Monday, November 26, 2007

ICT in Papua New Guinea: Blind leading the blind

The Government still seems to have no clear directions for its Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policy, if this week’s National Budget is any yardstick to go by.

This is despite the Government allocating K20 million specifically towards the ICT policy in the 2008 National Budget.

There is no clear indication yet if the ICT monopoly held by Telikom – particularly in its outdated Tiare Internet Gateway - will be broken.

As an aside, a couple of weeks ago, I sailed to Salamaua on the MV Rita and almost everyone on the boat was using mobile phones at sea to call their loved ones in Lae or around the country.

Competition is good, anyone will tell you, except a handful of narrow-minded Government Ministers and politicians.

And ironically, National Planning and Monitoring Secretary Simon Tosali, at the National Budget lock-up which I attended on Tuesday this week, indicated that mobile phone competition had made a huge contribution to the growth of the Papua New Guinea economy this year and would continue to do so next year.

Digicel’s entry into the local mobile phone industry to compete with Telikom and its subsidiary B-Mobile has sparked a 0.7 per cent boost to the growth of Gross Domestic Product this year.

During the last six months, Digicel has invested about K450 million in the country and generated 300 regular jobs with about 4,000 indirect jobs around the country.

It also generated substantial revenue from its sale of mobile handsets and call credits that went into the local economy.

I have said before, and will say it again, that the ICT monopoly in Papua New Guinea, exorbitant telephone and Internet costs, as well as lack of knowledge about ICT all contribute to the massive digital divide in the country.

Papua New Guinea will continue to remain light years behind the rest of the world if we do not jump on the ICT bandwagon in this globalised world.

The digital divide within the country is an enormous barrier to the ability of the people to participate in and benefit from the digital economy.

Access to Internet, adequate infrastructure, human capacity building and appropriate policies on ICT are central issues in addressing the digital divide.

Success in this globalised world is predicated on ICT knowledge and successful knowledge-based economies will be based on the efficient and widespread use of ICT by all sectors within any given country.

It’s a classic case of “the blind (Government) leading the blind (people of Papua New Guinea)”.

And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!

Our leaders in Government should know that the greatest problem the country faces in the area of ICT is the Telikom monopoly through the Tiare Gateway.

A former Papua New Guinea resident now residing in New Zealand highlighted this very point in an email to me this week.

“I was interested to read your views in the online edition of The National,” he said.

“After 17 years in PNG, the online papers are one way to remain in touch with what’s happening there.

“Although you make some good points in that article, there was no mention of the greatest problem PNG faces in this area: the Telikom monopoly through Tiare.

“It’s all very well to have a limited broadband locally but the true benefits are achieved with an international network.

“The tiny ‘pipeline’ linking PNG with the rest of the world means outside communications are too slow and their charging policies restrict most people from utilising them.

“Whilst I am able to implement a VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) solution in my home and talk to friends in UK for free, I can’t use it to reach friends in PNG (unless they work for The World Bank).

“A caring government would axe the monopoly, allow the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to actually compete and enable the people to use the technology.

“Telikom is a government ‘cash cow’ and that’s the reason they don’t want to open everything up.

“They’re billing Internet connections as a toll call whereas, elsewhere in the world, it’s a local call.

“Many people over here (New Zealand) never turn it (Internet) off!”

Telikom – through the Tiare Gateway - is the only licensed provider of Internet services in the country.

The four Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - Datec, Daltron, DataNets and Global Internet – buy their Internet telecommunications capacity from Telikom on wholesale.

The ISPs in turn sell the service through dial-up or lease line at hugely-inflated prices.

The Internet growth in the country is limited by the available bandwidth from Telikom.

University of Technology electrical electronics and telecommunications lecturer Elias Mandawali says people within Telikom are not doing enough research into new technologies in telecommunication systems.

“There is a lot of confusion in the World Wide Web (WWW) applications of Broadband Internet and the telephony Broadband Internet offered by the Public Switch Telephone Network ( PSTN ),” he said.

“The Tiare runs on the old 4 kHz frequency and bit rate at 64kbps, which is too narrow for Broadband, and one will find that the information can be lost or congested.

“We have to educate Papua New Guineas to use the latest WiFi-function telecommunication networks on the World Wide Web.

“This will enable triplay bandwidth … and is the answer to PNG’s ICT policy.”

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1 comment:

  1. very true. competition is bringing communication services to the people who need it the most, our people in the rural areas. if the ICT policy is monopoly in disguise, then we will definitely be heading back to the stone age because companies like Digicel will not standby and let Telikom take over their network; Digicel will remove every mobile base station tower it has down to th elast nut and bolt and move elsewhere in the world.