Papau Struggles to Level the Internet Playing Field

Papua-NetThe Warnet** was full. Students and adults shared a few old computers running the Windows XP operating system, connecting to Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, and other social networking sites. A few looked at web pages from universities scattered around the world, and a few simply indulged in the escape of online gaming. This is Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia. The provincial capital of Indonesia’s eastern-most province, just a couple of miles from the international border with Papua New Guinea.

Internet access is accomplished via satellite connections, mostly provided by the national PTT Telkom Indonesia through their “Speedy” Internet DSL service. However “Speedy” should be best considered a simple branding term – unrelated to the reality of Internet access that is limited by around 83 Mbps satellite capacity serving the needs of a city totaling more than 350,000 people. That is not likely to change any time soon, as the Palapa fiber optic ring is still on the drawing board, and satellite coverage and capacity over the Papua region is limited.

Connecting to Skype via the hotel WiFi connection (Aston Hotel in Jayapura), you can get a relatively decent video call – depending on the time of day (normally between 0100 and 0700). Not HD quality, but movement is good, and audio quality is good. You wouldn’t want to be downloading files via email, or web surfing on high density pages, however if the computer is basically idle, and the network not heavily in use, you can get the call.

Other Internet access is available through PT Indosat and the mobile carriers, however each have their own limitations, whether it be by location, cost, or services offered to users.

Moving to West Papua

Manokwari, the provincial capital of West Papua, is a different experience. Internet bandwidth to the city is very limited, to the point getting any level of Internet access is considered good. However, while in Manokwari, sitting outside the Blue and White Warnet at 0500 in the morning, connecting to a prepaid WiFi access point – I was able to call home using Skype. Lots of clipping and echo, a few rounds of “hey, say that again, the connection is not very good,” and a bit of frustration, but at 0500 I called home.

papua-blue-whiteThe Blue and White Warnet is probably among the best public access points in Manokwari. It also serves as a mini community center, hangout location for young people, and café. For young people with dreams of a successful, happy life, the Warnet provides a healthy opportunity to explore other parts of the world. They can build their dreams of education, job opportunities, and travel to parts of the world which seem like a science fiction novel compared to their surroundings of jungle and poverty.

Whether it is Jayapura, or Manokwari, or any other remote area in this huge country, the message is clear – “we need more, better, and faster Internet.” Students and young people understand their global competition is children from cities like Sunnyvale or Seoul, where access to the vast world of Internet knowledge and opportunity is taken for granted, at speeds to papua-wifiindividual homes exceeding the entire access capacity of their province.

But yet a crowd gathers at the Blue and White Warnet every day and evening. And students continue to squeeze every bit of value from their low speed Internet connections possible, continuing to grasp at threads of dreams they may someday become full members of the connected global community.

As mentioned in earlier posts on the Warnet culture in western Indonesia, the Warnets in general have no problems with users accessing pornography or trying to hack – most users are genuinely trying to use the resource to learn more, and get a brief glimpse into a better life.

Palapa Ring – East

Bringing the Palapa Fiber Optic Ring to eastern Indonesia is an essential key to connecting the major islands back to western Indonesia and the rest of the world. While satellite capacity begins to run dry, the hope of bringing a high performance fiber system to the shores of Papua would enable bandwidth needed to bring modern eGovernment, education, and capacity for private industry to fully join the global economy, subsequently improving quality of life for all citizens.

As a neutral cable, Palapa Ring – East will also promote competition among Indonesia’s carriers and service providers to extend their networks to Papua and West Papua bringing better price competition, quality of service (including customer service), and variety of services. An Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in the major cities will boost local content and communications performance, without having to make the trek from Papua to Jakarta to Papua for accessing locally hosted content.

That is the good news. The bad news is that Palapa Ring east only exists on Powerpoint slides and meeting discussions. A great idea, which everybody appears to want, but no schedule, and no solid plan for the project. It will happen someday, we just do not know what day that might be.

The Developing World Needs Access

Whether Burma, Laos, North Korea, Somalia, or any other developing region, Internet access is best considered a human right withheld by the government, or limited by technical capability shortfalls within the country. With a child growing up in a city such as Burbank (California) having global Internetworking technologies and applications diffused into their lives from nearly the time they can walk, the digital divide in 2010 has continued to expand to new extremes.

While those hanging out at the Blue and White café are able to use Facebook, some eLearning applications, Twitter, chats, and email – 20 miles into the jungle is a completely different story. The access is cut off, and for hundreds of villages located throughout Papua, Internet is simply not available.

Within the city center in cities such as Jayapura, you do have a scattering of good buildings, and within some of the new settlement areas outside of the city better infrastructure is being produced.  However for the most part, people struggle everyday to learn, to earn, and to meet the most basic requirements in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. 

papua-jayapuraImagine if you were sitting in Costa Mesa (California) and you could not connect to the Internet. Imagine that it is simply not available in your area. Hard to imagine. Today each child born and raised in Papua and West Papua is burdened with an environment that simply does not give them the intellectual tools to compete with children in Jakarta, Burbank, or any other wired city.

And in Burbank we consider it a crime if our cable TV provider has less than 100 HD channels available, or every sporting event on planet available in real time.

Instant communications, instant access to information, instant access to thousands of applications and utilities that make life better – a right of all citizens. in reality no immediate communications during disasters, no support for people when they are sick or injured, no WebMD, Wikipedia, or Yahoo Answers. Just “not available here.” As an Internet user, sitting in a hotel room where Internet is simply not available, and my next opportunity to connect is 0500 tomorrow morning – and having lived in a wired world for most of the past 25 years – this is a very strange experience.

An experience that is considered normal for everybody in Manokwari.


NOTE: Wireless access is available through companies such as Telokomsel. They have deployed 3G services to both cities mentioned in this article using flash modems, although the services are more expensive than most can handle for any level of large data transfer, not to mention the cost of user equipment (handsets and mobile/laptop computers). Again, expensive satellite connections must be paid for, and as always the end user carries the cost. But it is a step forward.

**Warnet = A Warnet is similar to an Internet Café.  However it is normally a small room, with around 10 small computer workstations connected to the Internet.  in many locations in Indonesia, the Warnet is the only location people can access the Internet, as most cannot afford their own computer, or in their area Internet access is simply not available.

We should also note that mobile telephony is available nearly everywhere in Indonesia, with the exception of remote villages within the interior of locations such as Papua.  As 3G wireless technology continues to extend into more and more remote locations, the potential of handsets becoming the dominant Internet access device is a high probability, with the only real limitation being the connection will ultimately be completed using satellite links.

John Savageau

From Manokwari, West Papua, indonesia

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

One Response to Papau Struggles to Level the Internet Playing Field

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Papau Struggles to Level the Internet Playing Field « John Savageau's Technology Innovation Topics -- Topsy.com

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