Sunday, September 30, 2007

Internet cafes and the Digital Divide

Picture at left: Making the Internet affordable and accessible to the people...the Comserv Internet cafe at RH Hypermart
Being a regular user of Internet cafes in Port Moresby, it quite surprises me that cafes owned by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) charge among the highest rates.

For instance, Data Nets charges K5.50 for 15 minutes, K11 for 30 minutes, and K22 for an hour.

The country’s largest ISP provider, Datec, charges K10 for 15 minutes, K15 for 30 minutes, and K20 for an hour.

Rates charged by major hotels in Port Moresby vary but can be quite astronomical.

Compare these to the low K3 for 15 minutes, K6 for 30 minutes, and K12 for an hour being charged by the Comserv café at the RH Hypermart.

Closer behind is the café at the Sports Inn which charges K6 for 15 minutes, K9 for 30 minutes, and K12 for an hour.

I regularly haunt the RH Hypermart as it has arguably the best and cheapest Internet café in Port Moresby.

In theory, Internet cafes should be making the Internet affordable and accessible to the general public, however, they seem to be going the other direction in this country, making the Internet unaffordable and inaccessible.

High Internet costs are a major setback for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who don’t have Internet access, as they use these cafes to try and sell their products and services.

It is also a turnoff for tourists, students doing research, as well as members of the general public as they try to check their email as well as surf the Internet.

Talk about trying to create a knowledge-based economy!

I have heard many complaints from tourist friends about the very high Internet usage fees being charged in Papua New Guinea.

Perhaps Telikom and the ISPs in this country should look at countries like Singapore, who have very-efficient and cheap Internet services.

Anyone who’s passed through Singapore’s world-famous Changi Airport will tell you that you can access the Internet for free all around the terminal buildings.

The hotel I was staying at in Singapore last month offered free Internet services.

Strolling through the streets of Singapore’s Geylang district, I was able to use the Internet at one of the many such roadside cafes for about S$2 an hour.

I was also able to talk to my wife in Port Moresby over the Internet – Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) – for only S$1 a minute.

High Internet costs contribute towards making the much talked about Digital Divide in Papua New Guinea an enormous barrier to the ability of the people to participate in and benefit from the digital economy.

Measures of the Digital Divide include:
Affordability – Can underprivileged small businesses and individuals afford to use quality computers and Internet services?
Internet access – Are there wide band communication networks accessible to businesses and households both in urban and rural areas?
Personal computer penetration – Are personal computers economically owned by the underprivileged demographic groups?
Training – Are there training programmes of computer and Internet provided to underprivileged sectors of the population?
Relevant content – Are there relevant software packages, local language contents rich enough to address the needs of the underprivileged population?
IT sector – Are there efficient ICT industries who are able to serve the needs of local businesses and individuals?

On Wednesday last week, I attended a seminar organised by the PNG Computer Society, being someone who is very much interested in ICT.

Society secretary Sadiq Ali said as PNG gradually developed its economic and political sphere, there was an imperative need for the ICT industry to develop and expand in the country.

“PNG, although it is not apparent it is suffering from a need of advanced communication industry, the country needs to keep touch with world standards of information systems and networking,” he said.

“Costly as it may seem, the investment will do good to match the first-rated countries and furthermore, the future generation of this nation will be the ones to make use and improve on this.

“Coming from an educator’s angle in ICT, PNG needs to educate its younger generation on the potential of the ICT and the good it will do for the economy.

“Students need to be educated on the new technology and innovation so that they too become independent thinkers and networkers.

“The commercialisation of the ICT industry provides a good opportunity to develop and inspire the young.”

Meantime, I was overwhelmed by the response to my article in The National last Friday titled “Building your own website”.

I was inundated by the constant stream of SMS text messages and emails from people, particularly small business men and women, wanting to build their own websites.

They concurred that companies and individuals are benefiting from the ignorance of the little people by charging them huge amounts of money to build a website for their small businesses.

And after being ripped off, the little people then feel the brunt of paying excessive fees for a domain name, regular rental to the ISP, as well as Internet usage fees to Telikom.

The response to my article highlighted, at least to me, the need for training programmes of computer and Internet to be provided to all sectors of the community, particularly our SMEs.

For comments and feedback, email the author at or SMS 6849763.

1 comment:

  1. Danny5:44 PM

    Virtual Land Ltd has a fast broadband internet cafe in town which I think is the best and affordable compared to the rest...they are open from 8am in the morning to 8 pm at night monday to friday and on sundays. Its K5 for half an hour and K10 for an hour...

    Down loads greater than 1 MB is K0.50/mb and less than a 1 MB are free. Movie and audio streaming is fast...Its located on top of the former big rooster. Check it out...