Far far behind the digital divide..

Countries across the world are thinking big when it comes to their visions for future. In the EU and US a collective recognition that they are still using the same basic design Edison crafted as his bulb got them thinking and at last they are going to ban the bulb. The incandescent bulb that is. Beyond 2015 such bulbs as we use in our lamps will be collectors item. In the fast paced Singapore they have become absolutely fed up with everything low tech and they have decided to do something about it. They are going high tech and going about it big. From day to day electronic items to invisible public infrastructure devices, everything is going to be connected, networked and integrated with high tech and thinking machine capabilities. Just a few days back analog TV signals were switched off for good across the United States after 6 decades of continuous duty replaced by smoother, higher definition digital technology which does the same, only much better. The same process has been going on in the UK albeit slower paced giving ample time for people to do the final switch over in 2012. Here in the Maldives we also have an ambitious plan. Recently our president Mr. Nasheed announced to the world that Maldives will be the first carbon neutral country in the world. The time frame is 10 years and hopefully by the end of 10 years we shall have been able to swith over from diesel generators to other renewable sources of energy. And we are not speculating about the future.

Coming back to the present we have the small matter of digitally haves and have nots. Here in the resorts of Maldives we (the staff) certainly are have nots when it comes to mobile phone coverage, acceptable phone tariffs, availability of Internet and of course the speed of data transfer. The problem of course is the exorbitant fees the service provider charges on resort managements and the lack of competition in the area of telecommunications. Up until very recently everything that is telecom is monopolized by Dhiraagu which had in its board members, government (former) appointed ministers and enjoyed cozy opaque relationship with the regime. The same is true to a certain extent still and the monopoly is stifling development in the sector. Enter Wataniyya in 2006 in a wholly transparent manner to the market and yet the market seems not to budge. Wataniyya is at a disadvantage when it comes to installation of telephone towers in resort islands to improve mobile coverage as resort owners and operators do not wish to have more than one telephone tower in their resorts and Dhiraagu (which has about 80 towers in the islands including resort islands) refuses to share antennas with Wataniyya thereby weakening their position. Part of the problem being the government body which has authority on these issues is toothless and is not independent. As for the Internet most resorts (which are very few..) which provides Internet services free for staff (Such as wifi) do so mostly in an off-handed absent-minded manner. Most of the time such a benovelence is an afterthought rather than acknowledgment of a legitimate need. Money of course is the problem as Dhiraagu charges exorbitant fees for data transfer in resorts as there are no other parties are allowed in Maldives to operate as service providers. Focus info com which operates in Male and pretends to operate in other islands has to buy their capacity from either Dhiraagu or MediaNet (a local cable TV company which has a fiber optic ring one of the two in the Maldives… the other of course belongs to Dhiraagu).
The solutions we propose are:
The government has to come upon Dhiraagu hard on anti competitive behavior.
The telecom authority has to grow their own set of teeth.
Public awareness has to be increased on the issue of Dhiraagu overbearing attitude towards this sector especially as our current government seems to be very fond of privatization.
The members of parliament shall table a bill requiring all Internet service providers of the country to dispense wifi free Internet in schools, hospitals and public institutions like libraries mosques etc…
Resort owners and operators has to come to an understanding that keeping their staff behind the digital divide will bring them no laurels.