Essays of Abi Bilesanmi



NITEL: The hard sell
Abi Bilesanmi

The liberalization of telecommunications has been a key component of the socio-economic agenda in developed and developing economies over the last 25 years instigated by the dominant free market Thatcherite/Reaganomics ideology of the 1980s which not only precipitated the privatisation of state controlled industries but was accentuated by the proliferation of mobile phone technology and ownership which has challenged the impact and the role of state-owned and controlled telecoms operators – which was particularly the case in developing economies.

The critical element in the development of the Nigerian telecommunications infrastructure and the death knell for NITEL has been the explosive growth of mobile, which has benefited from a compelling technology and an increasingly liberal policy environment that has challenged the NITEL’s existence and purpose. At its pomp, NITEL served the few and telephony was a luxury but in a today’s world where prevalent and common sight we observe is of street vendors, rickshaw pullers and newspaper hawkers routinely talking on their mobile phones, it has lost its raison detre.

In the on-going saga of the failure of the sale of NITEL, lies the paradox of liberalisation. Contemporary thinking point at faulty process and poor due diligence which, in my own opinion have contributed but by no means have solely been responsible for the failure of the Federal Government to sell the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited.

We need to understand the fundamental principle that a sale is a compromise between a buyer and a seller and inherent in the worth of anything is how much anyone is willing to pay for it. Of course there is room for negotiation but that is dependent on the strength of one’s negotiating hand. Sentimental claims of NITEL once considered a prime asset, is a limp wrist rather than a strong hand.
Adhering to a liberalisation agenda, the central question does NITEL at point of sale , either in terms of its infrastructure and assets or indeed as a functioning on-going concern meet the valuation placed on it by those, who for all intent and purposes, are not as objective as the market?

Paradoxically the reason why NiTEL should be sold is exactly why the process is proving difficult. This catalogue which include: the need for a deregulated and competitive market structure; private ownership with strong foreign investment; a reduced role for government; cost-reflective prices; and universal service policies to deal with market failure as a remedy for the ills of incumbent and inefficient monopoly with dilapidated infrastructure and riddled with corruption as epitomised NITEL are the same reasons why its valuation is contentious.

Regardless of the merits of liberalisation i.e. the introduction of competition serves the public interest by inducing suppliers to become more efficient and to offer greater choice of products and services at lower prices, it is the very nature of such liberalisation that NiTEL has to be sold but the combination that buyers are forever looking for a basement bargain, that in an economy like Nigeria’s, the entrepreneurial class capable of purchasing NiTEL is very small and the fact that NiTEL was a basket case all have a significant bearing on the chasm between its valuation and what prospective buyers are willing or indeed able to pay.

This piece is not suggesting that the sale should not go ahead nor does it deprecate the frustration that stems from how long the process is taking. It simply highlights the fact the cause and the effects of the hard sell of NiTEL are exactly the same. It may well drag on much longer as seller and buyer become more entrenched in their positions and play hard ball.

As the National Council on Privatisation, approves the negotiated sale strategy for the privatisation of NITEL, and of course with this approval, the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, would yet again begins a new process for the sale of the ‘premier national carrier’  after several failed attempts, it is a case of ‘here we go again’. Don’t hold your breath.

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Are convergence and regulation mutually exclusive?

 Abi Bilesanmi

Back in June last year, the lead paper at the WiMax Forum in Lagos delivered by Professor Raymond Akwule entitled ‘Regulatory and Policy Imperatives of Emerging Last Mile Technologies’ clearly established that with the digitilisation of content, the emergence of IP, and the adoption of high speed broadband by end users have been a catalyst for the convergence of networks, services and devices which have remarkably transformed the market with the fusion of triple and sometimes quadruple offers providing data, televisual, fixed and mobile services.

The trend towards the convergence of the broadcasting and telecom sectors is widely acknowledged but not without the thorny issue of the regulatory consequences with regard to telecom and broadcasting networks, services and operators, including the new emerging markets such as broadcasting to mobile devices, broadcasting over the Internet, over broadband networks, and the like which remains to be assessed, fully understood and tackled.

With Prof Akwule’s assertion that ‘we live in a converging world but our regulatory institutions are very un-converged’ and exemplified by the ensuing debate at the Forum about the proposed merger between the Nigerian Communications Communication (NCC) and the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), where industry players all agreed on the need to accomplish convergence to streamline the allocation of broadcast and telecommunications frequency spectrum, there is a school of thought that suggests the reality of that  bottlenecks may arise because of convergence that might result in the appearance of new monopolies that restrict access to certain resources, such as networks, spectrum and content, might have been oversimplified or completely ignored. Regulation to guarantee fair competition and access to scarce resources will need to be addressed, focusing upon the regulatory approaches that are being applied or considered. In this context Professor Akwule said the prevailing regulatory framework has done reasonably well in achieving its socio-economic objectives of ensuring effectively competitive markets, investment as well as improved access and quality of service.

To alter this regulatory system that has served the industry well thus far to accommodate the impending converging phenomenon, the questions for consideration and focus for stakeholders need to address and focus upon are:
 Should all service providers be subject to the same regulation?  

Who has access to the necessary resources?
How should access to networks or spectrum be provided and regulated?
Who shall be authorised or licensed?  
Who can access, develop and deliver content?
Who is entitled to distribute self-generated content? and
What sort of competition should be encouraged and guaranteed in order to access content?

Answers are not easy to come by. In contemporary debates, analysts are saying that today’s convergence frenzy is couched in mass hysteria in the telecom sector and some realism needs to be injected into the debate. They argue that by solely concentrate marketing and operations based upon a so-called multi-utilities concept, convergence is now seen, however, in joint offers of integrated communication services that bundle fixed telephony and broadband access to the Internet for a double-play package, the addition of audio-visual content for triple play and, finally, the inclusion of mobile services to create a quadruple-play bundle.

It is still difficult to say how these will contribute to the growth of individual operators and the impact it will have on the growth of the industry and the economy. This piece is by no means anti-convergence which is inevitable, its simply saying things are not as simple as they seem and we need to exercise caution so as not to throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to be cognisant of the fact that  if these services are to succeed, the government, the industry and the regulatory institutions in particular, need to adopt a long-term strategy that fosters and facilitates the dissemination of convergent services; to understand that convergence is reliant on the urgency  to build update and modernise the telecom infrastructures - especially the broadband networks and convergence needs to at least tolerate practical , administrative  and operational boundaries.

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Broadband in 2011: Show us the way to go
Abi Bilesanmi

As services move online, more changes are afoot in terms of the provision and access to digital services in 2011.

Last year was an eventful one for most service oriented organisations from government departments to businesses who saw in increase in the proportion of their services that became available online and consequently more customers interaction. This trend is set to continue in 2011 as more of these organisations will be providing more of their services online to help them deliver better, more efficient customer service and more of their customers digitally aware and are encouraged to use them more.

Where we will most benefit from the proliferation of broadband is via mobile. For most of the latter half of the last decade, analysts in emerging communications, media and technology markets, have been saying Africa and the Middle East will lead the world in terms of mobile broadband through 2012. They expect mobile broadband adoption in Africa and the Middle East to grow faster than the global average over the next five years and with the launch of 3G services in much of the region means that its internet market should experience transformation on a scale comparable to the advent of mobile communications famously and dramatically transformed AME's voice telecommunications sector.

In relation to our market potential, we should be a hotbed of mobile broadband activity but structural problems of inadequate fixed infrastructure and insufficient competition in the market which has made internet services either unavailable, unaffordable or both, we are not. Our people remain "starved" of internet access, even though they will double their share of global mobile data revenue by 2014. It is a clear indication that broadband access is not a hard sell and the public have already bought the idea and principle. It is now up to the government and business, with the support of a dynamic industry, to ‘give the people what they want’

Technology is undoubtedly positioned at the forefront of most of what we do in various capacities. It will redefine the way services are delivered and accessed and our government needs to wake up to this reality and put measures in place to effect the change that is inevitably on its way and focus on the provision of broadband infrastructure and access not some accessory but rather as long-term strategic priority to inform and educate our people as well grow our economy
It can be done

Despite political volatility, across the Middle East region, telecoms infrastructures are expanding and modernising. Most fixed-line incumbents remain majority government-owned but greater liberalisation and competition are impacting the market in a positive manner. Identifying the critical role of telecommunications in economic development, governments are making significant investments. More technologically diverse services are becoming available to businesses and consumers alike and private companies are taking the lead in the provision of services such as Internet access and mobile telephony. Internet usage, broadband penetration, services and access technologies such as WiFi, WiMAX and satellite Internet) are on the rise across the region making it a hot house of development for key broadband technologies. The mobile market continues to boom, with the Gulf countries having some of the highest penetration rates in the world. 3G, HSPA and mobile TV services are growing.

This is what we need to emulate. The industry has shown its willingness to grasp the nettle. The Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria in its outlook for 2011 has nailed its colours to the mast. Where they lead, we must inevitably follow

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Comparing ‘like with like’?
Abi Bilesanmi
‘Over the last 10 to 12 years, the mobile communications market has been booming. Before 1998 public debt crisis, mobile phone ownership was a privilege of affluent consumers; today the number of registered SIM cards greatly exceeds ……... This is not so surprising. Mobile phones are used even by pre-schoolers and grannies who no longer need to walk all the way downstairs for a chat with a neighbour.’

The above statement very much fits the description of the development in telecommunications particularly mobile telephony in Nigeria over the last 10 years. But in fact the above is about Russian telecommunications. This piece is intended to provide a comparative analysis of the development in telecommunications in Nigeria and Russia by focusing on, its history, user demographics and the policy choices of each country. Using Russia as a template because it is comparable on a number of levels, it will be necessary for the Nigerian government and telecoms industry to continue to provide users with the appropriate tools to allow them to understand the importance of ICT and telecoms, the context in which their information exists and to enable them to select appropriate levels of information sharing as well as enact appropriate protections upon their information is used to bring about empowerment and
self-determination that is meaningful to its populace.

In both countries like anywhere else on the globe, new applications and diversified holding companies are the key future trends in telecoms as mobile technology enters a new experimental phase. While we can readily celebrate the development in ICT particularly mobile telephony in Nigeria, development in Russia clearly indicates that we still have a bit to go.

Like Nigeria with a population of approximately 150 million, Russia has a population of approximately 143 million. The dominant player in Nigeria's mobile telecommunications industry is the South African company, MTN, with 43 percent market share with other major competitors Globalcom Nigeria and Zain. In the market is dominated by MTS which serves 33pc of Russian subscribers. The other members of the "Big Three" group of cellular operators include Beeline (VimpelCom) and MegaFon – each with a market share of 24pc.

In both countries major trends that underlie telecom development are liberalization of the long-distance telecom market and introduction of new operator interconnection regulations mobile-sector penetration and value-added services (VAS)-sector growth. Both are anticipating increased competition in the long-distance market segment where fixed-line operators will further diversify their services, particularly among broadband and convergent services with other leading market sectors including are digital subscriber line technology, Internet protocol television (IPTV) solutions, next-generation network equipment, and passive optical network technology. The mobile sector will feature increasing competition for subscriber loyalty, offering heavy VAS content (mobile television and interactive games) as operators deploy 3G networks. Cable television, broadcasting, and satellite operators will enrich content and expand their offerings to subscribers.

Despite similarity in population and comparable ambition, the reality is that on Russians have about 209.1 million SIM cards, mobile market penetration has reached 147.3pc in Russia compared to Nigeria’s 78.1million. The difference can be put down to the prevailing expansion of 4G and broadband internet access in the Russian telecoms market. Russian mobile operators are coming up with increasingly comprehensive service packages and are now about to roll out their fourth-generation project with faster data transmission. In 2009, MTS expanded its broadband customer base by 39.8pc over the 2008 level to a total of 1.3 million subscribers. Another prominent trend is consolidation of mobile companies seeking to maximise their service offerings. In order to gain a stronger foothold in the long-range communications and broadband market, MegaFon plans to acquire a 100pc stake in Sinterra, a national fixed-line operator. In Nigeria an inability to sell NITEL at a reasonable price to a reasonable suitor still poses a huge problem.

Broadband penetration in Russia currently at 6 or 7pc though lacking in comparison to 15pc in Hungary and Poland and 30pc in Europe, still far exceeds Nigeria indicates vast potential for the market in both countries. An analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Mobile Broadband in Central and Eastern Europe, notes that the market generated revenues of €1.1b in 2009 and forecasts that revenues will reach €5.2b in 2014, with Russia accounting for 50pc of that growth.

However, everything may soon change on the Russian telecommunications market. Moscow and other major cities are actively developing wireless WiMAX networks, and two companies are already offering 4G internet access in the Russian capital, including Comstar-OTS. Nigeria, it appears, is following suit.

All in all in both countries, though enveloped by socio-economic problems of endemic corruption, organised crime poor human right records, the telecommunications sector stepped into 2010 in good shape after having sorted out various domestic socio-economic issues and ridden the problems inflicted by the global economic downturn. The good news is that this positive trend is likely to continue. 

There is a tendency when looking at a city like Lagos or Jarkata from one’s seat on the plane to have a mixture of emotions – apprehension about the unknown and excitement about the unpredictable. Both cities are heavily populated sizeable urban sprawls. Both cities are the respective commercial capitals of Nigeria and Indonesia and therefore a good barometer in assessing both countries.

As Nigeria approaches its 50th anniversary of its independence, now is probably as a good a time to make a comparative analysis. Back in 1975, the World Bank in its global development plan had grouped Nigeria as an emerging oil producing nation with Indonesia and other tiger economies of the far East like South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. So how well have we done in comparison to a country like Indonesia?

Why Indonesia? you may ask, the answer is: because they are comparable. Both are the giants of their region, with a population of hundred of millions of people (Nigeria’s 154 to Indonesia’s 204). Both were formed as one nation by Europeans around 1900. Both were governed by the colonial system of "indirect rule". Both once made money from palm oil, and later discovered oil and gas. 50 years ago, the standards of living in the two countries were comparable on most measures. And since independence, both have suffered three decades of military misrule and corruption. Their first coups were launched within months of each other - in September 1965 in Indonesia and in January 1966 in Nigeria - and their military regimes died within 12 months, in May 1998 and 1999.

But in reality from all socio-economic indicators, the two countries can not be more different. In 1960, Nigeria and Indonesia produced more than three quarters of the world's palm oil, since the discovery of oil and gas in both countries, Indonesia is now the worlds leading producer with more than half the world’s of palm oil, while Nigeria now only produces just 7%. The impact is that Gross national income, per capita of Indonesia is almost twice Nigeria’s $2,010 and $1,160 respectively; as is Gross Domestic Product $510.73 billion and $207.12 billion respectively; adult literacy in Indonesia stands at 92%, 20 points better than Nigeria.

In 1967 when Indonesia's second president, Haji Muhammad Suharto, took power and just about when war broke out in Nigeria, the number of people living in poverty was about the same in both countries - around six out of ten. Three decades later, it had fallen from six to two in Indonesia while sadly in Nigeria it had risen from six to seven. Since 1960, in Indonesia the life expectancy of a child at birth had risen from 45 to 70 years. Over the last 50years life expectancy of the same child remains stuck just above 45; today it is around 47.
Certainly, Indonesia has had many troubles not least the bloody secession of East Timor and Aceh very early on this century but today, for all its problems past, Indonesia is holding elections that the world applauds, while Nigeria's last elections, in 2007, were heralded as riddled with election malpractices and one of the worst held in Africa that year.
They are just as comparable on telecommunications. Like Nigeria, until 1989, the Indonesian government had a monopoly in the telecoms sector. In 2000, policies governing the telecoms sector were amended in order to create a competitive environment for the entry of new telecom players. Internet services were first introduced commercially in Indonesia in 1994. Before 1994, Internet access was only available to a few universities and research institutes through ‘IptekNet’, the National Science and Technology Network.
On the fronts where we have made considerable progress such as mobile telephone penetration with the number of subscription in excess of 70million, the mobile market in Indonesia has grown even more rapidly over the past decade Indonesia is by far regarded as the most profitable mobile market in East Asia with the highest mobile subscriber growth in the region. In fact, the country is the 3rd largest and most vibrant market in Asia with over 150million subscribers and projecting that growth in the number of broadband subscribers in Indonesia will increase by 24% in 2010, which will also enable reasonable revenue growth for digital content providers. While Nigeria suffered a slowdown in 2009 incorrectly attributed to the global downturn, it was a breakout year in Indonesia for broadband services, and Netbook PC's are seeing signifcant growth as is the Indonesian online gaming market
As Nigeria turns 50, Indonesia lies almost 50 places above Nigeria on the United Nation's Human Development Index. It is not to say that it is all bad but it sure is far from all good. A comparative analysis simply tells us where we are in comparison to where we need to be. After all a fool at 50 who takes no notice of their contemporaries likely to be a fool forever.

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The calm before storm
Abi Bilesanmi
It will appear that for reasons of pragmatism or an unwillingness to stir the hornet’s nest by players in the Nigerian telecoms industry, the palpable aura of impending crisis is still manifesting itself as mere discontent – for the time being. But look not too many layers down and there is clear, even if not abundantly, that there are issues that are creating a ‘pressure cooker’ situation within the industry - pushing the bounds of what the industry might be willing to put up with - inevitably confrontation will ensue.
It will not be an unreasonable point to make that with this piece, safe and far away in the UK, I am poking a rattle snake with a long stick, but before you make that judgments, please step back and examine the facts and if you come to same conclusion, I hope you accept it as a misinterpretation.
The first of these issues is one of attitude - the wrong one to be precise. In the context of the industry and as demonstrated by the Minister’s ‘face-off’ with telecoms operators in Abuja last week, the government can ill-afford to adopt an unmoving position of consciousness – a.k.a the wrong attitude - in its relationship. To fully utilise the residual human capital and goodwill the industry has to offer, it must take all manner of different positions in relationship to all sorts of concepts, ideas, thoughtforms, thoughtfields and data. Changing one’s vantage point or attitude on anything is bound to change your mind - you will get a whole new set of data, information and perspectives to work on and with. A shift in, for example the Honourable Minister’s attitude to a more conciliatory (from confrontational) will engender a culture of better co-operation and access to more and better information. And the more information it has, the more functional, in a very practical sense, policies become.
The issue of the wrong attitude is within the gift of the government or the minister to address and which they or she can choose not to exercise. However what is not within their remit, as here-today-gone-tomorrow participant/players in the industry is to foist anyone on the industry that its stewards deem incapable, not qualified or both to lead it. These temporary custodians would do well to recognise that the industry, while appreciative of the government support, has largely achieved what it has in spite of rather than because of, such support. The government and the Honourable Minister should be appreciative of the fact that the industry, amidst governments less-than exemplary leadership on Telecoms (it made NITEL a basket case that it can not sell or the 2.3GHz debacle are a few that spring to mind), corrupt and skirmishing politicians and woeful infrastructure, is the institution that is worth shouting about. If, through political machinations and chicanery, the political class thinks it can impede or indeed imperil the progress that the industry has made thus far, then the least it can expect is that those who have toiled to make it what it is today to put up a good fight and they can also expect that those of us who write about this great industry will nail our colours to their mast. 
In conclusion, the supreme function of stewardship is to provide against preventable ills. In seeking to do so, stewards of the industry will encounter obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. One is that by the very order of things such ills are not demonstrable until they have occurred; also at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. The stewards of the industry need to understand that they can be ambushed the perpetrators who will use the age-old argument that what is coming is miniscule in comparison with current troubles in order to attract as little attention as possible because it is in their nature to concern themselves with the immediate present at the expense of the future.  
Above all, people are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles and even for desiring troubles. Pragmatism or otherwise, this is the calm before the storm

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Convergence Misunderstood
Abi Bilesanmi
In common parlance we can found the true meaning of convergence in the reciprocal relationship between one or more entities. It denotes a synthesis where the sum total is bigger and infinitely larger than of its constituent parts. The bones of convergence its policy imperatives and implication was the theme of the lead paper at the WiMAX2010 forum delivered by the President Digital Bridge Institute,  Professor Raymond Akwule entitled ‘Regulatory and Policy Imperatives of Emerging Last Mile Technologies in the Era of Convergence: WiMax and NGNs’
What this captivating and enlightening paper reveals is that our policy makers have misinterpreted the meaning and spirit of convergence in ICT. They, in their own inimitable style, have used it as a buzzword to stir up the ICT landscape as exemplified by the proposed unification of the functions of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC – something that attracted reaction and controversy at the  Forum industry players vented their spleen on the notion that the planned unification was imperative to fast-track the convergence of Nigeria’s ICT industry under one umbrella.
The proposed merger action may seem rational and a natural response given Professor Akwule’s assertions that ‘Convergence is the new trend in the global ICT industry’ and that ‘we live in a converging world but our regulatory institutions are very un-converged.’ Some argue that the proposed merger is something whose time has come as a result of converging of telecoms, broadcasting and computing technologies. However there have been incongruous voices over the merger, this included, that interpret the proposed merger to be a misinterpretation of both the letter aqnd spirit of convergence.
Firstly while it is the case that convergence refers to fixed-mobile telephone digital content, networks, services and devices and the implication that all data, voice and video services will finally converge in an IP-based Next Generation Network, it will fall to a regulator (and a strong one at that), to coalesce and regulate network operators who will have to position themselves in other areas of the value chain and provide services in a more integrated way, if they want to remain profitable.
 Consumers in this advanced information society will subscribe to several independent ICT services: fixed telephone, mobile telephone, Internet access and services, as well as  cable TV most which may be provided by different provider companies, or get some services in a bundle. It begs the questions,  who will regulate the newly emerging industry where providers are providing a multitude of services? How independent can the newly formed NBC/NCC organisation objectively and independently regulate cable TV companies that provide a package including Internet access and service, or some fixed network operators provide a fixed-mobile converged service? There is also the issue of which is the senior organisation in the coalition and all the egos that goes with that . Is NBC merging with NCC or vice-versa?
Discounting that this proposed merger is functionally bereft, there are no guarantees that the golden rules of any successful merger - due diligence, continuity, proper transition and synergy will be adhered to. What convergence is and what the nation needs as articulated by Engr. Titi Omo-Etu, CEO of Telecoms Answers Associates addressing the forum, is not convergence of bureaucrats and bureaucracies of NCC and NBC but convergence of their operational technologies under the auspices of a robust regulator
Prof Akwule’s paper upheld the effort and conduct of the regulator – the NCC – as one which, through the frenetic pace of the last decade, has been professional and exemplary. It has overseen light touch rather than easy touch regulation willing to show its teeth but not intervening for the sake of it also vast improvement on the more prescriptive style of regulation
Convergence is happening. The effects will strongly influence the businesses of the involved players. It has the power to make companies either vanish from the market or blossom, if they play the convergence game right. But for that to happen the industry need a regulator that will listen hard and will champion the empowerment of industry stakeholders by being flexible and light-touch, transparent, protect investment, proportionate and clear.
It can not effectively do that if it merged with a player. It is a bit like having one’s accountant as an auditor

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Google Vs Facebook:
It’s like the Rumble in the Jungle All Over Again

Abi Bilesanmi

An eminent American once said: 
‘You’re in the midst of a war: a battle between the limits of a crowd seeking the surrender of your dreams, and the power of your true vision to create and contribute. It is a fight between those who will tell you what you cannot do and that part of you that knows/and has always known/ that we are more than our environment; and that a dream, backed by an unrelenting will to attain it, is truly reality with an imminent arrival’ 
Indeed. How apt. 
In case you had not notice there is a battle of epic proportions going on out there. And before you say anything it is not the customary struggle between unequally matched sides which usually end with heavy casualties. This is like a heavy weight championship of the world bout

We are going to write about it anyway for two reasons. Primarily  because it has the industry salivating on who will win what looks like a perpetual battle between two giants of technology and secondly we need to chronicle events like this which are often known but little-understood as we can ill-afford to let history like this be lost in the fog of time.

Forget the battle of yesteryears between Microsoft and Apple, today there rages a battle between Google one of the biggest, ‘baddest’ and most innovative outfits in corporate history, only been at around for about 11 years and built with one purpose –  ‘to search’ but lately appears have added ‘to destroy’ – (their competitors that is).

 Facebook - launched in February 2004, the largest social network on the web with more than 350 million users, around 50% of which log on daily and 35 million users who update their status each day really show what a force it is and has been gaining market share, and more significantly a supportive user base. Since they are Google’s biggest competitor in financial muscle and reach, Facebook it is fair to say, has got wind of the plan and equally fair to say they are sending their troops in to the battle for supremacy’ with “Let’s get ‘em!” ringing in their ears

Strange though when you think that one of the big questions in the summer of 2007 was  Google would buy Facebook with talk  that not only was there was an offer on the table, but that Facebook was seriously considering it. At the time, money was not the stumbling block as Google was willing to pay whatever it took, but the impact an acquisition of Facebook will pose on their $900 million agreement with MySpace which, was yet to be formally executed and was increasingly a source of downstream traffic to, the search engine.

But a lot has happened since those hazy summer days. Relations have become frosty, deteriorated and taken an increasingly hostile turn as it usually does when the romantic advances are rejected and one party usually feels jilted. Well as they say life changes, love changes and sometimes best friends become strangers.

In July 2009, two years after ‘flirting’, the indication that ‘love was no longer in the air’ came with Google announcing international launch of ‘Friend Connect’ which allows publishers to integrate a Google login with their website, thus letting their visitors comment using their Google ID in direct competition with ‘Facebook Connect’ with which users can post comments using their Facebook account.

And as if that was not enough, about a fortnight ago Google again moved onto Facebook’s turf announcing another challenger Google Buzz which looks unhealthily similar to the blue giant of social networking but with the added features that can incorporate feeds from external applications – such as Twitter, Picasa and Flickr as well as location-based features such as the ability to tag and update a location.

Will this encourage a sizeable percentage of Facebook’s 400m subscribers to switch? No one really knows and a prediction will be based on the presumption of Google’s end game. Only time will tell. Perhaps Google is doing this simply because it can. Events indicate Google, by continually encroaching on Facebook’s path, is declaring war. Having had its advances rejected, and since we are indeed talking about epic fights, Google is perhaps like Muhammad Ali satisfied to see the big bad George Foreman in that epic fight 35 years ago in Kinshasa hit the deck without landing that last punch. Facebook, like the George, disheveled, shrunk and fraction of the colossus it used to be.

Who will win this epic battle is unknown and unknowable from this point. Facebook looks like it is on the ropes but so was Muhammad Ali when he fought George Foreman who was a formidable and almost invincible at the time, but was laid on his back after wearing himself out after five gruelling rounds. The lesson there being aggression is not necessarily always a demonstration of might.

Those who have lived long enough know history has a funny way of repeating itself but then again perhaps Google Buzz needs to allow users to see their friends Facebook updates…I think not. This mother of fights is bound to go on for quite a while.

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ICT in Nigeria: A Proposed Direction of Travel
Abi Bilesanmi
From a plethora of communiqués, symposiums, data and all conceivable indices and indication, mobile telephony as a platform of development and social change is largely incontestable. How so? You may ask but the facts speak for themselves. The African mobile market is fastest growing in the world with 17 percent of Sub-Saharan population owning mobile phones. We have also reported on a host of initiatives to extend ICT revolution to broadband for Internet users. The fact that currently, less than 1 percent of Africans have access to high-speed Internet also speaks for itself.
When we ask the questions like ‘Is the web your window to the world?’ or ‘Are you struggling to connect?’ What kind of response will we get?
Without being patronising, telephony is not telecommunication but an integral part. With the advent of high speed broadband internet and its capacity to make a difference to people's daily lives, we can not rest on our laurels for we are a long way from the ‘technological promise land’
The internet is not helping most business owners expand and make links; or students study for qualifications online as educational institutions are not connected; or tourist operators attract visitors; or musicians promote their music online; or farmers grow crops and their market?
The facts are still that in Nigeria, not enough of us are connected. Those who are, feel held back by slow download speeds and expensive costs  
Political leadership (or lack of) on this issue has been well documented and so there is no mileage in ‘flogging that dead horse.’ The Telecoms industry is doing a considerable amount but because it, more than any other sector, know the cost of not embarking on this ‘ICT revolution’, it must double its efforts by putting forward a range of measures to enhance the value of ICT to the populace. The industry need to educate the Government that, like it is the case in other developed nations, it ought to run some of the country's largest computer systems. It needs to expand the political leadership’s imagination (should not have to… but hey) and enlighten them that these systems are an essential element in the delivery of public services, be it helping people into jobs or storing digital x-rays. Hundreds of thousands of public servants can use their desktop computers to work far more efficiently than we could ever dream.

The industry’s short term goal is to transform the value it offers both its members and other key communities by introducing a wide range of new qualifications, products and services designed to do this.
One such measure is to open ‘Academies’ of computing, expanding nationally. It should start a new networking group, launching a new national website and job site. It needs to fine-tune its qualifications by adding "Chartered Institute for IT" to its portfolio. This is nothing new as individual and private organizations like The Cyberschuul in Lagos is already doing this but there needs to be a national rollout programme. Institutions like these represent a reservoir of expertise and could represent a good template for training as well as learning
This ‘reorganization’ would be in anticipation that the changes will help it to address the main issues that face the ICT industry which include the digital divide, information vulnerability, poor information management, the conspicuous absence of worthy IT projects, IT skills shortages and a lack of clear career paths for IT professionals.
It should aim to extend its international reach, by securing proper accreditation so that its qualifications are recognized and graduates are competent enough to meet demand for IT personnel particularly at home but also abroad. The industry should seek to establish better and deeper working relationships with domestic and international organizations that can help deliver services and qualifications to IT professionals.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a major user of energy and natural resources. As technological innovation gathers pace and computers and accessories quickly become obsolete, we have to think about the use and disposal of computers, servers and printers (simply because we will be unable to get parts for them.) This has to happen in a sustainable way and not have a negative impact on the environment. We have already heard about the green shoots of ‘green IT’ when Reime West Africa in its presentation at the Co-location of Telecommunications Infrastructure forum back in May focused on Green Telecom as a means of to reducing and fuel consumption, eliminating waste and generally improve energy management through better, smarter and greener technology. This needs to be adopted nationwide with further accreditation and incentives for green IT practitioners. 
It will be naïve as it would churlish to think that this would take place outside the context of existing woeful infrastructure, and dire economic circumstances which are the responsibilities of the government – responsibilities which they have not discharged with any veracity. The industry is already doing its fair share, but the responsibility to make the case, in no uncertain terms, that the ability to process, share and manage information will determine the success of society and its ability to face up to future challenges.
The reality is that we need a high-performing ICT education system, ICT literate policies, a respected and well-supported ICT profession and a population with the skills and the opportunities to be active and informed citizens. If the industry says this loud enough, often enough and for long enough, the government and indeed the people will have no choice but sit up and take notice

CyberschuulNews 356
ICT needs to extend to the Health Sector in Africa
Abi Bilesanmi

It has become customary to report about ICT simply in terms of business and economic development. In so doing, we play down the significant role it plays in all our lives and its impact on the health sector is often ignored. In public health, information management and communication processes are pivotal and are facilitated or limited by the availability of information and communication technology. In addition, beyond the formal health sector, ICT acts as a mediator in the ability of particularly impoverished communities to access services and engage with and demand a health sector that responds to their priorities and needs, is importantly influenced by wider information and communication processes.

This week the GridTalk project launches its 8th GridBriefing at the Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (EGEE) conference in Barcelona. The report covers how information and communication technologies (ICTs), are used in the health and biomedical sectors of European research. EGEE has supported this research community since the project's birth and it is the second largest user group after physics research.
In recent times there has been increased dissemination about the need of the grid technologies in public health, explaining that the needs of the grid for disease control and public health issues is tremendous for several reasons. Back in June, the Centre for Diseases Control CDC in its session on Global Public Health Grid, gave a lecture about the actions it needs to take. It highlighted the requirement of effective data storage and speed for transmitting and accessing of already existing huge volumes of patients and medical data which will make the sourcing of data for research and for public health information easier.

This latest GridBriefing gives an overview of the impact grid research has had in this area, as well as discussing the challenges which arise when using grids for eHealth covering topics of key interest to the grid computing community, providing timely summaries of policy-oriented reports. There were contributions from experts working on projects from medical imaging to grid-based paediatrics, neuroscience offering an insight into how grids are helping to shape the future of healthcare.
Going by the number of Africans, particularly Nigerians, who are medical practitioners and the technological innovation in medicine, it is imperative there is an organisation and a regulatory framework that fosters partnership between researchers, practitioners and patients. It should assist health projects access vital resources and expertise. Part of the remit of such organisation and projects will be to demonstrate the results of their work. It should aim to establish an e-Infrastructure that will provide medical practitioners with the most advanced ICT to help defeat a wide range of degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and cancer. This will also potentially allow for the effectiveness of potential drugs to be tested rather than waiting years for a patient's condition to worsen.
Radiotherapy is one of the most important tools for treating cancer. It involves firing X-rays at the tumour while minimising damage to surrounding healthy tissue and organs. To make sure treatment is as effective as possible, physicians use computer simulations to strike a balance between the length of the treatment and the accuracy of the dose. On doctors' desktop computers, these computational resources to help speed up this process and optimise the treatments.
No doubt ICT will offer many advantages to the health community, one of the biggest being its ability to combine data from various sources quickly and securely. This could be of great benefit to doctors not giving them access to a storehouse of medical imaging data to help them identify and treat a variety of illnesses or particularly unusual conditions that they may not see every day. But the sensitivity of this data however, means that there should be a framework that adheres to secure data protection protocols.
Given the widespread affliction of Malaria, HIV/Aids and other immuno- degenerative diseases, Africa needs an organisation that provides computing support infrastructure for the health sector. This will engender a partnership with medical researchers world-wide to develop a knowledge map that considers the current state of and major gaps in knowledge related to the role of ICT in the health sector in Africa; manage an online consultation in relation to the knowledge map to tap into the experience and ideas of a broad range of practitioners; Write a framework paper which identifies key issues and opportunities relating to the role of ICT in health, and identifies key lessons and recommendations for action.
ICT would not just make us economically developed, through initiatives that will reinforce public health data management, thus allowing lower cost solutions to some of the major healthcare problems, disease control and epidemic mapping, it will lengthen and improve our lives.


CyberschuulNews 353
If India’s future is bright, then so should ours
Abi Bilesanmi

India is the world's largest democracy. We are the world largest black democracy. Since gaining independence 62 years ago, its economy has come a long way and it remains one of the fastest growing in the world. Since we gained independence almost 50 years ago, our economy once the largest in Africa, is in decline. Recent elections in India marked another milestone for the country, creating some economic and political stability after months of uncertainty. Elections in Nigeria is a different proposition exemplified by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently talking to an audience of activists in Abuja, drew a parallel between political corruption in Nigeria and George W Bush's contested election win in Florida in 2000. India's election was the largest in world history with 420 million voters, ours was 'business as usual' - tales of missing ballot boxes, inflated voter counts and even of voters being shot at polling stations.

Back in 1991 India embarked on a program of free market reforms, moving away from the Soviet-style, centrally planned economy. These reforms were led by the finance minister Manmohan Singh, well regarded for his pro business instincts, who subsequently became Prime Minister. His reforms have arguably led to the Indian economy quadrupling in size in the last 20 years.
India euphoric rise economically is a clear demonstration that there is link between democracy (of which elections is an integral part) and economic development. The Indian market has reacted positively to the outcome of the elections shooting up 17% triggering an automatic shutdown. This is largely because the government won with a larger than expected majority, giving them a strong voice over the other coalitions. This in turn should help them push through new policies quickly. Now that the euphoria has subsided it can revert back to focusing on India's future growth prospects.
India is now in a position to push forward the reforms India needs to keep its expansion plans on track. It can, at its own pace, increase the voting rights of foreign investors in banks, making these more attractive for overseas investors. Additionally, there are plans to privatise some of the state-run companies which should encourage them to streamline and improve efficiency - something we are unable to do successfully (see NITEL).

Like Nigeria, there is little doubt that India still requires significant domestic investment. Power, roads, ports, airports, housing (there is a supply shortfall of over 30 million homes) and urban infrastructure are massively undersupplied. But economic advancement has meant that the government can plan to spend $500 billion over the next five years on these areas which should be a key driver of growth. Our total GDP, according to 2007 figures, is a mere $127.95bn.

India is not immune to external events like the global credit crunch which initially led to a flight of foreign capital out of the country as investors became risk averse. However their banking system is arguably more robust. A cloud on the horizon could be the oil price as India is a huge importer of oil which is where Nigeria could possibly have the upper hand. But to mitigate any potential crisis, India has begun a charm offensive The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, announced duty-free access to Indian markets for the world’s 50 “least developed countries”, 34 of which are in Africa, as part of a package of measures designed to highlight New Delhi's commitment to deepening relations with the continent. Inaugurating the first India-Africa Forum, a two-day summit in New Delhi in April this year he declared India’s intent to become “a close partner in Africa’s resurgence” and called for a “new architecture” in relations. The first step came with the signature of an Africa-India Framework for Co-operation and a “Delhi Declaration”.

There is a multitude of reasons we believe the future is so bright for India some demographic (60% of the population is of working age and this is likely to rise leading to greater productivity and less of a pension drain on public finances) others economic (currently, economic growth is predicted to be in the region of 5-6% and the flow of foreign investment is strengthening Indian rupee having depreciated 19% relative to the US dollar in 2008). The lesson we have to learn is that after under-performing most of Asia last year, the Indian market has leapt to life in recent months with the Bombay Sensex Index up 60% in the last six months (Source: Lipper, 9/12/08 to 9/06/09). Though this is not an indication of future performance but in the short term, the market looks fully valued with the long term growth story remains compelling. India's business climate is likely to improve rapidly and private investment should accelerate as a direct consequence of the election victory. It also provides a stable government for the next five years. This means reforms will be pushed through more smoothly and the implications for the stock market should be extremely positive.
This is a lesson we must learn and replicate. If it works for India, it surely can work for us.

CyberschuulNews 352
Can the Digital economy lift us out of crisis?
Abi Bilesanmi

In Titi Omo-Ettu's lecture 'Politics and reality of telephone subscriber registration in emerging markets', he highlighted the success of mobile telephony from a socio-political and economic perspective, based on the subscription figures as well as being at the centre of the efficacy of the new social media as a news distribution tool and its usefulness as an agent of political change. He articulated challenges and made recommendation of a shift in cultural attitudes which elevate ICT to a level where it is perceived as a public good. In addition to the merits of improved accountability and governance, there is an overwhelming case for economic development.
If we still need to ask the question 'what is in this digital economy for us?' The answer is that the digital economy has tremendous potential to generate huge revenues across all sectors. The big challenge is to turn this advantage into sustainable growth and create new jobs. It is therefore incumbent on governments to show leadership by adopting coordinated policies that dismantle existing barriers to new services. They should seize the opportunity of a new generation of Nigerians who will soon be calling the shots in the African market place. These young people are intensive internet users and are also highly demanding consumers. To release the economic potential of this sector of the populace - the 'internet cafe natives', we must make access to ICT and digital content an easy and universal.
With Seacom international cable fully operational from July 2009, the fibre project due in 2010 and France Telecoms LION project that will connect various of the Indian Ocean islands to mainland East African countries, we see ample evidence that in that part of Africa the digital sector has made strong progress with more Africans now regularly using the internet, many of them via a high-speed connection making South and East Africa a true and emerging force in broadband internet. With the proliferation of mobile telephony and digital technology in parts of Africa, we can ill afford to be left behind. The digital economy can advance even further as a generation of "digitally savvy" young Nigerians becomes a strong market driver for growth and innovation. Building on the potential of the digital economy is essential for Africa's sustainable recovery from the economic crisis simply because of the scope for development. Today we need to ask the public what future strategy the governments should adopt to make the digital economy run at full speed.
Where is the link between the digital economy and economic advancement? People of working age are the most active internet users. They will regularly use advanced services to create and share online content almost on a daily basis. By extension they will have more advanced internet skills than the rest of the population. They will download or view online content like videos or music. And even if they begrudge paying for these services, many of them will do so compared to the rest of the population and many will pay more for offers of better service and quality. As a result, internet use will soar as these "digital natives" begin their professional lives, increasingly shaping and dominating market trends. As traditional business models stall, companies will have to offer services attractive to the next generation of users. It is therefore incumbent on legislators that they create the right conditions to facilitate access to new online content while also ensuring remuneration for the creators.
The Blueprint
Indonesia (a country of similar geographical size and population) embarked on a preparatory Assistance Project on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for Human Development. This is a one-year project aimed at forming a broad-based national partnership, develop a national strategy for using ICT for human development, especially poverty reduction and convert the national strategy into future projects. The project is focusing on future initiatives that serve the poor directly with information required to improve their lives by most appropriate technology. Examples include the promotion of radio backed by strong information service in rural communities, farmer access to the Internet for national and international market information, and web-based eco-tourism promotion for remote villages. Its achievements include a national dialogue and strategy on ICT for human development and poverty reduction; a programme document to implement the strategy and short term pilot projects.
While those in the industry bemoan the nation's leadership on its snail's pace (or ignorance to be precise) in getting to grips with the revolution of ICT that appears to be passing the nation by, one is forced to make a comparative analysis with what is going on in another emerging market - Malaysia. In 1994, a National IT Council (NITC) was established. Though we have the National Information Technology Development Agency, the Malaysian equivalent is chaired by its President Mahathir and made up primarily of government ministers and a number of top company executives. This indicates the government is taking a lead on the objectives of enhancing the development and utilization of ICT as a strategic technology for national development. While in Nigeria it appears there is a power struggle between the government and players in the telecoms industry (e.g. the sale of NITEL or not), in Malaysia the telecoms industry acts as a think-tank at the highest level and advising the government on matters pertaining to the development of ICT.

This essay recommends that upcoming challenges for digital economy should be raised in a public consultation launched by a Commission as the first step towards a new ICT strategy which the Commission should aim to present within a reasonable timeframe within a context of establishing the role and potential of the digital economy for economic modernisation and in generating sustainable growth and jobs by delving into the potential benefits of developing high speed broadband Internet infrastructures and outline plans for best stimulating the demand side of digital economy.

What is the proof of the sustainability of a digital economy in the face of an economic downturn? Well there are several signs that the IT job market in the UK is beginning to improve, with fewer high profile, large scale lay-offs and more job market surveys producing reasons to be positive. Figures for the second quarter of the year, while still painful, show the number of IT jobs on offer is increasing and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and KPMG say in their quarterly report that IT vacancies are set to increase in the third quarter as IT is no longer seen in the majority of companies as a service that can be cut - it is recognised as a way to reduce costs and provide businesses with a competitive advantage.

There is an overwhelming sense that other emerging markets have stolen a march on the ICT/Digital revolution and it is 'catch up' time. The digital economy is here and here to stay. Ready or not

CyberschuulNews 351
Welcome to the Future. No sleepwalking
Abi Bilesanmi

Barely had we settled with the predominant role of information and communication technologies - the exchange of information and data as the basis of human development and rebalancing the distribution of power within societies and among nations, the game appears to have moved on. The current information revolution (IR) has morphed into new bodies of knowledge such as Megatronics Engineering, Bioinformatics, and Nano-technology.
As far back as 1994, Professor Leonard Adleman at the University of Southern California was looking at DNA computing, commonly called biomolecular computing then an emerging field that used DNA and biochemistry instead of silicon-based electronics. The original objective was to use biomolecules to beat electronic computers at solving large complex problems. Indeed there was skepticism about biomolecular computing surpassing electronic computers but 10 years later, researchers showed a DNA computer so small that roughly a trillion of them could fit into a microlitre (a millionth of a litre) and since then they have shown off new computational systems that make use of enzymes that naturally occur in a living cell.
Shapes of DNA have been used to enhance the production of circuits for next-generation computer chips. Researchers reporting in Nature Nanotechnology have now shown how to get engineered DNA to self-organise on silicon. The arrangement or ‘origami’ can be designed to serve as a scaffold for electronic components just six billionths of a metre apart. Making chips with components closer together leads to smaller devices and faster computers - about eight times better than the current industry produces.
DNA that had hitherto been used to do simple number crunching are now used to effectively solve classic logic conundrums with strands of DNA designed to give off a green light corresponding to "yes". In nanotechnology, researchers are already working on programs which bridge the gap between a computer programming language and DNA computing code. The talk is of computers that can diagnose and treat cancers autonomously. Using more sophisticated biochemistry, they are able to implement simple logic programs, which are more akin to the way people program electronic computers.

The purpose of highlighting these advancements in computer technology is that it serves a riposte to those who argue that regardless of the fact that the telecoms industry stands out as a beacon and a symbol of hope that at least something (or some thing) can work in Nigeria, despite operators, regulators, vendors and even network users all agree to the fact that Nigeria is a real market for the telecoms business and because we live in a country where years of savage military rule that has pillaged the country, we should place some sort of moratorium on development. Whilst there may be arguments in favour of this view, the technology industry (of which telecoms is an integral part) industry is one that uniquely lives or dies by results - results which are specific, measurable and visible. If these results in Nigeria are as described i.e. specific, measurable and visible, then we should them from the roof top with pride. We should encourage, amplify support for the industry and use it as a vehicle and a blueprint for other industries.
Besides we have no choice. Technology is like a conveyor belt better still a rolling juggernaut. If you can not keep up, you are fresh out of luck. You simply can not stop the wheels of innovation and progress or indeed jump off just because you can not cope with its speed neither can it nor should it wait for us to get our act together. I share the sentiments that our infrastructure, governance and economy do not indicate we are an emerging market in the broader sense but telecommunications has proved the exception to the norm and that is no small measure down to the dynamism and hard work of those in the industry.

The point is that when educating a smarter planet, its systems that may need schooling. From a telecoms perspective, it appears that the people are already signed up. Carping is not exactly what is needed right now because while we carp about what the fuss about third generation network is, in Europe the EU and operators are pouring money into fourth generation broadband technology which is a hundred times faster. We have got to shape up or ship out


CyberschuulNews 350
The Rise and Rise of Twitter
Abi Bilesanmi

In this technological age you may be surprised to find out not everyone is overjoyed. For this group of malcontents the enormous strides made in information exchange between peoples, its role in the realm of politics by this I am particularly referring to the role of social network sites in Barak Obama's historical presidential victory or indeed the infamous Iranian presidential elections of 12 June, is peripheral verging on irrelevant. For these modern day Luddites at a time when we are asking whether social networks are a force driving socio-political change or whether they pose a challenge to more established media as an effective means of disseminating information, their focus seem to lie elsewhere.

You know you are on to a winner when criticism emanates from established religion. Where such criticisms arise, you are almost guaranteed victory based on the illogicality, inflexibility and the dogma of your opponents. And so true to form, in the UK Archbishop Vincent Nichols - the Archbishop of Westminster, the head of the Catholic Church in England - in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph while decrying the loss of loyalty and the rise of individualism in British society which he said threatened to undermine communities (on which he happened to be right), decided to take a swipe at social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace as 'encouraging teenagers to view friendship as a "commodity" and are leading them to suicide'. He said the sites are leading teenagers to build "transient relationships" which leave them unable to cope when their social networks collapse. He said the internet and mobile phones were "dehumanising" community life and blamed social network sites for leaving children with impoverished friendships.

It is typical of religious ideologues to not just rail against things they do not understand, but to also throw the baby out with the bath water. The background to the Archbishop's swipe at social networking sites was the death of 15-year-old schoolgirl who took a fatal overdose of painkillers after being bullied on Bebo, another networking site. The Archbishop argues we are losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person's mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point -

To argue as the Archbishop does that while social networking sites can improve communication, they do not build rounded communities, is to completely miss the point. Social network sites will not substitute but augment and complement social associations that people have family, school, work etc. Why let facts get in the way of a good rant? The fact that Facebook has more than a million developers and entrepreneurs from more than 180 countries; that every month, more than 70% of Facebook users engage with Platform applications; that more than 200 applications have more than one million monthly active users; or that more than 15,000 websites, devices and applications have implemented Facebook Connect since its general availability in December 2008. That the death of a 15 year old, tragic as it is, throws the impact of social networking sites into some kind of aberration, is laughable. It is a clear indication the Archbishop refuses to see social network sites beyond the individual. There is evidence to support that businesses in the US and the UK are using social media to build awareness and relationships between them and their respective markets. These businesses see social media as an ideal resource to further their brand in a meaningful, high-reach and low-cost manner. They use tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and employee blogs and tweets to build awareness and affinity with the market.  

Contrary to the assertions of the Archbishop, we have a global social media platform for community building, collaboration and knowledge sharing. This internal platform has resulted in the huge development of organic brand building, which has taken their newfound voices and confidence as spokespeople to the external social network airwaves.  

The Archbishop may not be on his own but the pace of technological pace carries own unabated regardless. In their annual ranking, Business 2.0 has compiled an unabashedly subjective list of people which they aptly named '50 Who Matter Now' where they list people trends, and ideas that are transforming the world of business, they ranked In this illustrious list are Gina Bianchini CEO, Ning - a site which lets users create their own mini communities, complete with customisable layouts, profiles, blogs, videos, and ads branded the most exciting thing in social networking right now - 48; Evan Williams CEO Twitter - the site which gives each user a webpage, where short text updates (known as "tweets") can be posted to the site via IM, SMS, or blogging tools; and Mark Zuckerberg Founder and CEO, Facebook who at 19-year-old Harvard student when he launched a social-networking site called Facebook for the in-the-know college crowd. Three years later Facebook was the sixth most visited site on the Internet, with some 24 million active users and enough clout to turn down a reported billion-dollar buyout offer from Yahoo ranked 34.

Again contrary to the Archbishop's premonition of doom, Twitter CEO Evan Williams in recent BBC interview revealed that London is the top Twitter-using city in the world with the UK second to the US in Twitter use in terms of user numbers. Williams refutes the Archbishop claim that Twitter creates a false sense of community. He says "It's not false, it allows people to communicate and is no less false than using the phone." And as for the challenge Twitter poses to journalism, Williams says "It's not necessarily journalism - certainly not in the classic case. But it does enable people to report news and events as they are happening. And often from the ground.’

"As we just saw in Iran, people on the streets reporting what was going on. It was newsworthy content that people were tweeting. There's also a lot of commentary about what is going on. But it doesn't take the place of journalists or new because you still need analysis, you still need verification of this information - but it adds another layer to the information ecosystem"

On the criticism by the Archbishop, Williams says 'It's kinda silly, "Anyone who says that isn't really familiar with the service because it's about humans connecting with each other. And often in ways that other ways couldn't have. It's the opposite of de-humanising."

When asked if Twitter just a fad, Williams replied: "The only reason Twitter could be a fad is if someone else comes along and does it better."

CyberschuulNews 348
Competition. The Catalyst for Growth in East Africa's Telecoms
Abi Bilesanmi  

­The notion of introducing competition in any industry, particularly in the developing world, has often been met with skepticism. This is because it customarily involved the government selling its stake in such industries often bought to foreign firms who subsequently become a monopoly because of economies of scale and financial muscle. However this notion is reported to have been turned on its head in the telecoms industry in East Africa. The leading markets in the region - Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with 10million subscribers, have all been test beds for competition and are adjudged to be the most liberal on the continent. 

Tanzania and Uganda have pooled resources in what is known as a unified licensing framework. This has encouraged operators to offer mobile broadband to their subscribers who are now several hundred thousand in number in each country and who now access the internet via their mobile phone. Opening up these market (Tanzania has issued seven mobile licenses and Uganda has issued six) with a multitude of operators has brought about in increased investment and marketing spend and this in turn has benefited consumers as the cost of owning and using a mobile phone has fallen 

Data gathered for a new report from Balancing Act - another source for information on the telecoms, internet and audio-visual media industries in Africa - reveal there have been a fall in mobile charges, opening the market to a wider number of users. In Kenya, for example, the cost of calls to other subscribers halved and the cost of sending SMS text messages to subscribers on another network fell by a fifth between the third quarter of 2007 and the final quarter of 2008.

In the less populous and more affluent Indian Ocean Islands of Seychelles, Mauritius, Mayotte and Djibouti which are renowned tourist destinations the effect of this liberalisation is more pronounced. With The Seacom international cable operational from 23 July 2009, the EASSy the fibre project due in 2010 and France Telecoms LION project that will connect various of the Indian Ocean islands into these new international cable awaiting approval, the mainland East African countries currently connected by satellite will see a large increase in international bandwidth used as prices come down his cheaper bandwidth price should lead to cheaper Internet prices for consumers.

 The sun is truly rising in the East


Telecommunications: The rise and rise of India
Abi Bilesanmi

In the face of a global economic downturn the telecommunications industry remains relentless in harnessing the power and opportunities of information technology to drive productivity in anticipation of future economic growth via h the 3G and WiMAX spectrum auction. With the objective of providing an opportunity for telecoms experts - infrastructure, broadband solution and value added services providers, telecom operators- and investors to exchange views on a host of issues concerning the industry and opportunities for further growth, The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) under it’s Expert Communications Convergence Committee and in conjunction with India's Department of Telecommunications, Government of India held an annual Summit the “5th ASSOCHAM GLOBAL TELECOM SUMMIT” on Thursday 23rd & Friday 24th July, 2009 in New Delhi.

The Minister of State for Communication & Information Technology Shri Sachin Pilot, in attendance of big name partners such as Cisco, Intel, Ericsson inaugurated the Summit- with a lecture on “Boradband for Digital Democracy and Inclusive Growth” in which he said he hoped that the benefit of voice and broadband connectivity will be available on mobile handheld devices. The availability of these technologies, he argued will offer the convenience of mobility with rich multi media content of the internet.. He attributed this rapid growth to various proactive policies initiated by the Government with the active contribution of the industry India has become the second largest wireless network in the world after China with over 4.25 million mobile connections and huge growth in the sector had made India one of the most sought after telecom manufacturing destinations. Its rapid rise in mobile technology exemplifies blue-sky thinking matched with practical policies on the ground. Its Department of Telecommunication (DOT) has been able to provide state-of-the-art world-class infrastructure at globally competitive tariffs.

The telecoms industry has collaborated in the efforts of reducing the digital divide by extending connectivity to the unconnected areas thus improving accessibility to its citizenry. The result is that the teledensity which was merely 5% five years ago has now reached about 40%. Such increased accessibility in a population of 450million people implies phenomenal growth not just in Indian telecom industry sector but with ripple effect extending to the entire Indian economy of the country -something Titi Omo-Ettu in his July 14 essay 'Politics and reality of telephone subscriber registration in emerging markets' advocated should be replicated in Nigeria.

Footsteps in the Dark-
The failure of a Power Holding Company

Abi Bilesanmi
‘My reputation grows with every failure.’ George Bernard Shaw
Google the acronym NEPA and you get pages of information on the North East Productivity Alliance - a UK regional business improvement initiative that helps manufacturing companies drive down lead times, reduce waste and stock and generally improve productivity to stay competitive; the National Educational Printer Agreement - open to all institutions of Higher Education, the Research Councils and HE consortia-affiliated Colleges of Further Education; The New England Press Association - promotes growth and excellence in New England newspapers through technology, networking, education and recognition among its members. Wikipedia shows various acronyms which include the United States National Environmental Policy Act (1970); the North Eastern Pirates Association - a large group specializing in pirating games for the video gaming community.

There was reference to Nigeria’s National Electric Power Authority - the organisation governing the use of electricity in Nigeria but appears to have more kudos for running a football team. It was Ashley Montagu - a British-American anthropologist who said the deepest ignominy we suffer is constituted by the difference between what one was capable of becoming and what one has in fact become. This could not be more apt if NEPA is better recognised as football team rather than providing electricity.

But of course NEPA is now the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. If NEPA was a bigger failure than ECN (and it was) then the logical extension is that PHCN would be a bigger failure. But the signs on PHCN's website point to the contrary. There is an informative website which allows you request for a meter, submit a complaint check and pay your electricity bill even e-mail your district. On a graded scale it raises a chuckle to a roar of laughter. Who the hell are these guys? The clues are obvious. They surely elevate presentation over reality, they definitely know nothing about the reality of electricity supply in Nigeria; they certainly blind-built this website from the template of another company or, more likely, a combination of all of the above.

How much did all these cost? We hardly know how much is being put on this electricity privatisation tab, but we can deduce from this all-singing and dancing website with certainty that the numbers are massive and the result in terms of electricity supply - its primary objective - has deteriorated.

This is because a host of companies are on the gravy train handsomely paid from the privatisation fee i.e the government sale of its stake in NEPA which is millions of £ of taxpayers money. Their fees would of course have been factored in (in an ITT-esque fashion) 'miscellaneous' cost which would include kickbacks and hidden costs to those under whose auspices contracts were awarded. In this atmosphere of reciprocal back scratching, it is easy to overlook the inconvenient fact that most households have little or no electricity supply. If these spivs and financiers were local, they would know that after 25 years of power failure (in a plethora of forms), Nigerians tend not to complain – especially not about failure of any kind. Failure has permeated into the national consciousness manifested as unbridled optimism and/or resignation often met with customary shrug of apathy. Even if there were a culture of complaining, who do they suppose customers complain to? Surely not to the self-serving officials who, according to Waheed Majekodunmi play God as to who enjoys electricity supply and who does not. I wonder if these guys care to know that in areas like Agege it is alleged that PHCN officials defuse transformers plunging the whole areas into darkness rather than maintain an already unacceptable power sharing arrangement. I wonder if they knew that for the residents of Isale Oja and Papa-Uku for whom there has been no power for 3 months, e-mailing their respective complaints is not really a viable option. And of course it bodes well for customer service when officialdom of PHCN, it is said, claim that residents of the areas are ‘chronic debtors’ and undeserving of the luxury of electricity? Under such circumstances one wonders what would such a complaint achieve. If PHCN brands these residents 'chronic debtors' one is prompted to ask what exactly are these residents supposed to be paying for? Non-existent or poor service it would appear but demanding for a service not provided -is that what is defined as demanding payment under false pretences a.ka extortion?

On this website it is interesting to see that new customers can request for a electricity meter. Discounting the fact in the UK for example it is adjudged that the less well off and more vulnerable, via meter pay more than other users and there is a concerted campaign this system described as ‘a complete rip-off’, one is confronted by the somewhat obscure fact that electricity meters actually work on electricity consumed and should one need to complain about one’s non-existent service by e-mail, one will need to have a computer which works on er..electricity. Nigerian homes are insecure enough without having some device that keeps cash the house!

Below this PR facade, running like a list of credits from your favourite movie, is a list of banks from Afribank through GTBank to Wema rolling across your screen. Their job is to grease the machinery of privatisation by facilitating who the nation’s asset has been pawned to as well as create the illusion that the ‘new broom sweeps clean.’ But you can not fool all the people all the time. The 'impracticalities' demonstrate the 'incompleteness' of thought in procedure and application, but there an even bigger and more worrying absence of forethought in the ideology underpinning a wider privatisation agenda. This ‘ideology’ has been based on a narrow perspective on the simple premise that governments have neither the aptitude nor expertise to run industries and therefore need to hand these to private sector. It forms a segment of policy initiatives imposed, primarily by the IMF (aptly referred to as the International Monsters Fraternity), as part of its dogmatic approach for laissez faire principles of market deregulation and public sector privatisation i.e - as the prescribed panacea for economic development where there is less (or abandonment) of governance by the governments in the provision of services and on economic issues.

Largely this ideology has been a failure and done nothing but burden the underdeveloped countries in the areas of socio-economic development and international trade.

The nation’s electricity (not exactly the family silver as it was non-existent at the best of times) has gone like Malaysia’s water system, India’s healthcare, education and airports infrastructure, Pakistan’s electricity, banks, and hundreds of state-owned enterprises in the underdeveloped world which have been placed on the market. The result of this rushed and flawed privatisation agenda is universal. A sizeable controversy quotient. Students are up in arms, unions are crying foul, poor and rural communities are vocal because they disproportionately bear the brunt of the failure and uncertainties of privatisation while the private companies exclusively enjoy the benefits -monopoly profits.

To fully understand this, you only need to look at the address by Atiku Abubakar at the inauguration of the Board of Directors of PHCN Plc on 31st May 2005 when he hailed the inauguration as ‘another significant event in our journey to a reformed, financially viable power sector for Nigeria’ and lauded the Government’s efforts ‘at meeting the present and future electricity needs of our country’ by the President's signing the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005 into law on March 11th 2005. The preoccupation of this act is not reform of the totally inefficient NEPA but rather that the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), in accordance with the powers conferred on it, take steps to establish the initial holding company to take over the functions, and more importantly the assets, of NEPA within one year be transferred to the successor companies. Time is obviously of the essence.

Take an even closer look at the corporate responsibilities of the board which include overseeing the management of operational and reform matters, assessment and approval of major budgetary expenditures, strategic issues in the restructuring of the company, consideration of all major decisions necessary for the expedited transition of the Holding Company to successor companies and recommend to the NCP for approval; setting operational goals and targets for management of the Holding Company; ensuring proper corporate and legal transition from NEPA financial statements, budgets, schedules of assets, liabilities and employees are prepared on a timely basis; ensuring that the true and accurate position of NEPA’s indebtedness and financial exposure is established with a feasible plan for addressing the indebtedness

Conspicuous in its absence is any reference to the government's regulatory framework not even 'light touch' regulation. Without this regulatory framework where successor companies have basic service level agreement, targets in the discharge of their corporate responsibilities and any possible consequences should they not be met, Abubakar simply said the board must ensure ‘that the Holding Company is fully committed to building a new electricity sector for Nigeria’ and ‘adhere strictly to the best principles of ethical corporate governance.’ He said the company stood ‘on the threshold of history and the dawn of a new era in the Nigerian electricity sector’ and 'should ensure fairness and transparency as individual Directors and collectively as a Board.' He reminded that their task was difficult (no kidding). However he had 'no doubt that were able to meet the challenges with dedication, sacrifice, honesty and hard work' and they 'will be able to do us proud'. Really?

And with the customary 'thank you, good luck and God bless',declared the Board of Directors of the PHCN Plc inaugurated leaving an overwhelming perception that the government completely washes its hands of this failing organisation, 'do with it as you deem fit.'

Is failure of privatisation inevitable? Not necessarily. But the assumption that the private sector (the successor companies) would immediately and adequately fill the gap hitherto occupied by the government is misplaced. In ideal world the objective of the government, particularly in this case, ought to be ensure that services are improved while simultaneously safeguarding the national interest and securing the best value for its taxpayers in, considering what PHCN was getting, was essentially a bargain basement sale. On the other of this equation are the private companies. Their objective is the bottom line - profit. This divergence in objective has grave implications. They are less attuned to altruism of service provision or social costs and will do what they have to including breaking up the organisation, laying off staff in other words they will morph into any position if it guarantees the bottom line. To understand this modus operandi, it is worthy of note a parallel situation going on in the telecoms industry where NITEL is up for sale and the allure of rich pickings (hence expanding profits) is prompting prospective buyers and their cohorts to claim the value of NITEL’s assets might have plummeted (what a surprise). Highlighting this kind of chicanery has fallen to those in the know like Titi Omo-Ettu, a telecommunications engineer and consultant who argue NITEL (like NEPA) as the First National Operator’, is where its incontrovertible true value resides, it is the First National Operator’s License that is attraction for prospective buyers and according to Engr Omo-Ettu, ‘makes a world of difference.’ Prospective buyers are adhering to the simple principle of ‘buy cheap’ with monopoly powers will allow them to charge whatever they want.

The failure of this kind of this privatisation rests on a conflation of ideological, implementational and strategic failures. Firstly the fervour at which the privatisation agenda is pursued is based on a misplaced ideal of triumph of ideology over evidence-based policy – a defunct ideology that the private sector can quickly meet everybody’s needs with an obstinate disregard that profit and not ‘meeting everybody’s needs’ is their main objective and that for the very fact that in underdeveloped countries it is because markets fail in the provision of essential services that government undertake these activities. The entrepreneurial class is unable to purchase the NEPA’s operator’s license, infrastructure and liabilities, in the absence of government enterprise, acquisition inevitably falls to foreign companies (exactly what the IMF want) who will do their level best (as we saw with telecoms) to get their hands on a country’s electricity lock, stock and barrel for pittance. If according to the PHCN chairman, $10 billion is needed to revamp the power sector for uninterrupted electricity supply and investors are bemoaning $6 million funds that they say are now ‘trapped’ in PHCN Plc, without the government we have a clear indication of who is capable of investing and the intent of those who have invested in this privatised industry. Secondly this is also flawed on implementation grounds in that privatisation, as in the case, proceeds and precedes any regulatory or competition framework – Atiku Abubakar’s speech attests as much. To these companies, once they acquire such state assets (on the cheap) their monopoly is effectively a license to print money as they can maintain their monopoly by raising prices so high with scant regard for the fact that the majority are prised out. In Cote d’Ivoire where such privatisation proceeded, there was a monopoly of both telephone and cellular services and the ‘lucky’ firm raised prices so high that internet connection became unaffordable. If privatisation is the only way to get the investment that poor countries need in the provision of services like, telecommunications, electricity and water, then it is imperative that it accompanied by good regulatory arrangements. Thirdly and strategically, this kind of privatisation is dubious for the simple reason – corruption. Customarily privatisation of an unregulated monopoly yield more money for the government. Hence the drive to privatise quickly because of vested interests and no guesses for what happens to the money for the government – yes you are right. It is not privatisation but rather ‘briberization’. In society like ours where the government (and the people one must add) are corrupt, a below market price sale ensures that those in power can appropriate more for themselves rather than augment the public purse while its advocates falsely maintain that assets would be better managed. It did not work with rail privatisation in the UK, electricity privatisation in California telecoms privatisation in Cote d’Ivoire, or water privatisation in Guinea, Gambia nor Ghana. There are no grounds for optimism that it will work in Nigeria and so far PHCN have not convinced us otherwise.

What Now?

We need to understand this privatisation for what it is. It is part of the ideologically and operationally flawed structural adjustment programme which, according to my recollection marked the beginning of Nigeria’s economic woes. 25years of implementing structural-adjustment programmes, Nigeria’s r economy remains weak and in terminal decline incapable of transformation to sustain accelerated growth and development with widespread poverty, high unemployment declining manufacturing and agriculture and our external and domestic debts much too heavy a burden to bear. Since then the World Bank pushed the Nigerian Government to develop specific options to privatize the country's assets. Customarily it is the poor who have been systematically deprived of their right of access to electricity.. Pro-privatization consultants hand-picked by the multilateral financial institutions doing the bidding on behalf of the transnational corporations interested in taking over Nigeria's electicity.

 Designing a business framework that divides the country into regions for generation and distribution facilitates cherry-picking the lucrative regions of service for the incoming corporations, leaving the lucrative bits for state authorities and communities worried about their service levels . That is why after a sustained period of poor electricity supply being experienced currently by consumers and . in its determination to ensure that residents of the state who are connected to the national grid enjoy steady supply of electricity, Nasarawa State Government has purchased twenty 500 KVA transformers valued at over one hundred million and donated to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). So after the false promise of privatisation and the pofit motive delivering efficiency, we have a clear case of the state subsidising a private company But herein lies the problem.  Governor Doma rather than admonish and ask questions of PHCN for the poor supply of electricity which has hindered smooth operation of commercial activities in his state has has used the state’s taxpayers money to buy transformers (for which the Business Manager of the company in Lafia,Dr Halidu Balami must be eternally grateful who described it as a ‘kind gesture’) and donates (with no regulatory agreement, stipulated target or service level) to PHCN ‘urging’ them to reciprocate his administration’s effort by improving on the supply of electricity! And what can the taxpayers of Nasarawa expect for this expensive ‘kind’ gesture? ‘Judicious use’ according to Dr Balami which will deliver 12 hours power supply – the equivalent of what they get in Baghdad despite being in the middle of a full scale war!

What is required is utilization of the groundswell of resistance to the privatization agenda, global financial institutions, their corporate allies and in particular the poor delivery of service from PHCN. Teachers, students, NGOs, churches, farmers need to be more vocal that they are increasingly unable to cope with this poor service. The medical and other lawyers, accountants and community leaders, the urban working-class population need to form coalitions against further privatization. The the largest unionized labour organizations need to be at the forefront of the struggle. In other countries like Ghana and Bolivia, pressure exerted by the people has led to the revision of bids and in some cases a complete reversal of the privatisation process. We need to make PHCN’s success and its profit motive reliant on a preparedness to engage with the public and the delivery of service and send a clear message to the management of PHCN f the current 12-hourly nationwide power rationing arrangement, nor its reversal is acceptable.

In a statement on Tuesday the PHCN said rotational rationing from 12 midnight to 12 noon and 12 noon to 12 midnight, the schedule will be reversed starting from Thursday September 11, 2008.

. We need to deny the Government a silent and dignified bow out. The degree of mobilization against PHCN locally and nationally should push electricity supply high on the electoral and political agenda. Let the government know that there is a price to pay at the ballot box for inactivity.

To put in stark terms, there is a war here. Electricity is vital to our very existence. We are therefore not going to surrender our lives on a silver platter neither would they expect us to. The least they can expect from us is a fight that is comensurate to that they will be putting up in the fight for their expected profits; since we will be fighting for our very lives, we have desperation (not to talk of morality) on our side. The genie can not wait to get out of the bottle if only we will give it the proverbial rub

Abi Bilesanmi is a politics graduate and an activist for social, political and economic justice.


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