By: Foldestine Paye
Vice President of Liberia Information Technology Student Union
Student of BlueCrest University Liberia
Member of IEEE Liberia Chapter
Liberia is a country emerging from years of protracted and devastating civil conflict. Left without any fixed-line telephone infrastructure, with the copper network wholly destroyed and looted, it relies solely on the mobile phone for telephony. While the country has made important efforts to fill this gap, much remains to be done.
Liberia’s recent efforts to fill the infrastructural gap
On November 3, 2011 a vessel carrying the ACE fiber-optic cable landed on the coast of Monrovia, dropping cable on Liberia’s coastal belt. The landing of the fiber optic cable brought happiness on the face of Liberians because the ACE cable will help solve the connectivity problem in Liberia by having a positive impact on the overall growth of the economy of the country. At the microeconomic levels, it will reduce transaction costs, increase market coverage and competitiveness and create significant opportunities for job creation and income generation. In addition, The African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Liberia officially launched the Liberia Internet Exchange Point (LIXP) in Monrovia on August 6, 2015 to ensure that Internet traffic intended for local use is kept locally and will also help to reduce the cost of communication and increase speed and other benefits to diverse users. Moreover, the government of Liberia in partnership with CSquared and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is presently deploying the fiber optic ring only in the capital city of Liberia without reaching the rural area. Liberia has acquired the technology, but much remains to be done to ensure that the Government of Liberia begins to utilize it to help transform the country and solve some of the problems that persist in Liberia.
Quality and affordability of Internet access remain challenges
Liberia has made a stride in connectivity but much more needs to be done. According to statistics by the https://www.internetworldstats.com/africa.htm#lr, 8.1% Liberians are Internet users with 330,000 Facebook subscribers connected. Almost everyone with a smartphone is using apps such WhatsApp and Facebook to send text messages, audio messages and share other media such as videos and images. Students, teachers and researchers need the Internet to share course materials and other information, gain access to online libraries, study in online courses such as MOOCs, download apps, hold e-meetings and so on. The main challenge is the connectivity, which remains unreliable, slow and expensive with competition between the two major telecom companies, Such as follow orange and MTN have resulted in relatively low call prices despite the lack of basic infrastructure in the country.
Liberia is connected to an undersea fiber optic cable, and has an internet exchange point (IXP). Originally, this project was meant to improve connectivity for the people of Liberia but it has catastrophically failed because the cable connection now only benefits major telecoms with majority of the people getting Internet access through mobile network operators. Because they are cellular networks, the quality is not the same at every point in the cities and from place to place. Remote rural places have small, low-power base transmission stations which result in poor connections. Major telecoms are transmitting between 2.5G to 4G, but most are still using 3G, which deepens the existing digital divide is at the high scale in Liberia.
Our hearts can always weep from the angle of Liberia Information Technology Students Union (LITSU) about the poor internet connectivity in Liberia while the students, businesses, organizations and other stakeholders need fast speed communications services to enhance their work and learning. To be clear, it is very sadden in this digital revolution that Liberia does not have Broadband Policy and Backbone for vibrant connectivity. Be as it may, the biggest and largest ICT advocacy Student community in Liberia, called Liberia Information Technology Student Union (LITSU) want to use this international platform to call on the international community and the government of Liberia to see how best to craft a broadband policy and deploy a backbone for a prolific connectivity in Liberia because we hold the believe that deployment of a backbone network in conjunction with the adoption of a clear and results focused Broadband policy could contribute significantly to improving the lives of the people in Liberia and it will connect Government, Schools, Hospitals and Clinics to the Fiber Network which will give them the opportunity to utilize the latest technology and utilize e-Education and e-Medicine.
I remain optimist about the future of Liberia.
I drop my pen!