Web users in PNG disadvantaged

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday, May 12, 2011

ONLY in Papua New Guinea do we find regulators that charge inordinately high rates for services which are more than affordable by the average consumer in other countries.
There is any number of products and services that are taken for granted by people in the global community but seen as a luxury here.
Take, for instance, internet usage and web access.
In virtually every Western country, and an increasing number of developing nations, this service is relatively inexpensive for individuals, institutions and businesses alike. Yet, here in PNG, one cannot say the same.
The reality is that rates charged by internet service providers here are proportionately higher on average than what you would find in Australia, Malaysia, Fiji and other neighbouring countries. Some say we charge the highest fees in the world.
One must critically ask whether the laws regulating this service are there to enable or prohibit access to the worldwide information network. Entry into cyberspace should come at a cost but not to an extent that the ordinary folks are forced to pay over and above reasonable rates to participate and contribute to this resource.
Earlier this week, Data Nets managing director Sundar Ramamurthy publicly called for a drastic reduction in internet rates.
He said prices needed to come down by half to give people easier access.
He made the remarks at a technology and information seminar in Port Moresby when speaking on the topic of “enabling emerging technologies to assist business”. The main issue of contention was the need for high speed capacity for users.
He described the recent introduction of mobile broadband services such as Digicel’s 3G broadband access as “fantastic” but maintained that, if the country wanted to develop: “We have to drop the internet price.”
Of course, Ramamurthy said this in part out of concern about the general restrictive nature of laws governing internet usage but also with an economic motive. More internet users mean more business opportunities for companies like Ramamurthy’s.
Today, all companies that interact daily with overseas partners must have internet access. Without it, all would be out of business. That is testament to the huge influence of information technology. It is the vein in which the lifeblood of businesses transacts.
State enterprises Telikom and Pangtel are the gatekeeper and licensing body respectively, that more or less, control how everyone, from internet providers down to consumers, uses the service. It is not an ideal situation in the least.
These two institutions continue to exact their pound of flesh for giving us the privilege of having web access. The resultant high cost of running a business, which specialises in internet services, is passed onto the consumer. So, if we are to blame anyone, it is the government and its bodies that regulate communication and information systems in the country.
A quick call to most companies in a city like Port Moresby will give the enquirer a set of service packages and a list of fees for internet access that put it out of reach for 95% of the people.
A simple internet service plan for a residence will set you back K750 for installation.  That breaks down as an equipment deposit of K200, a deposit on megabytes to be used which is K400 plus an initial monthly service fee of K100 and a fee of K1 on every 5MB of information downloaded.
That is the cheapest rate for internet usage.
The cost of having the internet at home, and paying for it out of your own pocket, would be crippling. Very few Papua New Guineans can afford this.  If you want faster capacity (byte rate), then, be prepared to pay an arm and a leg as the cost doubles and triples with the increase in gigabyte capacity.
Legislation must be changed in order to open this area up for the benefit of all, particularly the average consumer who is potentially locked out from the world. 
Internet users pay by the gigabyte of information downloaded or accessed as in streaming and file sharing which can be from as little as 20 toea to K2, but the amount of web browsing and time spent online is also charged.
Every aspect of internet usage seems to have a cost attached.
With all the advances being seen in the world today, why is the government and its regulating bodies slow to catch up with the rest?
Surely, they can see the benefits outweigh any perceived risks.
Or, is the control of internet usage another revenue-producing venture at the expense of private enterprise and people much in the same way as other high taxes and monopolies?