Print

Print


Greetings Afrik-ITers!
 
Can't decide what to do -- finish up on last week's meeting notes, or
start writing yesterday's notes on the Leland Committee GII meeting.
 
Here's the final bit on last week's meeting...
 
On Tuesday March 26 a workshop was held at USAID headquarters in the
State Department building in Washington, DC USA.  I took a few notes.
These notes are not complete, and represent only what was of interest
to me personally. These are not official notes, and should not be
considered an official record of the proceedings.
 
This will be brief, in the interests of timely dissemination:
 
In the session on Liberalization and Regulation -- An Enabling Policy
Environment, Nancy Eskenazi said that competition lowers costs,
reduces the need for subsidies, and improves access.  She cited the
example of a telephone call to Chile that has dropped form $2 a
minute to just $0.20 a minute today.  Nancy is a Telecommunications
Policy Specialist with the National Telecommunications and
Information Administration in the US Department of Commerce.
 
On the same panel, Ed Malloy asks what choice do we have?
Developing countries really have to liberalize their communications
industries so as to take advantage of the very best technologies
available.  Ed is the Director of the Office of Communications and
Information Policy in the US Department of State.  He notes that the
USA will be participating in a May conference in South Africa to
discuss some of these issues.  [This sounds like the conference
Suzanne Drouilhit tells me will be 13-15 May - Info Society and
Development (ISAD), sponsored by the G7 group of countries, Midrand,
RSA, but I'm not sure about that.]
 
We broke for lunch.  Special guests were invited to the Foreign
Service Club.  I think they had chicken kebabs.  I brought a peanut
butter sandwich and a banana from home, so I walked two blocks to a
bench near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Washington Mall,
by the reflecting pool.  I was attacked by wild squirrels that
insisted I share my banana.  Then sea gulls spotted me.  Some
tourists from Sweden took my picture with a sea gull on my shoulder.
I hope the VIPs had as much fun in the Foreign Service Club... ;*)
 
In the afternoon session, New Partners: Telecommunications Industry,
Ambassador Michael Garner spoke first.  The Foreign Service Club
people were late coming back, so Michael just stood up, introduced
himself, and started speaking.  He is the Chariman of the US
Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI) and he spoke about the
Institute's course offerings.  The USTTI allows service providers,
technicians, and others from around the world participate in
trainings run by leading USA technology firms (like Motorola) and
NGOs (like VITA), with scholarships provided to some by the US
Information Agency.
 
James Johnson is the Coordinator for the G-7 SME Pilot Project.  I
confess I don't know what "SME" is.  James observed that the
"problem" around the world is 30% technical, 30% legal, and 40%
cultural.  What is our strategy?  How can we avoid dictating what
countries must do, while still helping them solve their problems?
At the upcoming meeting in South Africa, we shouldn't send a
delegation of CEOs from big companies like IBM.  Rather, they'll
need Americans with experience in developing countries to look at
things like healthcare and schools.
 
Theresa O'Connor is Manager, Global Telecom, Motorola.  She poked fun
at the workshop title, "Getting Wired".  Motorola is working toward a
wireless world.  The problems: inadequate spectrum, equipment
certification standards, corruption, an uneducated and untrained work
force, high tariffs.
 
Questions were entertained from the floor.  Chuck Lankester of the
UNDP Sustainable Development Network Program rose.  He said that the
percentages associated with the problem are more like 15% technical,
15% legal, and 70% cultural.  Information is power, he said.  The
deliberate sharing of information is threatening to those who have
achieved their position by withholding information.
 
In the final session of the day, with about 50% fewer people in the
audience, Carlos Braga chaired a panel on New Initiatives from
Multilateral Organizations.  He says the evolution of communications
in the world is much like the Niagara Falls waterfall (located
between New York State in the USA and Ontario in Canada, a very
pretty place, but not as nice as Victoria Falls, or so I'm told).
Carlos said it is calm above and calm below the falls.  But the
transition from one to the other is a !@#$%!  He spoke a bit about
InfoDev, a multilateral project with about $4.4 million available.
They have received 133 requests, totaling about $33 million.  39% of
these requests are for pilot projects.  29% are for "consensus
building and awareness". 26% are for infrastructure.  6% are for
telecoms restructuring. Looked at another way, 14% are from NGOs,
26% from academic institutions, and 23% from the private sector.
 
5 InfoDev proposals have been approved.  $145,000 for the ITU
colloquium on regulatory environment to help regulators from
developing countries to attend.  $250,000 has been added to a total
pot of $410,000 for an environmental database project in China.
$250,000 from InfoDev has been added to a total pot of $625,000
(funds also coming from South Africa Telekom and the Ford
Foundation) for an education project in South Africa.  $250,000 has
been added to a total pot of $1 million for the World Bank's African
Virtual University, [partly?] to help do a business plan.
 
Eugene Boostrum is a Senior Health Specialist in the Africa Bureau of
the World Bank.  He noted that one topic of discussion within the
Africa Internet Forum (AIF) is the matter of private networks
maintained by donors.  Can these be shared among USAID, the World
Bank, etc?  Sometimes the Bank provides access to its private net to
its partners, but this can be a trap -- it reduces the incentive of
the Bank to then provide independent access to the Internet.
 
[Just as an aside for those that do not know about the AIF, here's a
bit from one of their Web pages:
http://www.undp.org/sdnp/aif/policy.html
 
Objective of the AIF
 
Global networks such as the Internet are here to stay. These
high-speed inter-connected networks are fundamental to business,
research, education, health and other sectors. The goal of the Africa
Internet Forum (AIF) is to ensure strategic collaborations among
independent donors in the development of sustainable Internet
communications infrastructure through information sharing, focussed
project implementations, and support to efforts already underway by
indigenous providers of Internet services.]
 
Neal Brady spoke next.  He's an Investment Officer for the
International Finance Corporation (IFC), which I believe is one of
the agencies within the World Bank Group.  He observed that the IFC
has helped to finance cellular phone installations in Zaire and
Uganda.
 
Finally there was Andre Carvalho, Project Manager for the
Decentralization Project, Office of Evaluation and Strategic
Planning, the United Nations Development Program.  He noted that the
UNDP may be something of a culprit -- it has helped many countries in
Africa establish the various PTT bureaucracies that some are now
identifying as impediments to improved access to the Internet.
 
Andre turned the floor over to Chuck Lankester, who was not on the
program agenda.  Chuck listed numerous "lessons learned" from the
SDNP:
 
1. Working with 110 governments, almost all have accepted the
principle of open transparent access to information.
 
2. Demand for information is insatiable.
 
3. Few users will pay for information at the outset.  They must be
taken to water.  Predict 18 to 24 months before newly introduced
country networks become self-sustaining.
 
4. Regional endeavors have not worked.
 
5. Effective use of a steering committee is essential, involving the
private sector, PVOs, government, the media, and academia.  [I may
have missed items in this list... Chuck talks very fast...]
 
6. We should be careful about using international consultants.  Local
consultants are available.
 
7. The Internet is the god we want to pray before, but in some
countries Fidonet (e.g. in Africa) is still quite appropriate.
 
8. PTTs are a major impediment, lacking capital and expertise.  In
February, a PTT in one country boycotted negotiations and asked the
SDNP to explain the technology to them.
 
9. The greatest challenge is training people how to use information.
 
10. Cultural and ethical issues, especially pornography and seditious
databases, cause governments to hesitate.
 
11. Chuck was distressed by the soft encouragement given to USAID
staff to make use of information technologies.  They MUST use these
technologies.
 
12. USA-based organizations should involve themselves more in
multilateral efforts.
 
13. Chuck said he is "horrified" by private networks, e.g. USAID,
UNDP, the World Bank.  Little of what we send over these networks is
confidential.  We could easily encrypt our messages and send them
over national networks, thereby supporting national network
development.
 
[After Chuck, there were a few closing comments.  This concluded the
program.]
 
It was about 5:30pm.  A few stragglers chatted in groups.  I
wandered through the halls of the State Department until I finally
found an exit, then hopped on my bicycle and headed north on 23rd
Street.  Once again I was not hit by a taxi, maintaining my perfect
record.
 
[My notes are scanty, and I would appreciate any corrections or
additions from anyone else who was in attendance.  Apologies in
advance if I've inadvertantly misrepresented anyone's statements.
These are paraphrases, not quotations, unless specifically marked.]
 
Jeff @ Washington, DC USA
 
AfricaLink -- http://www.info.usaid.gov/alnk
Tel 1-703-235-5415
Fax 1-703-235-3805