biggest internet population growth globally over the past five years.

Internet connectivity has spurred a wide new range of businesses, and especially so for the telecommunication sector that had just been liberalized in the mid-1990s. According to the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), there were 360 registered ISPs nationwide in 2012, up from 93 a decade earlier. Network equipment and value-added services today have a huge demand. A lot of businesses have also ventured, and are thriving, online.

Barely 10 years after the internet was introduced, business process outsourcing (BPO) services emerged. Today, the Philippines is a top location for BPOs whose export revenues hit $13.34 billion http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/news/top-news/25327-bpos-m… in 2013.

Filipinos have discovered in the internet another medium for communication and self-expression. Over the past years, we have been ranked as among the heaviest users of Facebook, photo-sharing, and online videos. This is no surprise because the country is, after all, the texting capital of the world.

But after 20 years, an ecosystem of problems continues to stifle the development of internet in the country.

Unlike mobile phone service that has nationwide coverage and over 100% of penetration, only 36% of the population is able to use the internet; and this is mainly through public access. Home internet use is still low at 20%, albeit growing.

Uptake continues to be restricted by high cost. Post-paid subscription to a 1Mbps fixed broadband connection costs around $22, with a two-year lock-in period. In prepaid mobile connection, the amount of data that one is allowed to consume is regulated. A prepaid mobile connection of 3 Mbps has a data cap of 1GB per day or 3GB per month.

In urban centers, the quality of internet connection tends to be generally poor.http://lirneasia.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Broadband-QoSE-report-Ma… The lack of internet infrastructure is most apparent outside the cities where the Internet, if at all present, is available mainly through shared access points, such as schools, internet cafés, and telecenters.

In a recent conference, Dr. Torres, who now works with the National Academy for Science and Technology, says that the country needs to focus and invest in an ICT infrastructure on a national scale, “and it has to be broadband.” The private telcos is the primary provider of ICT infrastructure in the country.

Benjie Tan, one of the country’s internet pioneers and who is now with Globe Telecom, thinks that the cost of data should go down. And to do this, the industry should find a way to offer data separate from voice services, such as through the use of TV White Space.

Another way to bring down cost, according to the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), is by using local internet exchanges. There must be interconnection within the country, and telcos must collaborate to do this.

The right policy environment to promote innovation not just in technology but also in business models has to be in place. And the government has the sole responsibility and mandate to achieve this. Unfortunately, legislation over the past decade seems to have prioritized regulating the internet over nurturing its potential. In internet policy, it would help to remember how the technology evolved. William Yu, president of the Internet Society – Philippines Chapter, emphasized how the internet developed because it was a“permissionless innovation”—unrestricted, unregulated, and growing from the bottom up.

A national broadband plan can be a good start. However, it remains embedded in the Philippine Digital Strategy and efforts to put a more detailed plan in the spotlight have remained in the pipeline for quite some time.

While there are doubts about the government building and operating its own ICT infrastructure, it can and should play the lead role in laying down a vision for ICT infrastructure, crafting the strategy to achieve this, and bringing various players together to achieve a national goal.

The government can initiate a universal access program that bypasses the telcos. The DOST is making headway in this regard. It is promoting and jumpstarting the use of TVWS and, just a few days ago, pilot-tested the technology in Bohol province.

Finally, the government should strengthen regulation that is focused on the protection of consumer welfare. While liberalization has made the telecom market more dynamic and robust, it is critical for government to ensure that the ISPs are providing services as advertised, and that the consumers are well represented and heard.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the mobile phone success story. More players and an innovative retail payment scheme proved critical to the mobile boom in the country. Today, mobile phones and smartphones are fast overcoming computers as the medium for internet access. It is predicted that the Philippines will be a “mobile-first”http://technology.inquirer.net/35099/ph-mobile-first-by-last-quarter-of-… country before the end of the year.

The poor state of Philippine Internet can be accounted for by limited competition and choice for consumers. Only three ISPs operated by just two telcos dominate the market: Smart Communications and Sun Cellular, owned by the PLDT Group; and Globe Telecom. These ISPs also offer wireless mobile dongles—the most pervasive, albeit not the most effective, mode of internet connection available nationwide.

While the options for the consumers are becoming more limited, the opportunities for telcos’ business are becoming endless. In recent years, the dominant telcos have been buying out the smaller players. Of course this is not bad, per se. But when there is ineffective competition and fewer options, innovation and consumer welfare tend to suffer.

Twenty years after, it seems like Philippine internet is barely coming out of its adolescent years. It is high time for it to mature and shape up—by having a reliable nationwide infrastructure, a pro-innovation and pro-consumer policy environment, and effective competition that brings affordable and quality services. Hopefully, Filipinos don’t have to wait another 20 years for this and to get the Internet they deserve.

Some information are based on stories and documentation of internet pioneers such as Jim Ayson, Winthrop Yu and Kelsey Hartigan-Go posted online. 

 

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

CPRsouth 2014 conference pushed back by six days to avoid clash with Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul

CPRsouth 2014 in Johannesburg clashes with IGF 2014 in Istanbul.  Internet governance has assumed increased importance to the CPRsouth community in the aftermath of the controversial WCIT conference in 2012 and the Snowden revelations.  In recent years, IGF has been held in October-November and did not clash with CPRsouth.  Unfortunately, the dates have been advanced for 2014.  The call for proposed sessions came out after the CPRsouth CFP was issued.  Therefore the conflict was not known at the time.

Now, as the IGF program is taking shape, the cost of the conflicting schedule is becoming evident.  The need for some to be present at IGF will, in particular, affect our ability to ensure attendance of all the planned moderators, discussants and young scholars’ program instructors, especially those from Africa.  Given the fact that a reservation for the conference location had already been made and the post-IGF availability was uncertain, we had to make a quick decision to change the reservation.  This was not a decision taken lightly, but we believe that as a research-to-policy organization, it was important to avoid clashing with one of the most important Internet policy events of 2014.

Therefore, we are compelled to inform you that CPRsouth 2014 conference  will be held on September 10-12, and not on September 4-6 as previously announced.  The Young Scholar program will be held from the afternoon of September 7th to September 9th, and not September 2-3 as previously announced.  We took advantage of the opportunity to add a half day to the YS program to accommodate more of the traditional content in addition to the Systematic Review training.  The IGF will be held in Istanbul September 2-5 and the new dates will allow those who wish to participate in both activities to conveniently combine them in one trip.

Please make the changes in your calendars.  We apologize in advance for the inconvenience that has been caused and for the need to change the dates.

Posted in Community, News | Leave a comment

Simple example of how ICT makes life better

Though some people hold an opposite opinion, I think ICT has improved our lifestyles by introducing convenience into difficult activities and making telepresence a reality. Those who hold an opposing perspective to the aforementioned should remember that just like any other good concept, infrastructure or technology, the abuse of ICT by some users and experts is almost inevitable. Therefore, the use of ICT for inhumane or wrong purposes is not a proper criterion for discouraging its usage.

Here is a simple example of how technology has improved people’s lifestyle

Before Duration Now Duration
Write letter variable Access mailbox < 2 minutes
Walk to Post Office > 10 minutes Type email variable
Buy stamp & envelope > 2 minutes Send email < 10 seconds
Send letter > 10 seconds Receive reply < 1 min – variable
Letter Delivery > 1 week Store email automatic
Receive reply > 2weeks
Store letter for reference vulnerable to loss
Posted in Community | Leave a comment

Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICTD) in Practice (Spring 2014),

Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICTD) in Practice (Spring 2014), a graduate level course at the University of California Berkeley School of Information. No matter if you are a registered student or not, if you are interested in the use of technology to enhance international development, we encourage you to get involved with this course!

How to Get Involved:

While this is first and foremost a face to face course held at the iSchool at UC Berkeley, our hope is to use the reach of the web to enhance learning and collaboration.

Posted in News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: 3rd Florence Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures

3rd Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures

Taking stock of current challenges

Details here: http://fsr.eui.eu/Events/OTHER/2014/140613CRII.aspx

ABOUT

Continuing the successful format the 3rd Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures will take place on Friday, 13 June and bring together all research areas of the Florence School of Regulation to discuss current challenges in the regulation of the Infrastructure Industries.

The de- and re-regulation of the different network industries is an ongoing process. As this process unfolds, ever new phenomena emerge, which generally call for more, rather than less regulatory intervention. Yet, the question about the right mixture between market, economic, technical and social regulation remains wide open in all network industries. And the question becomes even more acute when considering infrastructure development, as, at least in some of the network industries, state aid is practiced if not required, thus triggering additional questions of market distortion and the complex interplay between sector specific and competition regulation. This 3rd Florence Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures aims at taking stock of the major challenges infrastructure regulation is currently facing. It does so

  • by looking at the main infrastructure sectors, notably telecommunications, postal services, electricity, gas, railways, air transport, urban public transport, as well as water distribution and sanitation; intermodal approaches to infrastructure regulation (e.g., rail and air, road and rail, electricity and gas, post and telecommunications) are particularly encouraged
  • by looking at infrastructure regulation from various disciplinary approaches, notably engineering, economics, law and political science; interdisciplinary approaches are particularly encouraged;
  • by linking an academic approach to practical relevance; policy relevant research papers are again particularly encouraged; and

finally, we especially welcome papers that link technology and institutions in a dynamic perspective. Interested junior academics – advanced PhD students, PostDocs and Assistant Professors – along with academically minded practitioners are particularly encouraged to participate. Outstanding papers will have the chance to be rapidly published in the Journal Competition and Regulation in Network Industries. The best paper will receive an award.

Unique Conference Format

The format of the Florence Conference on the Regulation of Infrastructures is unique:

  • each presenter has 45’, which includes 20’ of presentation, 10’ of qualified feedback and 15’ of discussion with the audience (there are only 2 papers per session, guaranteeing high quality);
  • feedback will be given by senior professors associated with the Florence School of Regulation, who are specifically knowledgeable about the topic at hand;
  • papers which will be retained for publication will receive additional feedback beyond the conference.

Organizing Committee

  • Prof. Matthias Finger (EPFL and FSR, Director of the Transport Area of FSR),
  • Prof. Jean-Michel Glachant (Director of the Energy Area of FSR),
  • Prof. Pier-Luigi Parcu (Director of the Communications and Media Area of FSR)
  • Prof. Stéphane Saussier (IAE de Paris, Director of the EPPP Research Group)

Timeline

  • submission of the abstract until February 14th 2014 (word format) by email toFSR.transport@EUI.EU
  • Notification of acceptance by February 28th 2014
  • Submission of the full paper by May 31st 2014
Posted in News | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Struggle for Access to ICTs Continues

There are times when distant communication is achieved through ancient means such as the application of signs that are likely to create the same impression in the minds of all men. These signs include the shooting of firearms into the air, sending of notes in transparent bottles across oceans, whistling of special tunes in forests, making of sounds that echo through mountains and striking of words or linguistic expressions upon the inner surfaces of caves.

Mainly, people use them when in need of help; for instance, when a person has gotten lost or is marooned in a remote location and they want to communicate with other people. Despite the measure of breakthroughs that have been recorded in the area of information and communications technology, these manual technologies still find relevance in times of need.

But there are times when people find it difficult to use ICTs where they are available. In some parts of Nigeria where ICT infrastructure is already available, people are yet to have good access to ICT-enabled services. The reasons for this include lack of understanding of the benefits of ICT usage, high cost of acquiring access devices relative to the low income of some natives and provision of poor services in rural areas due to unfavourable cost-benefit implications observed by providers and small-scale ICT ventures.

Recently, I found a proof on the job discussion portal of a particular web forum that is based in Nigeria. Though I am not a member of the forum, I sometimes pay visit there to know the minds of young people. Consider the picture below:

Short conversation between two members of Nairaland.com

Short conversation between two members of Nairaland.com

The picture above shows the conversation between two prospective job candidates living in two different locations. Both of them have access to the internet but while one is unable to apply for the job, the other has already done so. The conversation shows that the person in the village is unable to apply for the job because there is no tele-centre such as cybercafé where he could pay to use a computer and apply for the job. Though the telecom infrastructure that would allow him to reach the internet is available (since he was able to surf and comment in the thread), he did not have access to a compatible end device that would enable him apply for the job.

This is just the case of one person that was found serendipitously within a sea of 1.18million Nairaland members. Who knows how many more Nigerian youth are facing similar challenges quietly on other sites and in different places? Isn’t this an indicator that people are still struggling to gain access to ICTs and leverage it for information and entrepreneurship in the ICT-complaint Nigeria of today?

Posted in News | Leave a comment

When communication fails during a disaster

This article is a repost of my blog which originally appears in Telecom Asia, with their kind permission.

On November 8, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall ever recorded in the world’s history. A vast expanse of the provinces on the Eastern part of the country has been devastated, some towns left in ruins and almost wiped out.

In the aftermath of the super typhoon which packed maximum sustained winds of 315 kph (by comparison, Hurricane Katrina’s was 280 kph) and brought a deadly storm surge, the affected areas lost telecommunication services vital to disaster response. This made everything much worse.

Despite having top national government officials pre-positioned in Tacloban City, one of the hardest hit, information on the extent of the damage and the amount of help needed came in trickles. In fact, assessment of the situation became more difficult twice over, especially since airports and ports were also wrecked.

People outside the typhoon’s path relied on intermittent TV newsfeeds by media people on the ground, who were themselves stranded and unable to use phone services.

For several days, survivors could not contact their government for help or get their message across to loved ones in other areas to inform them that they were alive and needed help.

The local governments in the province of Leyte struggled to function, because they themselves were victims. In Tacloban City, the number of police officers, fire fighters, and health workers was significantly diminished. It became almost impossible to mobilize personnel and resources from within.

In a country where mobile phones are ubiquitous and the need for texting has become part of the Filipino psyche, one could only imagine how it was like for the government, the survivors, and relief operators to be cut off when communicating was needed the most.

In several provinces in Central Philippines, especially the Visayas, communication was either completely lost or poor. Smart Communications, Sun Cellular, and Globe Telecom’s 2G and 3G networks went down due to power outages and damaged cell sites. The whole region became practically isolated.

Two days after the typhoon, Globe managed to set up one temporary cell site and repaired 26 sites around Samar. Meanwhile, Smart deployed Thuraya mobile satellite equipment to government agencies and aid organizations to help facilitate and coordinate relief efforts. [It has also partnered with  Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) and Vodafone.] “Free call and cell phone charging” stations were also mobilized by local telcos in certain areas. As of Day 10, many affected areas have restored mobile phone networks.

Telecommunication is, indeed, a critical national infrastructure. And it took a super typhoon to show that investing, by both the private and public sector, in reliable and redundant communication networks is a matter of public interest and safety.

This calls for a rethinking of how telecom and internet services figure in disaster preparedness plans and strategies. It also highlights the need for government to seriously consider funding and maintaining different modes of communication, especially for emergencies and disasters.

There are lessons to be learned, and that need to be applied.

Invest in traditional communication. Even before the typhoon struck, Ham radio operators have reportedly been helping the government disseminate information on pre-emptive evacuations, as well as warnings of flash floods and landslides. During the days when phone services were down, amateur radio volunteers provided communication support to government and relief agencies. An emergency radio station also started broadcastinglife-saving information in Tacloban City.

Adopt disaster-ready telecom services. The country ought to have a form of ready-to-use telecoms network or mobile suite that can easily be transported and assembled, similar to that of the Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF). This could be developed by the local engineers or required by government from local telcos as part of their franchise obligations or as a form of corporate social responsibility. Satellite phone technology must also be considered.

Take into consideration similar disasters and the effects of climate change in building (and rebuilding) telecom infrastructure. Local telcos must work with disaster experts and the government in order to ensure that communication networks can withstand the effects of disasters or can be restored immediately (ideally, on Day 1). Also, look for models from how other telcos around the world deal with disasters and emergencies.

Those who survived have lost so much, and they continue to suffer. But there has been an overwhelming outpouring of help from fellow Filipinos and the international community. Through this blog, I want to say thank you for helping typhoon Yolanda victims get back on their feet. I am hopeful that they will slowly pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.

 

Posted in Community | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If Global Communication Systems Went Down for One Day

With the vast dependence of effective security and business information on communication technologies, what would be the implications of a global communication system shutdown?

As odd as this question may seem, it is probably one of the case studies that forensics professors should simulate with their students and discuss in anti-terrorism classes.

One time while I was an intern at a telecoms vendor company, the internet service from our ISP went down. This also happened to other companies whose ISPs relied on internet connection through the Nigerian SAT3 cable. For some reasons, an alternate connection was not provided at the office on time and the usual communication channels (outlook emails, Skype, Microsoft communicator, video conferences and VoIP calls) were useless for a few days. Communication activities that involved internal parties were almost crippled. Project teammates had to make costly phone calls to bridge some of the gaps in communication. Yet, project activities were immensely affected. That was just the case of one submarine cable.

Now, I am guessing that if something that could cause a global communication blackout happened, the following implications would hold:

Some people would lose their jobs. Since it is some people’s job to make sure there is no termination in communication, some folks even at NASA get fired. They have sacked someone for the sake of love before. And according to them, “The primary reason for the termination is we don’t have the administrative means to deal with the criminal charges against her.”

People would lose their lives. When you imagine a president with bodyguards who lack access to walkie-talkies, pagers and mobile phones, you get the idea. Information and communication technology keeps security systems secured and helps to sustain human health. If the global communication network goes down, the tracking system for airplanes, national security agencies and traffic control would be off. Telemedicine would also be affected (see a sample story here). Hence, many lives would be exposed to high risk and some lives would be lost.

People would lose a lot of money. Since information drives business in this century, a lot of money would be lost in various economies around the world. When mere Nigeria SAT-3 shutdown in 2008, some business bled out serious profits.

People would say that the world has come to an end. This is inevitable as people would also give religious meanings to the event.

There would be other implications too; these are just a few.

However, a global communication system shutdown is almost impossible for many obvious reasons.

Besides, a shutdown of the global communication system is not a situation that we can cope with. In fact, it is something we should prevent through continuous advancement in communications policy research and technology.

Leave a comment

Call for Papers: CPR LATAM (formerly known as ACORN-REDECOM)

Communication Policy Research Conference
May 30th and 31th, 2014
Bogota – Colombia

Call for Papers

CPR LATAM (formerly known as ACORN-REDECOM) is a cross-disciplinary
academic network which seeks to advance knowledge about the social,
economic and political impact of ICTs in the Americas. CPR LATAM is
now soliciting submissions for its 2014 annual conference, which will
be held at Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá (Colombia) on May
30th-31st. The conference brings together scholars, policymakers, and
members of the private sector working in the ICT policy and
development field.

Paper abstracts or panel proposals can be submitted, and will be
reviewed by a Program Committee. Submissions will only be accepted
through CPR LATAM’s website (www.cprlatam.org).

Student submissions are particularly encouraged, and will be
considered for a student paper competition (full papers due by march
1st, 2014). The winner will automatically receive travel funding to
attend the conference. Other travel funds will be available on a
competitive basis.

Important dates

November 15th, 2013: deadline for paper abstract or panel proposal submission.

January 15th, 2014: notification of acceptance.

March 1st, 2014: deadline for submissions for student paper competition.

March 30th, 2014: completed papers submitted.

April 1st, 2014: student paper competition results announced.

Posted in News | Leave a comment