Thursday, February 12, 2015

ICT in a Developing Nation

Greetings from the Australian National University College of Asia & the Pacific in Canberra, where Dr. Joseph Kim Suwamaru from Divine Word University (DWU) is speaking on "Emerging challenges for ICTs in Papua New Guinea". He pointed out that opening the PNG telecommunications market has resulted in a drop in mobile phone charges to customers and benifits to the community in terms of selling produce and access to online banking. However, he pointed out possible rent seeking by the backbone owner. PNG has a terrestrial microwave network, with islands connected by satellite, with two undersea fibre-optic international connections. It would not be economically efficient for multiple companies to duplicate this infrastructure, but it should still be possible to have multiple ISPs and mobile providers sharing the infrastructure at reasonable cost, with oversight by the regulator (however, the regulator is not independent of the Minister).

Dr. Suwamaru has written a paper with Peter K Anderson on "Closing the digital divide in Papua New Guinea: A proposal for a national telecommunications model". Other papers are on "ICT for education: Achieving the goals of PNG Vision 2050", "Proposal for free, fair and safe elections through mobile phones in Papua New Guinea", "An SMS-based HIV/AIDS education and awareness model for rural areas in Papua New Guinea".
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is witnessing substantial changes in telecommunications infrastructure and in information and communication technology (ICT) services. Much of this is due to the entry in 2007 of the Irish company Digicel into the mobile phone sector. Digicel is now the dominant player in PNG’s telecommunications services market, with a market share of more than eighty per cent of PNG’s combined mobile phone and mobile data services. It has recently moved into other areas of telecommunications, acquiring businesses in the television broadcasting and narrowcasting sector. Digicel also has a keen interest in undersea submarine fiber-optic infrastructure. Some of the benefits for PNG citizens include market access, m-banking and payments via SMS messaging among others. However, the near-monopoly status of Digicel, which looks set to move to other related sectors, gives rise to the question of whether value in choice and price can be sustained within the small telecommunications market in PNG. This presentation concerns emerging challenges in ICTs with respect to interconnection arrangements, infrastructure sharing and number portability between operators in PNG. These aspects require regulatory diligence to prevent market abuse. Lack of competent regulation may lead to a regulatory vacuum where operators and citizens may be subject to the whims of the incumbent – in this case, Digicel. This presentation provides an overview of the current ICT infrastructure and delineates emerging regulatory challenges needed in safeguarding the healthy growth of the sector while protecting the interest of citizens. About the speaker Joseph Kim Suwamaru is currently visiting SSGM from Divine Word University (DWU), Madang, in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where he teaches in the department of information systems. Joseph earned his PhD from DWU for his research on aspects of mobile phone usages in socio-economic development in PNG. Prior to completing his PhD and joining DWU, Joseph was the Executive Director of the Engineering Department within the former ICT regulator, PANGTEL. He also served as Vice Chairman within the Asia Pacific Tele-community study groups, headquartered in Bangkok from 2005-2009. Joseph currently sits in the board of directors of a new state owned enterprise (SOE), DATACO, tasked with rolling out terrestrial and under-sea submarine fiber-optic cables across PNG and Melanesia. He can be contacted by email at joseph.suwamaru(a) or jsuwamaru(a)

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