Information and Communications Technology in Ramallah

“It’s not about the addressable market today, it is about building a future for my 8 year old daughter,” says Mohammed A, a Ramallah-based consultant in information and communications technology. “The World Bank can provide a lot of great statistics about the state of telecommunications in Ramallah, but if my girl does not have the same access to eLearning and education as an Israeli girl, she won’t have a chance.”

Of course there are a lot of politics and cultural issues involved. Ramallah and the entire territory of Palestine are under Israeli administration, which poses many challenges in receiving approvals for telecom services such as wireless, including frequencies not only for internet providers, but also the mobile phone industry. WiMAX is not allowed (in Israel as well) due to military restrictions, and much of the telecom and computer equipment destined for Ramallah is held up on warehouses on the Israel side awaiting customs clearance and release.

In the education system less than 1/3 of university students have adequate access to basic Internet access or computers, and very few primary and high school students have Internet access or eLearning as part of the curriculum. Government officials admit they had some mistakes in prioritizing educational resources, further reinforcing the obvious issues resulting in education system shortfalls.

And Mohammed’s daughter still has no access to the Internet in school.

In Palestine, everything is controlled by Israel. Many international organizations and groups try to influence Israel’s government to relax restrictions on issues such as mobile frequencies, however Israel has been reticent in responding to international pressure. Why? Oh my, that is a topic that is way beyond the scope of a short blog entry.

But the result is emerging mobile operators such as Wataniya Telecom cannot get final approval from the Israel government to release frequencies in both the 900Mhz and 1800Mhz ranges needed to operate their business. The delays are becoming so costly, Wataniya (a Kuwaiti telecom investment) may need to back out of the project.

At this point all public Internet access is connected through Israel. Independent or private VSAT (satellite) connections are not allowed, nor are direct public fiber connections from Palestine through Jordon or other adjacent countries. The problems are compounded by geographic separation of Palestinian territories such as the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

And Mohammed’s daughter still has no access to the Internet in school.

Some American and other international companies are developing a soft spot for conditions in Palestine, including Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and the Negroponte Foundation. Those groups are providing both equipment, and training to Palestinians, as well as offering consulting for education programs.

Donor organizations are beginning to dump money and projects into the country (which BTW is ironically a synchronization and control nightmare for the Ministry of Education), and expatriate Palestinians are starting to bring business and opportunity back to the homeland.

Tareq Maaya, CEO of Exalt Technologies (and founder of Ghost Software – the remote access operating system), explained Palestinian software developers are among the best in the world, and there is a good opportunity for Ramallah to become a leader in software outsourcing. In fact, Exalt Technologies is now doing outsourced software development for Cisco, with much of their workload being shifted to Ramallah from development centers in India.

This is good if you are a relatively wealthy Palestinian returnee from Silicon valley, but what about Mohammed’s daughter? How will she bring herself up to the level needed to work at Exalt, if she has no access to the Internet or eLearning resources?

Dr. Sabri Saidam, Advisor to the President on IT and Technical Education, has ideas. He is a politician, well educated, and very savvy on technology. He has a plan on the board to connect all universities via high performance fiber optic cable, and fully integrate both Internet and network education, as well as eLearning into the curriculum.

A passionate man, he is focused on bringing the message of Palestine to the world, evangelizing the need for all nations to support a Palestine that gives hope to the people. He reminds us that “people with hope are productive, happy, and become content with prosperity in life.

Those without hope become frustrated, angry, and need to find a way to express that frustration.”  That is not good for Palestinians, nor anybody else.

The regional troubles of the past 50 years are well known, poorly understood, but always good for a zealous conversation. The rights, wrongs, and realities are all parts of history. History being paid for by 8 year old girls, grasping at hope for a future that brings both peace and prosperity.

Our world is connected through social networks, chats, email, video, and any other activity that can be reduced to binary digits. There is no excuse to deny this connected world to any 8 year old girl, regardless of her nationality, race, or ideology.

Ramallah is getting better every day, but we still need to nurture this city, and every other city around the world in a similar situation.

John Savageau, Ramallah, Palestine

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

One Response to Information and Communications Technology in Ramallah

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