Ecrea2a Mbala Pascal Paper


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Ecrea2a Mbala Pascal Paper

  1. 1. INTERNET IN THE DEVE LOPIN G WORLD: THE INTERNET REVOLUTION DID N OT TAKE PLACE Pascal Mbala Studies on Media, Information, and Telecommunication (SMIT) Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussel T: +32 2 629 25 72 ; F: +32 2 629 28 61 Abstract The rapid growth of Internet during the nineties, helped by the dissemination and intensive use of ICTs, has significantly led to the global diffusion of knowledge, allowing every country across the world (developed and developing countries alike) to reap benefit of its connection to the World Wide Web. In the western world where transport and communications infrastructures for delivery of both physical goods and information services are well established, electronic networking has spawned tangible socio-economic benefits. Instead, in developing countries with minimal physical telecommunications infrastructure, these changes have been much slower. The primary objective of this article is to examine the obstacles of Internet development in African developing countries mainly, and elaborate on the potential solutions in favour of a better Internet connectivity in these countries. Keywords: developing countries, Sub-Sahara Africa, Internet, ICTs, web 2.0, mobile phone, WiMAX. 1. Introduction The fundamental property of the Internet is its universality (Scientific American 2007). Since its early hours the Net has been rich of promises as its communications and information delivery capabilities serve all sectors of society. The areas of education, health, agriculture, social policy, commerce and trade, government institutions, communications, science and technology, all benefit from Internet access to information and to individuals through electronic mail (Sadowsky 1996). In a general 1
  2. 2. manner the rapid development of Internet during the nineties, helped by the dissemination and intensive use of ICTs, has significantly led to the global diffusion of knowledge, allowing every country across the world (developed and developing countries alike) to reap benefit of its connection to the World Wide Web. In the western world where transport and communications infrastructures for delivery of both physical goods and information services are well established, electronic networking has spawned tangible socio-economic benefits. It has changed the way people live, work, do business and interact. Hence the correlation frequently made between information, communication, and economic and human development. Instead, in developing countries with minimal physical telecommunications infrastructure, these changes has been much slower, however with a few notable exceptions for emerging countries such as, India, China, Malaysia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia,… It is noteworthy that in this latest category of countries, Internet development has been the result of ambitious and forward-looking public policies, with national governments heavily investing in ICT infrastructure, innovation and human capital development over the years. As a result, companies such as the Chinese Huawei, South Africans Vodacom and MTN, Egyptian Orascom, among others have become global, regional or continental leaders in the field of Information Technology and Telecommunications. These countries are now at the forefront of the “information age” and now enjoy a competitive position either in the African continent or at the global scale (Huawei). Having proven themselves in their local marketplaces, they have become market leaders representing world’s IT and Telecom equipment leaders such as Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Oracle, Alcatel-Lucent, IBM, to name a few. Of all developing regions, Sub-Sahara Africa stands out as the least networked of all. For many reasons, with the most cited being the lack of infrastructure (basic Telecoms infrastructure, roads, and electricity), geographic obstacles (hills, forest, watercourses…), and large distances between towns; the Internet is still underdeveloped in comparison with much of the rest of developing world. To a large extent these particular circumstances, coupled with other financial, cultural and language barriers, affect the participation of these countries to the information society. In the large majority of Sub-Saharan African countries, either has Internet remained in the stage of discovery or used for entertainment purposes. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are mainly state monopolies, and thus rest firmly in the hands of publicly-owned companies. New web-based services and applications such as e-mail on the move, blogs, wikis, e-business, unified messaging 1 are so to say almost nonexistent, as well as recent developments in mobile telephony such as mobile music and TV. 1 Unified Messaging or (UM) is the integration of different streams of communication (e-mail, SMS, Fax, voice, video, etc.) into a single or unified ‘message store’, accessible from a variety of different devices (Wikipedia). 2
  3. 3. This gloomy picture sounds like some developing countries have missed the most interesting aspect of the digital revolution. As such this article has a threefold goal: the first section categorizes the bottlenecks of Internet development in developing countries in general and Sub-Saharan African countries in particular. The second part endeavours to grasp the African technological reality from the contributions of Information Society theorists, such as Daniel Bell, and Franck Webster. It also offers a comparative perspective between Africa and Latin America with regard to Internet connectivity. The third part examines the evolutions of the African telecoms landscape of the last decade as well as the scenarios in favour of a better participation of least-Internet developed countries in the global information flows. This paper concludes by calling for a major African governments and global effort in favour of a better Internet access through new wireless broadband technologies. 3
  4. 4. 2. Obstacles to Internet diffusion in African developing countries 2.1. International environment It is very difficult today to assess the socio-economic impact of Internet or more generally ICTs in developing countries, as the statistic culture is not widespread among these countries. The scarce relevant statistics with regard to ICTs penetration in African developing countries available are more often provided by international bodies such as the UNDP or NGOs. Besides there seems to be a broad consensus among experts from NGOs, international financial institutions (IMF, World Bank), the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) on the fact that the digital revolution holds many promises for developing countries, enabling them to leapfrog entire stages of development and catch up with their more developed counterparts. All things considered, that belief derives from the confusion between the end and the means. Nobody seems to wonder how to bring this assumption to fruition globally. It is true that the Internet has seen a remarkable growth over the last few years, but it is also true that its dispersion has been very asymmetric (Uimonen 1997). As a general rule, the majority of Internet users are concentrated in the northern hemisphere. The following graphics provides an insight of the global penetration of the Internet. Since its inception Internet prospects have been rather daunting in many Sub-Saharan African countries. One of the explanations of this phenomenon can be traced back in the early eighties when an extensive economic crisis began to strike many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, making of poverty alleviation the cornerstone of development strategies adopted by multilateral and bilateral aid agencies. From the 1990s, one of the conditions for national governments to be eligible for the aid is the liberalisation of their telecommunications sector. The argument supporting that view is that privatisation and competition will result in better and cheaper services to the population. However this rationale overlooked an essential aspect: before deregulating their own telecommunications industries 4
  5. 5. developed countries had nearly achieved “Universal Service”, that is, the provision of basic telecommunications services (ideally the provision of fixed telephony service) to all, at affordable tariffs. In this regard the case of the African region, where fixed line penetration is the lowest in the world – 2.8% at the end of 2002, in comparison to Europe’s 41% (ITU 2004) - is striking. And it is well known that the very beginnings of the Internet in the West are tightly linked to the fixed line network, as the PSTN (Post Switched Telephone Network) has served as the backbone to the construction of Internet networks. Thus ironically, developing countries (with already poorly developed networks) were requested to liberalise their telecoms markets precisely at the time where they needed to introduce safeguards from abusive and illegal competition from western Telco’s champions. Pressures by western governments and their allied international financial institutions (WTO, IMF, The World Bank…) led national governments to change or modify institutions in relatively short time frames. Once the liberalisation was achieved, developing nations in general and sub-Saharan African countries in particular were to be soon besieged by profit-maximizing multinational corporations. As these international private entities are profit-oriented, they naturally concentrated their activities in urban centres where there likely would be a critical mass of potential users. In this scenario remote and sparsely populated areas were merely ignored. In sum the introduction of market dynamics into the telecoms sector did not spawned real benefits for the populations of these countries. As a matter-of-fact the liberalisation has stifled the ability of public service telecommunications operators in most developing countries to take advantage of new ICTs and thus to develop their own national telecommunications industry. 2.2. Structural and financial constraints Internet development efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa also suffer from the bad state of the physical communication infrastructure. For purpose of information, up to now numerous are states that recourse to an Internet connection through the PSTN, which requires the sometimes problematic installation of a fixed line. Although more modern techniques such as the ADSL, the cable, or more recently wireless access broadband technologies like WLAN or Wi-Fi, and WiMAX have appeared, their implementation still require significant financial investments. Furthermore the chronic absence of infrastructure (basic Telecoms infrastructure, roads, and electrical power), unsympathetic geography (hills, forest, watercourses…), and large distances between towns have prevented the sound development of Internet in the region. And the situation is far more complex for countries bordering the Sahel 2 region (Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Sudan …). Since they are not located near the Gulf 2 The Sahel is the boundary zone in Africa between the Sahara to the North and the more fertile regions of the South (Wikipedia). 5
  6. 6. of Guinea, they cannot rely on the high-capacity fibre optics undersea cable-type connection which links up Europe to Asia and makes the turn of the continent. Instead they should be able to afford a satellite-type connection, FTTH, DSL-type connection or wireless-type connectivity, which remain to some extent expensive. Internet is spreading, but the problem of the slowness and state of infrastructure remains. While the continent is gradually acquiring high technologies, equipments necessary to their utilisation are surcharged. Therefore a computer bought 900 € in France is sold at 1 800 €, even 2000 € once arrived in Ouagadougou (Lejeal 2007, p. 94). Reason why in 2005, in average 1 African out of 130 possessed a personal computer (Sandouly 2005, p.106). Second hand or second-generation of products represent an outstanding alternative, except that they sometimes prove too old to enable the integration of more recent applications. Alongside these structural and financial constraints Internet use and uptake in African developing countries is also threatened by the scarcity of bandwidth, that is, the range of frequencies through which voice, data and Internet traffic is transmitted. Whilst the developed markets wallow in a surfeit of bandwidth capacity, the opposite is true for Africa. In 2001, for example, there was more international IP bandwidth (1.3Gbit/s) available to the 450 000 citizens of Luxembourg than the 820 million citizens of the African continent (1.2Gbit/s) (ITU 2004). As Internet backbone is increasingly used to carry phone calls, video and crucial business communications, the speed of transmission will become a more salient concern. 2.2.1. Community-based Internet access vs. individual Internet access In a quite another register, prohibitive Internet access costs and related equipment (PCs, modems, cable…) has favoured the development of community-based Internet access such as Cybercafés or Community-centres, to the detriment of individual access. However, if these community-centres have facilitated the spread use of Internet among individuals, they did not favour the emergence of a true ICT culture in these countries. The sharing of equipment did not allow a better knowledge of Internet applications and services, nor did it enable the creation of local content. And despite the bursting of the dot-com bubble (with the culminating point being reached in the fall of 2001) and related overabundance of ISPs, Internet access costs have remained quite unaffordable for a more vulnerable category of people in prey with basic day-to-day problems of eating, rent or health care payment. For instance, for a one-hour connection in a cybercafé in Yaoundé – Cameroon – in 2005, one paid 500 CFA F or € 0.75. High Internet access costs have therefore resulted in people using the web for entertainment purposes (chat rooms, dating, e-mail, computer games, music or movies downloading…). Furthermore in universities and other research institutes where access is free of charge, the number of PCs is rather limited. As a result a very complex system of equipment sharing 6
  7. 7. has been put in place in order to allow students and other researchers to take advantage of the Net. This somewhat explains the following paradox: while Internet users in Africa grew by 56% in 2003, only 1% of Africans had access to the web, compared with 55% of North Americans (UNCTAD 2005). In 2007 only a slight progression of this percentage was reported, as illustrated in the hereinafter figure. Well beyond the paucity of adequate ICT infrastructure, it is the IT educational model of these countries that is questioned. In effect, implementing modern IT-based systems for learning is stronger because most (but not all) of these countries have a severe shortage of skilled and knowledgeable teachers, as well as adequate conventional institutions (Tansey, 2003, 210). And even if the technical kit was directly donated by richer countries, the recipients may lack adequate electricity supplies, and the technical and managerial know-how, to install and maintain such systems (Tansey, 2003, 210). In this perspective, the question comes to mind to know whether it is reasonable to imagine people in these countries getting aware of recent Internet developments such as the Web 2.0. The term coined in 2003 by Tim O’Reilly, President and CEO of O’Reilly Media and a well established web source, came to describe any site or technology that promotes collaboration and participation right down to the Web. This includes Blogs and online services such as Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Second life and Wikipedia among others. These websites are not shopping places, but electronic data sharing and networking areas between Internet users (Boutin 2006, p. 29). Put simply the term Web 2.0 describes a particular kind of online revolution: a World Wide Web of people (Metz 2007). The broadening availability of these web-based services and applications has accelerated and changed the way people life, work, interact, and do business in unprecedented ways. These easy-to-use softwares have become critical in the drawing out, organization and harnessing of collective intelligence. They turned the web into a kind of global brain. Since they are participatory, collaborative, inclusive, creator-/user-centric, unsettled and very information intensive, they encourage knowledge workers to be creative and innovative, to contribute to initiatives and projects, and to build on each other’s work toward an outstanding collaborative end product or service (Dearstyne 2007). As Tim O’Reilly puts it: “we are entering an unprecedented period of user interface innovation, as web 7
  8. 8. developers are finally able to build web application as rich as local PC-based applications (O’Reilly 2005). 2.2.2. From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 Whether or not it makes sense, we now break the history of the Web into two distinct stages: today we have web 2.0, and before that there was web 1.0 (Metz 2007). The surge of interest in web-based applications and services, known as web 2.0, and their corresponding influence on the way individuals create, exchange and use information seems to overlook the success stories of the pioneering web 1.0. If the web 2.0 refers to the second generation of web-based services, what therefore did web 1.0 look like? Considering Netscape as the standard bearer for web 1.0 and Google as the standard bearer of web 2.0, O’Reilly suggests a comparative approach as a means to distinguishing both concepts. In his vision, Netscape framed “the web as platform” in terms of the old software paradigm; its flagship product was the web browser, a desktop application, and its strategy was to use its dominance in the browser market to establish a market for high-priced server products. In absolute terms this strategy ensured Netscape with a market power for control over standard for displaying content and applications in the browser, similar to one that Microsoft enjoyed in the PC market (O’Reilly 2005). Google by contrast started as a native web application, never sold or packaged, but delivered as a service, with customers paying, directly or indirectly, for using the service. As such, both Netscape and Google could be described as software companies. However the former could be referred to as belonging to the same software family as Lotus, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other groups that got their start in the 1980s software revolution, while Google’s fellows are other Internet applications like eBay, Amazon, Napster, and Yes, DoubleClick and Akamai (Ibid). Another way to distinguish both notions could be to refer to them as successive historical stages of the web’s architecture evolution, marked each by a break up in the creation, management and distribution of information. Thus while the decade 90s of the web 1.0 was all about publishing, with companies playing a dominating role and users reduced to the position of reader or viewer of information, in the today’s web 2.0 of the on-going decade, the trends is towards participation, with users playing the prominent role. In this latter description, emphasis is put on user-generated content, as a tool for the harnessing of collective intelligence, as illustrated in the hereinafter figure: 8
  9. 9. Source: Dion Hinchcliff’s blog Today the man who invented the first World Wide Web (www), Tim Berners-Lee, has coined a new term that describes the next evolution of his www: the Web 3.0 also called the Semantic Web. According to a well established scientific source, “Scientific American”, the Semantic Web refers to an era where new Internet developments will usher in significant new functionality as machines become much better able to process and “understand” the data that they merely display at present (Scientific American 2007). Put simply, Web 3.0 heralds an era when machines will start to do seemingly intelligent things (Markoff 2006). If these evolutions attest that Net technologies are always under development, it nonetheless goes without saying that they did not find the similar echo in least-Internet developed countries. In other words, if these participatory Internet platforms are characteristic of young Internet-literate professionals of the west without a necessary IT background, in some developing countries they are de facto perceived as the fruit of scientific research by software developers. 2.3. Cultural and language barriers In many non-anglophone African countries, Internet to a large extent is seen as a tool to promote the linguistic dominance of English. The North American grass roots of Internet, coupled with the initial explosion of content in the same general region, currently make of the Internet, and especially the World Wide Web, primarily a medium of expression in English (Sadowski 1996). On the other hand high rates of illiteracy are reported in least-developed countries. And this constitutes an additional obstacle for national governments willing to generalize the use of ICTs, since specific skills are required to deal with computer hardware and software as well as with data communications hardware and protocols. More fundamentally, the construction of Internet networks is a complex process which requires foreign assistance, as some of these countries lack necessary expertise. 9
  10. 10. As a final note it is worth mentioning that these obstacles to Internet development in African developing countries are not insurmountable. Nor are they the justification of any fatalism or status quo. They should rather serve as pretext for action. The challenge ahead today for many regulatory bodies of national governments in sub-Sahara Africa would be to re-envision their present ICTs policies. At the time where Internet is entering its third age (Web 3.0/Semantic Web), the current ICTs policies in place in many sub-Saharan African countries proved no longer sustainable. Time has come for a thorough review of these policies and their framing more in the sense of universal access, than part of general telecoms liberalisation enterprise of the decade 90s. There is need for a knowledge revolution in sub-Sahara Africa. 3. Need for a knowledge revolution In 1976, Daniel Bell first published “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society”. In Bell’s prescient vision, there is an economic shift away from an industrial, machine-based, labour-intensive production of goods to the provision of information and scientific-driven technologies and sophisticated services. Before moving deeper into Professor Bell’s depiction of his post-industrial society, it is of primary importance to remind that in his vision the new society would not displace the old one but rather overlay it in profound ways. Both agrarian and industrial sectors will continue to coexist with the new “service society” or post-industrial society. As a matter of fact, agrarian (or pre-industrial society), industrial and PIS societies refer to specific time in history involving significant changes in productivity. Thus while in pre-industrial societies agricultural labour is pretty well ubiquitous, and in industrial societies factory work is the norm, in post-industrial societies it is service employment which predominates (Webster, 1995, 34). This categorization could also be understood in terms of the character of life at different times. In pre-industrial society life is ‘a game against nature’ where one works with raw muscle power’ (Bell, 1976a: 126); in the industrial era, where the ‘machine predominates’ in ‘a technical and rationalized existence’ existence, life ‘is a game against fabricated nature’ (Ibid.). In contrast to both, life ‘in a post-industrial society which is based on services…is a game between persons’ (p. 127). Here what counts is not raw muscle power, or energy, but information’ (Webster, 1995, 36). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society seems to fit quite beautifully with the explosive technological changes that hit advanced societies in the late 1970s (Webster, 1995, 30). As such, Prof. Bell’s view rely upon the observance at the time of the development of staggering microelectronic technologies (among which computers) which rapidly permeated offices, industrial processes, schools and the homes, propelling the computerization of society. And the major feature of this post industrial society is the heightened presence and significance of information. Daniel Bell argues that information and knowledge are crucial for PIS both quantitatively and qualitatively. On the other hand, Bell claims that 10
  11. 11. in the post-industrial society a qualitative shift is evident, especially in the rise to prominence of what he calls “theoretical knowledge” (Webster, 1995, 31). The centrality of information and knowledge in post-industrial societies put emphasis on their production by skilled, well trained and equipped professionals. It is scientists and engineers who form the key group in the post-industrial society (Bell, 1976a; 17). This trend towards information professionalism, helped by the growing use of the Internet and the proliferation of “dot-com” enterprises, has lead to its expansion at all sectors of contemporary social life, including health, agriculture, the military, trade, education, research and government. As a result, a new intelligentsia has emerged mainly from universities and research centres, more focus was placed on qualifications and technical competence, Information and communication technologies (ICT) have become instrumental in the global expansion of media and high-technology multinationals; in the same time as they are now playing a major role in the globalization of world economy. Be it the personal computer (PC), the handheld PC, the mobile phone, the mobile PC, the Internet, the digital TV or the portable Internet, these technological evolutions are nothing less but the empirical evidence of Professor Bell’s prophecy. More importantly, they have driven the total reorganisation of western countries economies around information and knowledge. Reason why the term “knowledge economy” (or “information economy”) is often quoted to designate richer countries with a strong high- technology diversified economy. By contrast in developing nations, and especially sub-Saharan African countries, these evolutions have been slower, as the use of information technology was spread to somewhat smaller segments of their economies. As a general rule the economic growth of these countries remains heavily dependent on low value added activities such as agriculture and natural resources extraction. Following the reasoning of Daniel Bell, we can infer that African countries did not experience the crucial industrial era, which is a critical stage from the transition towards a post- industrial society. However before moving further into the depiction of Africa’s technological backwardness, it is convenient to explain to what extent the industrial society has prefigured the post- industrial one. To this regard, a common point of reference in the time is the fordist-keneysian era (from 1945 until the mid-1970s) that marked the western world of the post-second world war period. Henry Ford was the pioneer of production techniques which allowed the manufacture of goods at price that could encourage mass consumption while also at the forefront of payment of relatively high wages, which also stimulated the purchase of goods; his name has been applied to the system as a whole (Webster, 1995, 138). Similarly, Keynes is the economist whose policies are most closely associated with state intervention in industrial affairs (Ibid). The main distinguishing features of the Fordist-Keynesian era are the mass-production of goods, made possible by the generalization at the time in western capitalist industry of the assembly-line in different economic sectors (electrical goods, engineering, automobile…), and the predominance in employment of the industrial manual worker. 11
  12. 12. In the course of the years, mass consumption became the norm, facilitated by (relatively) high and increasing wages, decreasing real cost of consumers goods, full employment, the rapid spread of instalment purchase and credit facilities, and of course the stimulation that came with the growth of advertising, fashion, television and cognate forms of display and persuasion (Webster, 1995, 139). During the Fordist era the health of economy was increasingly determined by the strength of consumer purchase (Ibid). The key point to be grasped from this period is the emergence of nation-states as the locus of economic activity, along with the development of the logic of accumulation, as the result of the henceforth indisputable direct relationship between mass-production and mass-consumption. The centrality of the nation-state became visible with the growth of the Welfare State, which has also legitimated state’s involvement in the economy, whereas marketing and design techniques were developed as means to ensure this virtuous circle of mass-production and mass-consumption. Major changes on the political, social and economical fields, which occurred in the early seventies, will come to sound the knell of the Fordist regime of accumulation. Among these the shock of large-scale oil price rises in 1973, together with the cumulated effects of the second oil shock of the late seventies will plunge advanced economies of the west into a long-standing economic recession. These major political events with far-reaching socio-economic consequences, along with further changes in the ways of handling, storing and acting on information will accelerate the demise of Fordism. After a twenty-five-year or so period (from 1945 until the mid-1970s) of stability and economic prosperity, the Fordist model has reached its peak and proved therefore no longer sustainable. As new circumstances require radical changes, new strategies were devised to fulfil the growth exigencies of industrial nations. Technological research in general, and within it Information Technology (IT), is said to be at the centre of refurbishment of capitalist enterprise. As such Information Technology heralded a new era in communication marked to all appearances by a growing interdependence and interpenetration of human relations alongside the increasing integration of the world’s socio-economic life (Webster, 1995, 141). Another term frequently used to refer to this new era is “Globalisation”. Since they involve new ways of industrial production, technological sophistication, and economic productivity, information and communication technologies (ICTs) represent an outstanding opportunity for Sub-Saharan African countries to leapfrog the sometimes painful stages of development, experienced by industrialised countries. However, for that to happen, they should first and foremost achieve their knowledge revolution. The following point provides us with an example of how Latin American countries have devised their ICTs’ expansion strategy. 3.1. The Latin American model Latin American and sub-Saharan African nations are very different in terms of culture, religion, geography, economic progress, types of government. However they do share some significant characteristics that help classify them as developing countries. As Michael P. Todaro, author of Development Economics, puts it “developing nations are mainly characterized by low levels of living, 12
  13. 13. high rates of population growth, low income per capita, and general economic and technological dependence on First World economies”3. This being so, both regions have described different trajectories in terms of ICTs’ adoption during the last decade. While technology standards have remained quite basics in Africa in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, Latin America has experienced high levels in Internet connectivity to such an extent that it has become the world fastest- growing Internet population. And demand for information technology is soaring. Several factors explain the current booming of the Internet market in South America: 3.1.1. The prevalence of the free Internet access model Free ISPs appeared in Brazil for the first time in 1999, when Bradesco, the biggest bank in Brazil started offering free Internet access to its clients in 1999, and many other banks followed. But the most spectacular breakthrough came from Internet Gratis (iG), a free access portal that within five months claimed to have gathered around 2 millions subscribers4. Furthermore as PC is a vital element in ICT diffusion, popular leasing plans offered by ISPs, government incentives such as low priced, subsidized computers and free Internet kiosks have allowed access to the lower-middle income segment. This open access movement swiftly expanded in the whole Latin American region, with several countries considering the use of the US$ 100 laptop developed by MIT Media Labs Nicolas Negroponte, and the deployment of a public infrastructure for Internet access, including the use of wireless technology (Wi-Fi and WiMAX) (Peixoto 2006). 3.1.2. Decline in Internet access costs Free dial-up offers, together with the subsidized personal computer model have resulted in increased competition between ISPs in the majority of the region’s markets, entailing the lowering in prices and increase in service quality. The result is spectacularly high connectivity rates and the emergence of Latin America as high potential market for Internet investments. Thus while free access has helped bringing Internet to the masses, costly dedicated lines are being used by large corporations. In region’s more developed markets, ISPs are adding value added services and extending broadband Internet access through ADSL, cable modem, Wireless Local Loop (WLL), and satellite technologies. 3.1.3. Market consolidation Number of Latin American countries are involved in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), created by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay in March 1991, and later joined in June 2006 by Venezuela. Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru currently have associated member status. Mercosur primary interest has been eliminating obstacles to internal trade, like high tariffs, income 3 4 13
  14. 14. inequalities, or conflicting technical requirements for bringing products to the markets (Klonsky 2007). As a general rule however, these countries benefit to some extent from their proximity with the powerful US and Canadian markets. With Mercosur’s increasing role in promoting a regional environment of stability and peace, and enabler of successful economic integration (it is the fourth world market behind the EU, the NAFTA and the ASEAN5), North American software development firms, such as Google, Yahoo or AOL have set up similar portal for expansion in the region. Another example, Microsoft has formed an online service company with Mexico’s (a Latin American country though not belonging to the Mercosur) largest telecommunications company, Telmex, with plans to buy access providers throughout Latin America that can offer local service to users in countries outside Mexico (Nagle 2001). Outstanding economic record of countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Chile is equally driving the spread of information technology across the region, as these latter have developed a regional powerful “dotcom” industry. For purpose of information, Brazil dominates the Latin American market in terms of Internet user numbers, while Chile’s is the regional pioneer in terms of convergence, with VTR GlobalCom having been the first operator in Latin America to develop the triple play strategy, which combines video, voice and data over one broadband platform. And Argentina came with a respectable third position regarding Internet penetration’s rate. 3.1.4. The broadband Internet Network model The success of the open access movement has paved the way for steady improvement of ICTs’ infrastructure. As ISPs are striving to offer a quality service, they have migrated from the basic fibre- based technology towards broadband. And this has permitted companies to perform applications based on the IP networks, such as e-business, VoIP, online gaming, video and photo sharing, Wikis, blogs, and some government applications, such as Digital Government. Concerning this last aspect, it is noteworthy that the Brazilian Government for instance is the world leader in the use of websites to communicate with the tax paying public, ranking in the top 20 countries in the use of e-government services with over 90% of Brazilian filling their tax returns electronically 6. As a final note, Internet expansion in Latin America was powered by governments and private corporations, which have developed number of initiatives such as low priced subsidized computers, free dial-up access, free Internet kiosks and Internet programs for schools, among others. High rates in Internet connectedness and steady upgrade of ICTs infrastructure have made of Latin America one of the world’s most promising broadband market, growing at an annual rate of around 75% in 20057. 5 NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Association, and groups together The US, Canada & Mexico ASEAN stands for Association of South East Asian Nations, and groups together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand & Vietnam. 6 7 14
  15. 15. Options available are ADSL (the current leading technology), DSL, cable modem and wireless broadband. Today the region is at the forefront of global WiMAX deployment, with number of governments and companies investing in this high-throughput Internet access technology. On the other hand, the Latin American model of Internet development is equally an illustration of how large and increasingly connected population has resulted in the creation of in-language websites with localized content and services, which in turn is fuelling the development of marketing activities and e- commerce in the region. Argentina, Brazil and Chile for instance now have a well-educated and growing middle class, which when combined with a relatively cheap skilled labour force, constitutes an incentive for outsourcing activities of international corporations such as call centres, software development, or securities trading. Following this, the question comes to mind as to know whether sub-Saharan African countries should merely emulate the South American model. Or should they design their own Internet development strategy based on their particular characteristics? In what follows, we will focus on the current trends regarding the evolution of Internet connectivity in Africa, and strive to put forward ideas for a better Internet access. 4. Future orientations 4.1. The mobile market: the current trend As early 2001, Africa became the first continent where mobile phones outnumbered fixed lines. And in early 2006 mobile users constituted more than 80% of all African telephone subscribers. This explosive growth in mobile use has made of the continent one of the fastest-growing mobile market of the world. Today, virtually all countries in the region have access in cellular service, and many have at least two operators, one of which is usually privately owned (Hamilton 2003). Behind mobile growth, it is worth signalling the rise over the last 5-6 years of African-based, pan-regional mobile operators. Armed with their solid financial basis and a proven expertise, these companies have started to invest in Next Generation Networks (NGN). Of these 3G seems to have the strongest take. Inadequate fixed- line infrastructure as well as low PC penetration means that the potential for mobile Internet is considerable. 3G networks were launched in number of African countries since 2004. As such, Next- Generation 3G cellular services will create broad-range coverage for data access across wide geographic area, providing the greatest mobility for voice communications and Internet connectivity. New devices optimized for 3G communications are beginning to reach the marketplace. Such devices include cell phones that can also provide interactive video conferencing, as well as PDAs that can provide full-playback DVD services (Intel 2004). 4.2. Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) technologies: the promise of broadband Internet access to Africa 15
  16. 16. Africa’s data traffic is experiencing strong growth, but Internet’s market penetration is still very low due to the lack of reliable phone lines and sufficient bandwidth. African broadband market is still at nascent stage and ADSL is the preferred broadband technology by far, overtaking cable modem. However, as demand for high-speed Internet grows in urban centres as well as rural areas, ADSL and cable technologies proved too expensive to deploy, and were frequently stolen or trafficked as they remain wired technologies. Today wireless broadband access technologies are increasingly being used as a substitute for the outdated or non-existing public telephone network. Among these: VSAT, Wi-Fi, and WiMAX. Wi-Fi and VSAT allow for broadband wireless internet access to be shared over a short distance (ideally 100 or so metres), without any wire connected to the computer. Instead WiMAX is an emerging technology that will deliver last mile broadband connectivity in a larger geographic area (up to 50 km) than Wi-Fi and VSAT, and at higher broadband levels (up to 72 Mbps). 4.3. WiMAX: the platform for the next generation of Internet expansion Well beyond the issues of distance (transmission range), geographical obstacles (hills, forest,), absence of infrastructure (basic telecoms infrastructure, electricity, roads,), amount of bandwidth that WiMAX systems help to address, it possesses quantity of assets which make of it an ideal wireless broadband technology enabling universal access in African countries. 4.3.1. Ease of installation - Standardization and system’s interoperability Instead of using fixed line like cable or telephone line to bring Internet access into a place, WiMAX uses transmitters, like cell phone towers, or an antenna mounted on a solitary hub, to carry its signal. Furthermore, unlike wired infrastructure, the base station is the only part of the WiMAX infrastructure that must be pre-installed. Once the base station grid is implemented, subscriber equipment can be added individually and almost instantaneously (Trulove 2005). On the other hand, WiMAX standard allows systems vendors to create many different types of WiMAX-based products, including various configurations of base stations and customer premise equipment (CPE). Standards-based products will result in larger volume production, which in turn will drive the cost of equipment down. And having standardized equipment will also encourage competition, making it possible to buy from many sources, and at affordable prices. 16
  17. 17. Figure1. Fixed WiMAX deployment and usage models Source: Intel. 4.3.2. In-built QoS features Quality of Service (QoS) is what determines whether a wireless technology can successfully deliver high value services such as streaming music and video, video surveillance, Voice over IP (VoIP) and video conferencing. The basic reason for the popularity of VoIP is the cost which is very low as compared to the conventional telephone service. The concept of transmission of voice over data streams makes it possible to have VoIP transmitted and received using anything that uses IP – Laptops, PC’s, Wi-Fi enabled handsets etc. (Bakshi 2006). Simply put, VoIP involves different forms of connections: computer-to-computer, computer-to-telephone, and telephone-to-telephone. In Africa where fixed-line penetration is very low, WiMAX fixed wireless access (FWA) can be harnessed to revamp traditional fixed-line services. By combining high-velocity Internet access and VoIP, WiMAX fixed wireless access provides fixed-line operators with the possibility to diversify and extend their services range. In the developed world, it proved to be the antidote to declining fixed revenues. In this regard, it is noteworthy that WiMAX Telecom in Vienna (Austria) is the first operator in the world to offer voice telephony to its subscribers. 4.3.3. Fixed-Mobile convergence WiMAX is really two distinct technologies: fixed and mobile. The first is based on 802.16-2004 and is optimized for fixed and nomadic8 access. The second version is designed to support portability and mobility, and is based on the 802.16e amendment to the standard. WiMAX access can be easily integrated within fixed and mobile architecture, enabling operators to integrate it within a single converged network, thereby providing new capabilities for a user-centric broadband world (Alcatel 8 The term “nomadic” suggests a wireless access application in which the location of the end-user termination may be in different places but must be stationary . 17
  18. 18. 2005). An illustration of this feature is the Intel® WiMAX Connection 2250, a low-cost integrated System-on-Chip (SoC) that supports Fixed WiMAX standard IEEE 802.16-2004 (also known as 802.16d) and Mobile WiMAX standard IEEE 802.16e-2005 (also known as 802.16e), enabling WiMAX modems for use with fixed or mobile networks. Simply put, using Intel® WiMAX Connection 2250-based services, service providers can choose to immediately deploy a mobile WiMAX network, or in some cases, deploy a fixed WiMAX network that can be easily and cost- effectively upgraded to a mobile WiMAX network (Intel). As a result, Intel WiMAX Connection 2250 is optimized for cost-effectiveness, since it can benefit from the economics of combined fixed and mobile volumes in equipment (Intel 2006). The combination of all these advantages gives WiMAX an unprecedented flexibility that positions it to become a mass-market technology. 4.4. Rethinking the legal and regulatory environment Developed and developing countries alike have approached telecommunications reform by opening their markets to private participation and competition. This was especially true for the mobile sector, and as result, one saw an astounding worldwide growth in mobile communications (Hamilton 2003). In Africa particularly, market liberalization in the mobile industry has fostered competition, which in turn has lead to the emergence of African-based pan-regional mobile operators. In the span of a decade, mobile technology has gone further than any other communication technology in Africa in terms of bridging the digital divide (ITU 2004). But competition alone is not the key. The high license fee regime currently in place in many African countries has mainly favoured PTO (public telecoms operators) and international private telecoms companies. As a result of this strategy, mobile penetration was restricted in many urbanized centres of these countries. Today, many remain to do to ensure that competition friendly policies are encouraged, and implemented in a sound and transparent business climate. In practice, this supposes a new regulatory order which shall put forward: • A more attractive license fees regime • Obligations of higher rollouts for new market entrants • Obligation for PTO to share infrastructure where possible, keep down costs, and encourage competition • Obligation for current market’s leader to expand their network coverage to rural areas On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the first round of privatization’s focus was prominently the mobile telephony. As a result, African regulators and policy makers have failed in anticipating evolutions in other sectors, and Internet market is an adequate illustration to it. Neither did they anticipate the emergence of the portable and mobile Internet, or the wireless broadband fixed-mobile convergence, pioneered by WiMAX. More than a decade ago the dramatic global diffusion of the mobile phone was made to the detriment of wired phone, with mobile phone serving as technological 18
  19. 19. substitutes for fixed lines in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America. Today the mobile telephony business model is increasingly being challenged by the emergence of new generation wireless broadband access technologies, (such as Wi-Fi, WiMAX, Flash OFDM, UWB), along with associated business models. The frontier between Mobile IP (Wi-Fi phones and WiMAX-enabled phones) and Mobile telephony becomes blurred, and thus highlights the necessity to devise more ICTs-oriented policies, that will better take these evolutions into consideration. In the new regulatory environment, careful attention should be paid to computer equipment, as prior to ICTs diffusion. To this regard it is worth noting that high quality computers with huge hard drives and ultra fast chips are available on the market today at less than 800€. With more and more companies selling PCs, the resulting competitive environment is driving the prices way down. This constitutes an incentive for African countries regulatory bodies willing to generalize the purchase of ICTs by individuals and households, or for government’s programs relating to computers equipment in schools, libraries, research centres, universities. It could be possible to the condition of adopting legislations that exempt computer equipment with customs duties (for a given time) when entering any African country. Another solution could also consist for regulatory bodies of national governments to develop incentives that would convince software developers, computer equipment and electronic components multinationals (Microsoft, Alcatel, HP, Oracle, SAP…) to invest in sub-Sahara Africa. Among other measures, national governments should also consider: • Installing Internet terminals in public locations, including schools, community-centres of rural areas, libraries, hospitals, publicly-owned enterprises, the administration; and within these the building of local networks (Intranet, VPNs – Virtual Private Networks); • Training and educating in the development of applications, usage and maintenance of new ICTs, and marketing and managerial aspects related to Internet; • Supporting the creation of websites with local content; • Introducing wireless technologies (Wi-Fi, WiMAX, WLL…); • The building of a service infrastructure affected to ICTs’ development. This service would for instance act as a “think tank” that would keep national communication policy up-to-date, and initiate major changes in ICTs usage, such as e-commerce or e-government. Whether Fixed, Mobile or Internet, Africa’s ICTs future is definitely a wireless one. In the absence of fixed-line networks, in addition to a lack of PCs, mobile phones are likely to become increasingly used as means to access the Internet (ITU 2004). On the other hand, as the marketplace for Internet has experienced many years of stagnation in developing countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa region in particular, broadband wireless access (BWA), once pioneered by the Wi-Fi and now ignited WiMAX (which now underway) is increasingly gaining foothold in the black continent as an 19
  20. 20. alternative “last mile” technology in this domain. In an immediate future, WiMAX technology holds the promise of a cost-effective and efficient technical solution to favour the deployment of high- throughput Internet access in Africa. 20
  21. 21. 5. Conclusion For all the reasons evoked before, it is visible that the Internet revolution did not take place in Africa, particularly in countries located beneath the Sahara. Within these countries, the Internet has been reduced to its entertainment dimension. When it becomes a tool of information, it is used to convey institutional and other local news, as it is still the case with most of African information portals. Information pertaining to the international topicality is slightly addressed thereto. The tracks record of Internet today in Africa is first and foremost that a series of erroneous judgements. The promoters of the Internet in Africa have introduced it like a kind of panacea. It sounded like Internet was going to relief the sufferings of people in Africa, as if it is going to provide food, money, peace, democracy or whatever else. Of course it could be argued that advances have been made in the areas of education, health and agriculture, but it should also be acknowledged that the current Internet development model has failed in enabling the emergence of a category of veritable computer and Internet-literate professionals, as it is already the case in Latin America for instance. As a matter-of-fact, Internet penetration in the African continent is still facing severe structural and financial constraints (outdated or non-existent basic telecoms infrastructure, scarcity of bandwidth, expensive Internet-related equipment and technology....), as developed in the text. Thus the whole debate today is not so much about repeating insistently in international fora (ITU, G7, IMF, World Bank…) that developing countries have a lot to gain from the digital revolution, but formulating strategies that would make their integration in the global information society feasible, or would permit a knowledge revolution thereto. In practice aid policies must be oriented towards real technology transfer, instead of technical assistance in the building of communication networks or financial aid, as in the past. In such a scenario, we could imagine for instance foreign aid to development taking the form of preferential tariffs with regards to the purchase of ICTs equipment, and other new wireless broadband Internet access technologies. In so doing the west will certainly render technological innovations accessible to African developing nations particularly. As far as African leaders are concerned, the modernization of their telecoms infrastructure must be prioritized. This implies investing in new equipment, but also guaranteeing the training of their human resources in the usage and maintenance of new ICTs, with the ultimate goal of developing their own expertise, and gradually reducing their technological dependency with regard to the North. On ambitious ICTs policies depends their ability to bridge the digital divide, and build on a telecoms industry purveyor of jobs, and therefore vector of economic and human development. Latin American model is a vibrant illustration of how synchronous public/private policies designed to secure the entire population with an Internet access have helped achieve computer literacy. In these countries, the ICTs’ sector has experienced a thorough-going modernization, which in turn exerts an influence on the way 21
  22. 22. economic and industrial activities are organized thereto. However, that Sub-Saharan African countries must stricto sensu emulate the Latin American’s Internet development model is still an open question. After all, it might well be that the same approach in the African context would not deliver similar results. What means that Sub-Saharan African nations should each define their own way towards a knowledge-based society. In this respect, a possible solution would consist in departing from existing broadband wireless access technologies (such as WiMAX, Wi-Fi, EDGE…) and associated business models; and to build on a viable and ever-expanding Internet architecture. As such, these technologies do not only bring about changes in the way people communicate, but they are also at the centre of the emergence of a new market and technology opportunities. As they allow more bandwidth, they open the door to the introduction of new applications and web-based services, such as video phones, video/audio download, interactive games, wikis, blogs and e-commerce, also known as Web 2.0. And of all these wireless broadband technologies, WiMAX appear to be the most advanced technology to date capable in a near feature of delivering a higher Internet coverage and development of Internet- related services in Sub-Saharan African countries. With this technology, Africans would experience new possibilities in mobile information, interaction, user-generated content and social networking. It can do this because of it is: • Data-centrical/all IP mobile Wide Area Network (WAN) • High throughput • High spectral efficiency • Low cost • Support from leading infrastructure providers • Outstanding end user device ecosystem • Balanced Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) environment (Intel) Furthermore, WiMAX is as of now the only standard capable of providing the quadruple play technologies – Data, Voice, Video, Mobility (802.16e) using a single network. Collectively these services are referred to as IP Media Subsystems Services – IMS (Bakshi 2006). The widespread availability today in Africa of portable devices such as laptops, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) and smartphones, is generating interest in delivering Internet services in nomadic conditions. Addressing these challenges and capitalizing on the benefits of ubiquitous Internet would allow Sub-Saharan African countries to become fully-fledge participants of the knowledge economy, and ultimately lead toward a competence-based development and improved technological knowledge at the local level. This also means creating the conditions of a knowledge revolution within sub-Saharan African countries and in the sub-region. 22
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