Oromsis

Ethiopia: 2nd Most Expensive Place to Get a Broadband Connection

You think your broadband fix is expensive? Think again.

I republish the following Excerpt from a class research, completed approximately two years ago (part of it appeared here first), in order to give readers a background on a report by Nazret.com, at the bottom of the page.


By Oromsis Adula

In today’s integrated world, communication plays a huge role in facilitating contacts and improving the flow of information. The technical innovation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has radically transformed the way we interact; making the flow of people, information and trade across borders more feasible.


Researchers agree that the development of ICT has a far-reaching economic, political and cultural impact on world communities. The technological changes in the past centuries offer more reasons to endorse the revolutionizing and homogenizing aspects of technical knowledge. For instance, the technological breakthroughs in steam engine paved a way for industrial revolution and have transformed the world increasing productivity. The invention of telegrams and later on telephones eliminated the forbidding transportation costs; shrinking the wide world into our fingertips. More drastically, the Internet has changed the world for better or worse transcending all national boundaries and making business a click away.

 

Yet the “digital divide” across and within nations remain a challenge to development especially for most countries in the global south or developing regions. Since the turn of the new Millennium; numerous organizations, governmental and non-governmental, global and local donors are aspiring to bridge this gap by investing in the development of ICT in third world countries. For instance, the United Nations ICT task force was setup to “bridge the global digital divide, foster digital opportunity and thus firmly put ICT at the service of development for all”[i] (Akhtar, 2007).

Where is Ethiopia’s ICT Revolution?

Ethiopia is one of the early modern African states to develop telecommunication infrastructure dating back to 1894. There has been a steady growth of Internet service in Ethiopia in recent years. However, usage and development is lagging behind most African nations owing to the repressive nature of Ethiopian government. Perhaps, an overwhelming majority of rural Ethiopia haven’t heard about the phenomenon of Internet to date. Moreover; the civil societies face tremendous challenge to use the Internet to influence policy decision making.

It’s not a coincidence that most of the opposition websites are blocked year-round in Ethiopia, besides alleged monitoring of incoming and outgoing email communications. Donors and international agencies have challenged the Ethiopian regime to privatize the service. Yet their efforts don’t seem to produce results and the reality on the ground doesn’t match the rhetoric.

Since it launched the Internet service in 1997, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) has taken initiatives to reduce Internet tariff and to upgrade the bandwidth using international satellite link. According to a case study by ITU, Ethiopia had upgraded its Internet service from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps in Nov.1998. Currently, it is said that the upgrade from 512 Kbps to 1 MB is in process and the implementation is being carried out with the collaboration of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and provided by France telecom[ii] (ITU, 2000).

According to a similar report by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the upgrading process is intended to reduce the monthly fees making it better affordable, according to the report. With the total of 6,152 Internet subscribers in 2002, several pilot telecenters and cybercafés are being built around the country by agencies like the British Council added the report[iii] (UNECA, 2002).

Internet Strategy and Policy

Ethiopia is a closed economy little affected by globalization. Though there have been rapid improvements in this regard since the downfall of communist regime in 1991, there still remains a lot to be done to be integrated in the global economy powered by Internet. As indicated above, Internet use and access is regulated by state run telecommunication agency.

According to a news report by Cyber Ethiopia (2006), since the contested May 2005 Ethiopian election and with the annihilation of the local free press, the activists in the country have taken turn to air their concerns through Internet. The Ethiopian Diaspora used fresh reports by bloggers based in the capital and other places in the country to expose the mass atrocities. To combat the online activism by opposition and the rights group, the regime had widely invested in implementing surveillance technologies. The report also noted that the Ethiopian government had “pioneered Internet censorship in Africa” with increased devotion of “resources and attention to controlling access to information via the Internet and is implementing surveillance technologies” (CyberEthiopia, 2006).

As a result of the pressure from global media watchdogs like Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),

“the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (the state monopoly and sole Internet Service Provider in the country) seemingly unblocks the access randomly for few hours in an attempt to confuse end-users in Ethiopia by suggesting a technical glitch from the web sites owners rather than censorship from the government”[iv] (2006).

In response to CPJ’s open inquiry letter to Ethiopian Ministry of Information, a government official has denied the reports, hinting that the government knows of an “illegal and unethical media in Ethiopia” according to Cathy Majtenyi for Voice of America news[v].

ITU (2002) also confirm ETC monopoly over Internet, poor infrastructure; limited service and unsatisfied demands are the contemporary challenges of the development of Internet technology aside from the unaffordable subscription fees. The report counsels privatization of Internet provision by ETC and “a clear policy on value added services such as web design, site hosting or cybercafés” would be the necessary steps towards an “open market”[vi].

According to the Ethiopian Information and Communication Technology Development Agency (EICTDA), the government of Ethiopia is carrying out a vigorous campaign to integrate Ethiopia into global market by promoting “ICT-driven socio-economic development process and transform[ing] Ethiopia from an agriculture-based economy and society to a predominantly knowledge- and information-based economy” (p9).

According to the document the key target of Ethiopia’s ICT policy is “to develop Ethiopia into a socially progressive and prosperous nation with a globally competitive, modern, dynamic and robust economy through the development, deployment and exploitation of ICT within the economy and society”[vii] (p9). Although that seems an ambitious plan on part of Ethiopian government, critics dismiss these claims on the account of strict control over Internet which is supposed to be “highly decentralized self-governing, fluid, chaotic, and most importantly ‘access-to-all’ network” [viii] (Kinde, 2007).

One interesting and noteworthy aspect is the growing competition by multinational corporations to invest in ICT technology in Ethiopia. China and India are the top bidders in that respect. China’s growing economic significance in the continent of Africa is viewed from two angles. Those who believe that Chinese presence in the continent had a positive impact on economic growth on one hand and those who view the move as irresponsible “scramble for Africa” [ix](Kinde, Mendes, 2007).


Nazret.com Reports :

A report released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reveals that, Ethiopia has the second most expensive fixed broadband service anywhere in the world. A broadband service taken for granted in much of the developed world would literally cost, an arm, a leg and some in Ethiopia. According to ITU figures, it would cost nearly 21 times the average monthly salary in Ethiopia.

The most expensive place for broadband is Central African Republic. Ethiopia which has recently been ranked as the second poorest country behind Niger has one of the lowest mobile and internet subscribers ratio in the world. According to world internet users, less than 1 percent of Ethiopians use internet.

More than five years has passed since Meles Zenawi promised universal internet access in Ethiopia within three years. The country has a shameful record in almost all ICT indicators.

Read related story from BBC News



[i] Akhtar Badshah, S. K. (2004, May 14). Connected for Development.p10. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from UN ICT Task Force: <http://www.unicttaskforce.org/perl/documents.pl?id=1361>

[ii] ITU. (June 5-9, 2000). Overview of the Intenet in Ethiopia. Retrieved December 17, 2007 from ITU:<http://www.itu.int/africainternet2000/countryreports/eth_e.htm>

[iii] UNECA. (2002). Ethiopia Internet Connectivity. Retrieved December 17, 2007 from UNECA :<http://www.uneca.org/aisi/nici/country_profiles/ethiopia/ethiointer.htm>

[iv] CyberEthiopia. (2006, September ). Internet Repression in Ethiopia. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from CyberEthiopia.com:

<http://www.cyberethiopia.com/net/docs/internet_repression_in_ethiopia.html>

[v] Majtenyi, C. (2006, May 24). Press Group Says Ethiopia Censors Internet. Retrieved December 14, 2007, from VOAnews.com: <http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2006-05/2006-05-24-voa39.cfm?CFID=45875771&CFTOKEN=97116707>

[vi] ITU Strategy and Policy Unit News Update . (2002, April-June). Retrieved December 15, 2007, from ITU: <http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/spunews/2002/apr-jun/apr-junetrends.html>

[vii] EITCDA. (2007). ICT Policy. Retrieved December 17, 2007 from EICTDA:

<http://www.eictda.gov.et/Downloads/Policies/ICT_Policy_English.pdf>

[viii] Kinde, S. (2007, November). Internet in Ethiopia – Is Ethiopia Off-line or Wired to the Rim? Retrieved December 15, 2007, from Ethiopians.com.

<http://www.ethiopians.com/Engineering/Internet_in_EthiopiaNovember2007.htm>

[ix]Mendes, C. (2007, December 6). Europe squeezed by China’s scramble for Africa. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from Mail & Gurdian Online:

<http://www.mg.co.za/articlepage.aspx?area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__africa/&articleid=326981>

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