One Telecom and Business Idea for Ramallah and Palestine
September 13, 2009 2 Comments
Innovation is a catalyst for change in personal lives, education, how we work, and community life. All are components that may fill a fundamental requirement for continued economic development. In Ramallah there are many challenges to overcome in the journey from the current situation, to being in a competitive pool with other developing and modern countries.
ICT (Information and Communications Technology) development will contribute not only to the education and continued automation of banking, government, and eCommerce, but also to the overall quality of life in cities such as Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jericho.
International organizations and the Palestine government are developing specific plans to bring more network-enabled education resources to the schools. There are efforts to extend both fixed line (fiber optic backbone infrastructure) and wireless communications throughout the city (Ramallah), and as regulatory issues and commercial issues mature, that infrastructure will eventually diffuse down to the individual subscriber level.
The Daily Routine
As Palestine does not have a credible public transportation system, all movement is either done on foot, or by private automobile and commercial taxi. During “rush hour” periods travel is virtually impossible, and the quality of air due to exhaust and lax emission standards makes movement through the city extremely noxious. In addition, as there is considerable debris on the streets due to construction, as well as the reality of narrow streets and limited sidewalk space, travelling to both school and work can be a dangerous process.
Through my own pedestrian movement through the city, it struck me as obvious that Palestine is a prime candidate for future knowledge workers (pending further diffusion of “eLearning” and “eReady” graduates into the work force) to contribute to the workforce through telepresence and telecommuting.
Software developers and non-construction, storefront/restaurant, or factory workers would greatly benefit from not needing to navigate the dangerous and unhealthy streets of cities like Ramallah. ICT is the key to both promoting the development of a knowledge worker industry, as well as greatly improving individual quality of life.
Accepting home work is not always easy due to large families and home distractions, thus satellite work areas may be an additional consideration. Those satellite work areas should include high performance ICT resources, allowing knowledge workers to contribute higher quality and effective time to their companies and professional activities.
Overall Impact of ICT Resource Development in Ramallah
During my time in Ramallah I used Internet access points provided by both the hotel and local consultant’s representative office. The hotel connected through PALTEL, the incumbent monopoly communications provider. The hotel did use wireless, with access points extended throughout the hotel to improve local signal strength. Testing upload and download speeds to a California-based server resulted in good performance of 761Kbps down and 558Kbps up. This was adequate to support all my Internet access needs, as well as IP telephony for calls home.
The consultant used a dedicated link to Israel, with performance that can be considered equal to most access locations within American cities.
While neither of these access points would be considered normal for all of Ramallah or other locations within Palestine, it does indicate the potential for delivery of Internet services within the territory. Companies with an existing ICT presence, planning to open neutral data centers, could with additional investment and support of the government (regulatory issues and licensing) increase the potential for Internet protocol-enabled service delivery which would support far greater opportunities for elearning and telepresence.
The Education System
ICT diffusion into the public education system in Palestine is still low, with only around 30% of university students having good access to computers and Internet. The Ministry of Education and other government agencies should aggressively take advantage of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government donors to build a robust network-enabled education capacity.
Visiting refugee camps such as Jenin and Kalandia gives small bits of hope that displaced people do have the attention of organizations such as the United Nations. UN-administered schools will eventually bring additional hope to students who need eLearning and network education to have the basic intellectual tools to enter a modern work force and compete. Having those skills will also increase their potential of eventually leaving the camps, and recovering some quality of life.
Education programs supported and administered by religious groups appear to have a bit better eLearning programs (from discussion with representative from the Ramallah Quaker School). Graudates from those schools will also have better opportunities for international university sponsorships, and likely bring their experience and knowledge back to Palestine at some point.
There are many commuters who live in Jerusalem and travel to Ramallah each day. The trip is not far geographically, but can take a very long time depending on rush hours, curfews, border closures, or if the Israeli security forces have any extended searches or issues at the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
Having a telecommuting-ready industry would greatly improve the quality of life for people who need to commute between the cities, as well as provide another layer of physical safety for commuters (the Ramallah checkpoint has been a frequent area of civil unrest).
Students commuting between Ramallah and East Jerusalem encounter the same difficulty as workers. The following transcript from France24 tells the story of a young lady who travels the route daily.
There they met Zaina Abu Hamdan, an 18-year-old woman from Ramallah who described her daily two-hour commute to her high school in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed.
“As I wake up every morning and come here I am nervous, and I am thinking about the humiliations I am going to face,” she said.
Passing through the checkpoint often involves waiting for long periods in packed metal corridors, extended searches and loud orders issued in Hebrew by Israeli conscripts.
“If you are lucky, how long does it take,” Carter asked her.
“Thirty minutes,” she replied.
“And if you are unlucky?”
“Two or three hours.” (France 24)
Clearly eLearning, telecommuting, and telepresence could, and should have a very positive impact on the quality of life for all Palestinians. Israel needs to expedite approval and delivery of computer/wireless/telecom hardware, as well as release of additional wirel4ess frequency that would further support enhanced ICT.
A very difficult and troubled part of the world. However we cannot lose hope, and like a good Internet protocol packet, we need to find ways around obstacles.
John Savageau, from Ramallah, West Bank of Palestine