From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Bonfire of TELCO Vanities

By E.K.Bensah Jr.

I do not for a second doubt the intelligence of any of our musicians, but when their utterances defy common sense, it can only make you wonder if sense is so common, why doesn’t everybody then have it?

A term so platitudinous it is not funny—and often used by all and sundry— is the term “global village.” In other words, we are believed to be all connected in many more ways than we can imagine—and social networking tools like that of Facebook and Twitter exemplify this closeness to sometimes frightening proportions. This means that our understanding of issues have reached a point where most of us –thanks to online point-of-reference Wikipedia – accept a consensus on definitions.

Last time I looked, an ambassador is someone who is supposed to carry the aspirations—i.e. represent—his nation or the beliefs encapsulated in a cause, hence the role of UN Ambassadors, such as the newly appointed Stevie Wonder. Such ambassadors are not UN officials, but carry and advocate the UN’s view of alleviating the scourge of war and promoting peace.

So when a few weeks ago 16 artistes – actors and musicians alike – were made ambassadors for the Nigerian telco GLOBACOM, I thought it was evident that the whole package involved more than the money, and that it was more a case of these artistes representing GLOBACOM—and no other telco in the Ghanaian landscape. Even without recent reports alluding to some complaints about a so-called “exclusivity clause”, that they are ambassadors for a company speaks volumes about how they are expected to conduct themselves with these telecommunication companies.

If all this seems like a black-and-white affair, let us pause and reflect for a nano-second: is it not great to have telcos come into the country to provide services and jobs for Ghanaians? Is it right, however, that they come and lure artistes with money to the extent that their space for performance is seriously inhibited by an exclusivity clause contract?

Some might say “who cause ‘am? I can only scream “regulation!”

The Three MuskITeers?

So Accra Mall now has no less than three Internet cafes: the Apple shop, powered by Vodafone; BusyInternet; and now very recently, Vodafone Ghana. I do not think that anyone will now be quibbling about accessing their emails for that all-important mail, as for the price of GHC2.50/hr, one can access any of the three cafes. I guess the jury might be out for a while on the speed of the internet connections of these three places, but on the significance of the cafés, the verdict is out—and it is in favour of choice.

Much like the presence of the five telcos in the country, consumers are being given choices to make on what comparative advantages any of the companies have that would be less expensive for the pocket, but I cannot help but wonder a bt about the presence of the three cafes.

Granted, the novelty of the Apple shop café is that it is, frankly, classist: only those sufficiently audacious to try their luck on a Macintosh would want to try the Internet a la Mac. Looking at the role of Busyinternet is like looking at nothing at all—after all, Busy has been the industry leader for a good nine years. But then there’s Vodafone Ghana.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the erstwhile Ghana Telecom that pretty much has a monopoly on the provision of broadband provision through its broadband4u does not simply bring down the cost of broadband so that many more new Vodafone Ghana users might get access. Is it just me or is the provision of a service to the public by a provider that has monopoly of that service, but fails to bring down the cost of that service to existing customers not sound like an idea turned on its head?

In short, why is Vodafone concentrating on competing with an industry [read: internet café] leader like Busyinternet (especially when it already has a presence through the Apple Shop which it powers) when its existing BROADBAND customers have been paying the same rate since they appeared on the scene in August 2008? Why not focus on bringing down the cost of broadband provision for those subscribers, while simultaneously inviting new subscribers to BROADBAND4U through a promotion?

Unless Vodafone Ghana is planning on doing some strange things to the BROADBAND4U service and telling its customers, I shall be asking more of these hard questions!

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Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

How the Ghanaian Media Missed the Masters of the Internet at IGF IV

So the Internet Governance Forum has come and gone like it never happened—and none of the media in Ghana covered it. I cannot quite understand how the Ghanaian media can pick up feeds from the BBC on all and sundry, but somehow miss issues like these? If it is about building capacity, then perhaps a shake-up of the Editors who manage news content ought to be done so that particular kind of news can be covered.

I do not know about you, but last time I looked, technology had assumed an important factor in the development of most nations. That we have the beleagured Vodafone; Tigo; MTN; and Zain in the country and that they are reputed to making tongues of observers of that sector wag could be construed as a sign that the market is saturated, given that Globacom is yet to take-off. That in itself should probably give more of the media food for thought on the future of technology beyond value added services to our mobile phones. These days, for example, mobile internet has become de rigeur, and I am wont to believe that it is only a non-discerning media that will want to leave the debate on technology at the door of mobile phones!

Truth be told, some papers have started to get their act together on reporting technology and ICT. Though I can only think of two out of many of the private press, it is at least a start. Then again, even one of the state-owned sister paper’s that does a great job on reporting technology every week failed to touch on the Internet governance forum, preferring to do an interview of the boss of the International Telecommunications Union(ITU) Dr Hamidou Toure.

Why Internet Governance matters

Perhaps one of the cardinal benefits of the internet is its ability to serve as a source of information to people all over the world. That it is generally free once one overcomes the hurdle of internet café fees and whatnot makes the appeal all the more greater. While I understand it is very easy to appreciate the value of the Internet and its utility for all sorts of uses, I also understand that it is very easy for all of us to take it for granted.

This is where Internet governance comes in, because it enables policy to be formulated so that people worldwide can continue to enjoy its benefit. Even more critical is the Internet governance forum, which I touched on last week. Its value is found in the fact that it is a multi-stakeholder forum monitoring the work of the Internet, and therefore making it easier for policy to be produced around it.

The naysayers of the internet governance process might speculate that after the World Summit on Information Society in Tunis, the UN just needed another excuse to spend inordinate amounts of money on a process that does not get anywhere. Before we accept this idea lock, stock and barrel, let us read what is officially written about it.

Wikipedia says that it was a working group established after a United Nations-initiated World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that proposed the following definition of Internet governance as part of its June 2005 report:

Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.

Wikipedia maintains that “Law professor Yochai Benkler developed a conceptualization of Internet governance by the idea of three "layers" of governance: the "physical infrastructure" layer through which information travels; the "code" or "logical" layer that controls the infrastructure; and the "content" layer, which contains the information that signals through the network.”

In other words, looking at how the Internet works through how governments themselves do their work is probably one of the ways in which we can better-appreciate the work of the Internet Governance Forum.

In the final analysis, if the impression I am giving is that the Ghanaian media does not cover these issues because they are apathetic to them, then I would be way off mark. The truth of the matter is that I should have known that having failed to cover the past three Internet Governance Forums (2006-2008), they were hardly going to change tack and suddenly begin covering it. At least, one has to commend the consistency!


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