> > I have a small business in Poland and we sell bar code technologies. For
> > sure not every shop, warehouse, factory, electricity company, government
> > body in Poland can afford them, but the ones that can cut their costs, and
> > raise productivity.
> You seem to care only of of your profit margins. Who is going to help the
> millions with out enough food!!!.
People who care about their profit margins, that's who. The Internet
is not meant to end world hunger. But if it is allowed to develop
freely, empirically rather than dogmatically, it will may improve the
overall economic situation. And if it only helps some sectors, at
least it's better than nothing.
Here's what, in my opinion, governments can and should do:
a) deregulate telecoms so that anybody can become a commercial service
provider. At this point, some rules limiting (but not banning) foreign
ownership may be desirable.
b) give fiscal incentives by: removing all import duties on computers,
modems, phones; exempting ISPs from all taxes until they start making
profits, and even then taxing only the profits that are not
re-invested in the business.
c) subsidize universities and colleges for hardware and connection fees.
d) build a national backbone network, i.e. lay a set of lines
criss-crossing the country; if fiber or copper is too expensive, put
in microwave links. This should be an extension of the existing phone
network. Commercial providers could lease bandwidth on this network
purely on a market basis and dynamically. Why market based? To avoid
bandiwdth being wasted on lousy providers who happen to have friends
in high places, and to generate recenue which can be reinvested in
extending this infrastructure. Why dynamical? Because new providers will
keep coming up, and the old ones may grow or shrink. They must be
continuously competing against each other, not only for customers (end
users) but also for access to the precious and limited public resource
which is the network. The bandwidth could be re-allocated monthly, for
example, to the highest bidder. Monopolies can be avoided by putting a
ceiling on the percentage of capacity one entity can lease. The
backbone should be administered by a non-political independent body,
appointed by, but not under direct control of, the government.
e) let the private sector also build networks if there is enough
capital, and let them interconnect with the government built backbone.
As for aid organizations, the best they can do is keep telling them to
do a) and b), and give money for c), d) and e). They could also lend
money to info-entrepreneurs, just like a commercial bank would do
here in America.
Then the infobahn will grow by trial and error, by people who just
want to do it, for fun, for money. Whatever their individual
motivations may be, they will do a better job than loud speeches at
ministerial meetings. If you want proof, just look at the phone
business. I will bet that the average waiting time to connect a new
phone number in Africa is probably measured in years not days.
> As Africans, it is our duty to support our
> people and protect them from naked exploitation. At the same time we need to
> devise means of acquiring appropriate technology that is sustainable and useful.
Exploitation? If a service provider chooses to focus on a niche
market, say providing Internet access for doctors, or large
corporations, why is that exploitation? Who is being exploited and
As for sustainability, I don't get it. Why would one want to sustain a
failed project? What is needed is a mechanism that works by trial and
error. People who are doing it realize that if they do a good enough
job, they reap rewards, and if not, someone else will do it. Society
wins either way.
To take the specific case of the ISP in Niger, the best way to find
out if it is sustainable is to let the guy do it. The donors should
make their decision to lend him money or not in the same way a
commercial bank would do here, except with a higher risk tolerance.
In the end there will be room for broadly based public access
providers, as well as specialized ones of all sorts.
> > But the most important point to note is that it is not an issue of
> > government policy at all, if some private individual or business decides to
> > risk his own capital on setting up an internet service. We can sit at
> > different places on the planet predicting success or failure, but in the end
> > it is not our business. It is that person's and their customers. If it
> > fails, well it has not cost the country a cent. I guess if someone set up an
> > email->fax link in New York, and had a sales pitch in Lagos, "one page fax
> > to New York for a dollar" there might just be a queue. But I could be wrong.
> Utterely rubbish. It is the responsibility of a government and should also be
> government policy that unsastainable projects are not allowed. There are
> government rules for investment and every body should abide by them. I think you
> need to differentiate between cottage industry and real investment.
Sorry Menghestab, but *that* is utterly rubbish. [By the way, "cottage
industry" is probably the best paradigm for business in the
information era -- decentralized, efficient, flexible --, one person
with a computer connected to the network can be an industry all by
The absolute worst thing that could ever happen to the development of
the Internet in Africa is if governments decide which projects should
be allowed. Even in the US, which has a considerably higher rate of
technophilia in government than Africa, the Internet grew to this
point because most of the government (excluding specialists like ARPA
and NSF) believed it was principally a military thing. They had
absolutely no clue what it was really about. Nowadays a lot of them
seem to think the main purpose of the Internet is to distribute
pornography. Well, at least they have the good sense to get as much
out of the way as possible, witness the recently passed Telecom Reform
Act, which essentially deregulates more than ever.
Reed Hundt, the chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission,
says that government cannot hope to micro-manage information and
communication technology without paralyzing it. That is the top
government offical in charge of this speaking! The one person in the
whole world who would gain the most power from more telecom regulation
is in favour of deregulation!! Try reading him your paragraph above
... and then run for your life ;)
> > It is an issue of government policy if government money is being used to
> > subsidize it, because then there is the issue of whether the money could not
> > be better spent elsewhere. It is also an issue if the telecom laws stop
> > people going into this business.
> > The immediate lack of benefits for the ordinary person is not a reason to be
> > against the Internet in Africa, or against most new technologies at most
> > times. A few entrepreneurs taking risks can often be a quicker way to get
> > something started than a government plan, with feasibility studies, and the
> > need for certainty, in a world which is rapidly changing and uncertain.
> No one is against the internet in Africa inluding other technologies. No one sug
> gested that internet or IT is not going to benefit the ordinary person.
> The point is WE Africans will decide what we need and what we don't.
> We don't want business amateurs to try out their products in our countries.
Yes we do. We want it and we need it!
I probably sound like a proponent of "capitalisme sauvage", winner
takes all, survival of the fittest, etc. That is not the
case. Government has many important functions to fulfill. Running
Internet access is not one of them. Governments can build the
underlying infrastructure, help in education, but leave the rest to