The Chicago Tribune reports on the desire of the tiny nation of Mauritius, off the east coast of Africa, to be the world's first "cyber island," complete with total WiFi coverage and high-speed connections to the global Internet.
Mauritius has been struggling as the low-wage basis of its economy (largely textile manufacturing and sugar production) has become less and less viable. A leap forward is needed, and Deelchand Jeeha, the Minister of Information Technology and Communications, believes he knows what to do:
In Ebene, just south of Port Louis, the capital, the government has built the first of three planned high-tech parks. It also has stepped up training programs to turn out tech-savvy workers and has rewritten its business rules in an effort to create an attractive investment climate. The changes are aimed at luring call centers, remote data backup facilities for companies worried about terrorist attacks and, eventually, software development companies.
The biggest goal is the construction of a wireless internet connection to cover the entire 40-mile-long island. The biggest challenge is the government, however; although officially promoting the service, the Mauritius government owns the telecom monopoly, and is loathe to give up its high profits by opening the telecommunications market to competition. Fortunately, island citizens now say that the government is slowly coming around, and that many have gone from being dismissive of the plan to being cautiously optimistic about its potential.
Yep, the problem is usually not the technology or user skills, it's so often policy - government-related telcom monopolies refusing to give up fat & easy profits.
Fat & easy profits they get from high-speed Internet access as well as traditional phone lines. Internet access is expensive since those that would want such a service in developing countries are usually either rich to begin with and can afford it or can't operate effectively without it and will pay whatever it takes.
Offer high-speed internet at low/free rates and not only do they loose that revenue stream, the telcom's $1-3 per minute international phone call profits will evaporate as Skype sweeps in.
Monopolies know the price of progress and fight to the death to keep progress at bay.