Internet Service Monopoly in Yemen [Archives:1998/37/Last Page]

September 14 1998

Walid Al-Saqqaf
In broad terms, monopoly is a strategy to control or possess a particular service or material by one person or one group, and not give a chance to others to provide that very service. It is like selling fish, and never teaching or even letting anyone learn how to fish. Hence in this case, people have to buy their fish from this sole seller, even if the fish they buy is not good in quality. After all, he is the only person selling fish. Similarly, the fish here is the Internet service, and the fisherman no other than the Ministry of Communication. As a computer engineer and an expert in Networking, I feel that the Internet service monopoly in Yemen should be lifted, and all sorts of companies should be able to compete fairly in providing better Internet services with reasonable subscription rates.
Unfortunately, this Internet monopoly is a fact in Yemen. One can imagine the number of companies that are eager to provide Internet service with lower subscription rates, and better quality. But, that is impossible as long as the government’s strategy of keeping this service in one group’s hands persists. The Ministry of Communication is the only source of this service today, and keeps holding on tight to this technology. Teleyemen, which is the official name of the company providing this Internet service, is in itself not fit to serve as the only provider. It needs more experts, better machinery, and wiser management. Let me explain in more detail.
I have been using the Internet for email, WWW surfing, network programming, and for other purposes over the last 5 years. I used to check my email more than 5 times a day while I was studying in the Computer Engineering Department of the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Turkey. Internet usage was vital for my studies in METU. Our homework was published on-line through the department’s news server (local Usenet server). Exam and project announcements were also made on-line. I used to go on-line using my modem at home, and using the Local Area Network (LAN) at college. The daily time I spent on-line was between 4 to 5 hours for academic as well as for miscellaneous purposes. I gained in this period a lot of experience, and developed during these 5 years tens of software programs operating on the Internet.
But now that I am back in Yemen after graduation, what do I find? Disconnection every 30 minutes, slow transfer rates, invalid Domain Name Server (DNS) reverse lookup support, no log-in shells, no Usenet services, no Common Gateway Interface (CGI) services, and most important of all, high subscription prices. I would sometimes rather say “There is no Internet service in Yemen” than saying “We have one Internet service provider”. You might not think the way I do, but let me give you a specific example to try and get you convinced.
I have been trying to access my email on a Unix shell account at my computer engineering department in the METU for more than a month now with no use. In technical terms, Teleyemen dial-up server does not have a facility for returning DNS results in reply to a DNS reverse lookup request, simply because there are no assigned names for Internet Protocol (IP) numbers given for Internet access. Today, security issues are given a great deal of importance, and this DNS reverse lookup is important to block system hackers and crackers. I have visited Teleyemen more than once, asking them to fix this problem. Although fixing this simple problem is actually a matter of adding some very primitive lines to the DNS lookup database, it hasn’t been done.
But that is not all! Up until the time of writing this article, the system administrators of Teleyemen’s dial-up servers did not wake up and figure out how to fix their servers’ mishandling of echoing when receiving a dial-up attempt. Whenever you dial-up, most of the time, you find rubbish characters appearing at the prompt. I am really surprised that a huge company like Teleyemen, having the responsibility of providing Internet Services to the whole Yemeni nation, does not understand that this flow of characters is due to system echoing, and can be handled and fixed correctly in minutes. Consequently, a simple conclusion comes to mind: Either Teleyemen does not care enough about their services to their customers, or they do not know about these problems. However, it is likely to be the first probability, because I remember I used to email Teleyemen for advice and suggestions when I was a student in METU, but not once did I get a reply!
Moreover, considering the many Internet problems Teleyemen has, its rates are quite high for a standard Yemeni family to afford. Only upper class people and institutions have the luxury of using this service. When I try to compare the Internet facilities I had in Turkey, and the ones in Yemen regarding prices and quality, I cannot stop from thinking that this is nothing else than a monopoly. It is also disturbing to hear that Teleyemen claims that they have standard quality services. For example, how on earth can an ISP, without CGI services, and without telnet services, be able to use CGI applications that are so vital for designing World Wide Web (WWW) pages on the Internet? In my view, Teleyemen needs new ideas for improving its services. They cannot stay idle while all ISPs in the world are on the fly in improving their services. Teleyemen should not feel satisfied with what they provide today, and should always think of higher achievements. Teleyemen can be better, it can provide better services, and with lower prices. The only requirements are commitment and experts. I once suggested visiting and helping Teleyemen with my expertise in fixing these problems for free. But sadly, I was rejected. What else can I do?
Speaking as the developer of the Yemen Times Web site, I have great difficulty in setting up the Yemen Times online search engine. After I graduated from METU, our Unix administrator in Turkey began to use the DNS reverse lookup. I used to directly connect from the domain here to my account and then set up the search engine and other CGI applications I used for the Yemen Times. But now, not only do Teleyemen servers lack the requirements to run the search engine and other CGI applications (feedback managers, counters, etc.), but they also do not allow me to connect to the account where these applications actually exist.
I know that I am not the only person who is not satisfied with Internet Services in Yemen. There are tens of others who complain. But because the Internet technology itself is new to Yemen, our voices are not heard. But in time, Internet will grow rapidly to a degree that makes it impossible to ignore the essential need of opening the door for investors to provide Internet services.
Under the hardships Yemenis live today, it would be a wise decision of the government to open the door for investment in such technologies as the Internet. This will provide more jobs, and will make the dream of having the Internet in Yemeni Universities and in more Yemeni homes possible. Getting rid of this monopoly will not only be to the benefit of us as customers, but will also allow Yemen to catch up with the rest of the Internet world. In the mean time, I personally wish that Teleyemen could review this article carefully, and push itself towards enhancing its services, and perhaps one day, become an ideal ISP company for others to use.