>MALAWI: Internet controversy
>Blantyre, June 18, 1997 (Anthony Livuza/AIA) -- The Malawi Posts
>and Telecommunications Authority (MPTC) has claimed a monopoly
>on Internet services, which are due to commence this month under
>Internet Services Limited, a joint venture company between the
>local corporation and America's JVC International.
>After turning down several applications from private concerns
>willing to provide world wide web services, MPTC's chief
>executive, Steve Mijiga, says a single service provider will cut
>costs for the limited Malawian market.
>He told delegates attending an Internet introductory seminar: "We
>are trying to help consumers save money, which would not be
>possible if we have a fragmented service market." His contention
>is that the private applicants would have been working on visa
>terminals "with their accompanying high costs". This would entail
>a severe drain on Malawi's foreign exchange as consumers would
>have to pay Internet hosts in hard cash through credit cards.
>Internet Services Limited, he says, will bill users in the local
>currency, the Kwacha.
>The announcement of the Internet service has surprised many who
>had given it up when bureaucratic gridlock threatened to stall
>the expansion of Malawi's online services, months after the
>baseline technology was laid.
>The protracted negotiations seem to have borne fruit as Malawi
>will now be directly connected to the American IBM global network
>through a fibre optic satellite link, bypassing other congested
>terrestrial connections in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
>Mijiga says the MPTC will pay for the circuit lease to the United
>States of America. A plethora of technology, including a Packet
>Switched Data Network and an International Transit Facility,
>will, he says, reduce the unit cost of leasing the American
>circuit through digital compression.
>"The system will initially support some 2,000 users with 100
>users able to 'dial' into it simultaneously. Our major concern
>is to reduce the costs at all stages. That is why we feel
>competition will fragment the market," says Mijiga.
>But University of Malawi lecturer, Paulos Nyirenda, dismisses the
>argument saying the MPTC, which has a 38 percent stake in
>Internet Services Limited, wants to maintain a monopoly and keep
>service rates high.
>"When you look at the MPTC you have a problem. They have
>maintained a monopoly on cellphones and the cost is prohibitive.
>The cost of the Internet services will also lie outside the
>bracket of ordinary Malawians," says Nyirenda, himself one of the
>first to fruitlessly apply for an Internet service provision
>Nyirenda's project was supported by the United Nations
>Development Programme and would have made available Internet
>services to all secondary and tertiary institutions in the major
>cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu. Nyirenda thinks
>it ironical that his US$400,000 project had official support,
>while the Government sought to block local experts through its
>parastatal, the MPTC.
>The MPTC has opted to approach the issue the other way -- from
>top to bottom. Apart from individuals, Internet might be
>available in university and professional bodies' libraries at
>Mijiga says it would be dangerous to raise expectations but
>Internet Services Limited would ask donors to fund Internet
>connections to secondary and even primary schools. He cannot say
>when this might happen.
>"We will help, but ideally it must be the Ministry of Education
>which must work with donors," he says.
>Project overseer Bob Evans of America's Media City World Inc.,
>says Malawi's Internet service provider will put aside software
>limiting access to pornographic material by students and other
>minors if Government policy stipulates this is required.
>Confidential sources indicate some bureaucrats are unnerved by
>the prospect of uncontrolled, grassroots communications and want
>access bound by some regulatory framework. These want to tailor
>Internet access content in line with "acceptable norms." (Africa
>ENDS (604 words)
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