By: Sam K. Zinnah
What appears to be the biggest technology turning point for Liberia seems to be underway as “Orange” one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators is set to link Liberia to Europe via broad band connection. Orange is the brand used by France telecom for it mobile network operator and it internet service provider. Orange is the world’s fifth largest telecom operator with over 189 million as of 2009 (www.orange.com).
The lack of fast and reliable internet connection is amongst the hurdles faced by Liberia in the creation of dynamic 21st century economies. If Liberia is to catch up with the rest of the world in education, trade, and investment, its leaders has to encourage investment in the area of modern technology and broadband communication system. In recent years, work has begun on initiatives to connect eastern and southern Africa-the only major populated region (Africa) with the least broadband network of fiber optic cables- to each other and the rest of the world through high speed internet lines.
After observing the submarine cable lights up of Kenya by South Africa’s SEACOM in July of 2009, this author began wondering about the possibility of connecting Liberia via broadband to the rest of the world. In the efforts to establish the possibility, an inquiry email was send to Washington DC based telegraphy researcher Alan Mauldin. When asked whether South Africa’s SEACOM “the company that undertook the multi million dollars project to link Kenya via broadband would extend operation to Liberia? Mauldin said SEACOM only serve the east coast of Africa and has no plans of expanding to the West Coast of Africa, however, France telecom “Orange” is planning to construct the “Africa Coast to Europe, (ACE) cable that would link Liberia as well as Gabon, Cameron, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote de’ Voire, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Gambia, Cape Verde, Mauritania, Morocco and South Africa to Spin, Portugal, and France. According to Mauldin, Orange has not sign a contract with any equipment suppliers yet but the company is hoping to have this submarine cable project completed by 2011. If all works smoothly, Liberia will become a member of the global electronic community. Mauldin also disclosed that there might be terrestrial networks plan to link Liberia to other countries that have access to existing submarine cables or other planned West Coast cables such as main one or the West Africa Cable System (WACES).
Broadband cost more in Africa than anywhere else in the world. According to the World Bank, consumers in Africa spent the average of USD$366.00 each month on speeder internet access in 2006. Users in India, meanwhile, paid $44.00 per month for the same service.
Gauging by the incredible spread of cell-phone use in Liberia, there is plenty of encouragement to enhance the communication system that will yield more revenue for the Government at the affordable cost for almost every household in Liberia. Over the years, Liberia’s cell-phone market has expanded faster than anyone could ever imagine ten years ago thus contributing immensely to the growth of the Country’s economy.
Internet and cell phone introduction in Liberia over the past years has been perhaps the most outstanding in the area of communication in Liberia but the open sale of subscriber identification module (SIM) card has some serious security risk that is yet to be addressed by both the cell phone companies and the Liberian government. As with every field, technology or communication has it own advantages and disadvantages but great magnitude of advantages usually out weights it disadvantages.
With the level of crime rate in Liberia and looking at Liberia’s post-conflict status, it is highly important to pass a law mandating GSM companies and future land line phone companies in Liberia to collect data (including but not limited to: names, address, photograph, next of kin) of subscribers. Such information or data should only be collected and store by the GSM company (ies) concern. It is technically dangerous to have unregistered and activated SIM cards sold in the streets of Liberia when criminals are already strategizing robbery on the daily basis.
The case of Keith Jubbah’s murder is a clear example. To date, government investigators are yet to establish the actual perpetrators of Jubbah’s murder. Had SIM card identity been in place, the callers to Star radio and other media institutions would have been exposed by now.