Would Yemen Take Jordan as an Example and  Allow Private Internet Service? WHEN INTERNET MONOPOLY  TAKES ITS TOLL! [Archives:2000/15/Science & Technology]

April 10 2000

By: Walid Al-Saqqaf

All of the Arab countries, except Libya, Iraq and of course, Somalia, have Internet services. However, a few Arab countries have enforced monopoly over this service, while other countries have opened the way for investors to set up privately owned and operated Internet Service Providing (ISP) companies. Yemen, unfortunately, did not yet join the latter group of countries, which includes Jordan, Egypt, and others.
The issue of Internet monopoly by the government of Yemen has been brought to the attention of the public through many articles published in several newspapers including Yemen Times. This monopoly has played a significant role in lowering the quality of service and increasing the cost of Internet access.
Today, the demand to end the monopoly of the sole company Teleyemen (the only provider of this service) has reached its peak. Taking into consideration the relatively high costs of Internet access, and the low standard of living in the country, subscribing to the Internet has become more of a luxury. As a matter of fact, when reviewing the names of the subscribers to the Internet, we would find that they are companies, organizations, businessmen, politicians, diplomats, and high society individuals. In other words, this has only served to widen the gap between people who can enjoy access to the information highway, and the ones who cannot.
Not only did the monopoly result in high subscription rates, but it also resulted in inefficiency, low speed connections, and a lot of complaints from the Internet users. We receive tens of letters demanding to raise this issue and hope that there would be some positive reaction from the ones concerned (see letters to the editor of last issue.) Unfortunately, so far there has been neither a positive, nor a negative response from them. This further raises the question of accountability to the public. Why doesn’t the company providing the service explain its targets, its objectives of these high costs, and its plans to better serve the public? A general conclusion from the continuation of this monopoly is also a major reason behind preventing Yemeni students and academicians from benefiting from this important service.
To take you into another level, let’s fly north all the way to Jordan and see how things are going there. Let us see the potential of this service if only this monopoly is diminished.
Today, Jordan is the Arab state with the least expensive Internet subscription rates, and most efficient Internet services. Internet services in Jordan have become more of a regular day-to-day service, especially in the academic and commercial sectors. It is even competing with telephone and fax.
In contrast to Yemen, Jordan has adopted a mechanism that not only prevents monopoly, but encourages private investment in this field, leading to more opportunities to the public in terms of better and cheaper services, to the companies in profit, and to the government in profit and a good reputation in the region. Jordan’s King (mercy be upon him) Hussein was the person behind the motivation of the private sector to start its business and involve itself in this revolutionary service. Today, Jordan stands proud with almost a dozen of Internet Service Providing companies, all successful, and all offering superb services compared to Teleyemen.
The Questions
Why doesn’t Yemen follow suit and take Jordan as an example to open the way for private investment in the field of Internet Service Providing?
What will it lose? Why doesn’t it study and accept the proposals of the businessmen eager to invest in this field? Is it because of a guarantee that the Yemeni government will maintain monopoly? Was there an initial agreement to not allow any private investment in this field? Or is it because Teleyemen does not want this to happen?
Oman M. Omar, the Vice-Chairman and Group Managing Director of Universal Group of Companies, is among the well-known businessmen who applied to the Ministry of Communication to establish a private Internet Service Providing Company. His main aim was to provide the service with cheaper prices and higher quality, in an attempt to broaden the scope of Internet users. Unfortunately, his proposal was rejected.
This leads us to be concerned about the strategies of the government. Why is it forbidding the private sector from investing in this field? Why does it oppose offering better opportunities for the public? And why at least doesn’t it work on decreasing the fees of Internet services offered by the sole and only ISP in Yemen?
In an attempt to encourage the politicians in charge to end this monopoly that is turning away hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from subscribing to the Internet, Yemen Times raised this issue in previous editions, and raises it once again in this article. However, in this edition, it also provides a good example to follow, Jordan.
Indeed, Yemen Times flew to Jordan and made an extensive interview with the owner and manager of one of the most successful and efficient privately owned and operated ISPs in Jordan.
“DESTINATIONS” is a relatively new privately owned and run ISP in Jordan. We, as Yemen Times asked for an interview with the owners to get glimpses of how they were able to launch such a successful project, and whether the government encouraged and facilitated the launching of their company. We asked whether it was possible to have such a project in Yemen if and only if the government decided one day to open the way for privatization in this field. What we learned was delightful and sorrowful at the same time. It was delightful to know how far Jordan has come in regard to quality Internet Services, and sorrowful to see where we stand in the picture with an unexplainable insistence on monopoly of information technology in the information age.
We realized that the main reason behind their success was the government’s commitment to provide Internet services to the public at large. They explained to us that their company was not only was assisted in its initial operation but was given priority, subsidy, and encouragement by their government. This should be considered thoroughly as an example to follow by our own government. They demonstrated that governments build, not destroy. They encourage and support, not discourage and prevent.
Next week, we will bring you the details of the interview with the owners and managers of this Jordanian company. I advise all those concerned about the future of Internet in Yemen to read next week’s interview. I also urge the ministry of communication, and managers of Teleyemen to revise their strategies and future decisions, and think about how they could serve the public, themselves, and refurbish their image better, rather than doing the contrary.
To be continued next week.