Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fwd: [From WSIS] When will the National Communications Authority stand up?

---------- Forwarded message ----------

The NCA is an agency of the government with oversight to, in effect, regulate the telecommunications sector and implement terms of Ghana's National Telecommunications Policy. According to the policy (2004) that can be downloaded from the Internet, while the Ministry of Communications is "responsible for the definition and elaboration of Government policy regarding telecommunications", the NCA has a number of roles that it plays in implementing the policy, which include: "regulation of competition, including interconnection; tariff regulation consistent with Ministry policies; monitoring of operator activity, performance, and compliance", and last but not least "consumer protection."

Reading the policy itself is enlightening, for the policy sounds robust. There is a section on "Principles of Transparent regulation" that explains that NCA "shall promote public participation in and awareness of its activities and ensure that the public has adequate access to sector information." Only last week, I checked to see whether the website of the NCA that is still under construction, and with some limited information about the sector, has managed to offer some new information. There is still nothing. Neither is there what there ought to be--as stipulated in the policy: an Annual Report in collaboration with the Ministry of Communication publishing "up-to-date industry information…" made available "for public review."

Protection for Whom?
In what would prove to be an unprecedented move last year, the Authority not only threatened ONETOUCH and MTN to stop selling re-charge cards, but that they should also improve the quality of their service, otherwise huge fines would be slapped on them. This was a historic feat of epic proportions it appeared, for even with the psychedelic MTN plane then-still-perched at the Tetteh-Quarshie interchange and MTN flags virtually drowning any Ghanaian ones, the Authority barked. At the eleventh hour, the Authority yielded, allowing both mobile providers get away with only an agreement to improve their services.

I don't know about you, but I don't call that consumer protection.

Giving customer service a new life?
Then there is the recent case of Gateway Broadcasting Services (GBS) that entered the country in October last year. I do not know of anyone--and I know three official establishments around my workplace use GBS--that has been able to get through to GBS customer service. Beyond one who had given out his mobile number to subscribers (regrettably, he is no longer working for the company), no-one else can be contacted when one's service is cut off -- either accidentally or not. When your payment has been made, the several landlines that have been given will forever put you through to a call centre operating outside Ghana in…Southern Africa, where, it stands to reason, there is a more clinical approach in dealing with you, given that the people are not in the country. As helpful and "nice" as they sound, nothing beats having Ghanaians help when I want my service re-connected , even if I have to have to lose my voice in doing so.

The anecdotes aside, such continuous practices remain an indictment of the NCA's work. As a regulator of the telecommunications industry, it behoves it to ensure standard regulation--as stipulated in the policy. To wit: "all public telecommunications operators shall be required to establish service level agreements with their customers, which identify the minimum quality of service standards to which customers are entitled, and the remedies and compensation available when service falls below such standards."

Concrete steps
The biggest step to ensuring regulation, in my humble opinion, would seem to be a clear and necessary *adoption* of the National Telecommunications Policy as a working document for all in the first place! Another issue is of toll-free numbers. The other day, the sixth biggest bank called to inform me that they now have a toll-free number that operate 24/7. If banks can do it, why not our MDAs? And certainly, why not NCA? Just a small query: I noticed the toll-free number works on the ONETOUCH network for now. In the event of government passing through any privatisation of GT by way of a totally-unnecessary emergency bill, will Vodafone not seek to make profit by disbanding the toll-free nature that GT has a great interest in maintaining?

Nigeria's NiTel to be Privatised…for Vodafone?
As if the attempt to privatize Ghana's national provider Ghana Telecom is insufficient, British-based Vodafone is ready to hit the Nigerian market with the acquisition of ECOWAS neighbour Nigeria's only landline provider. Rumours and accusations of the phone company being "beleaguered" and "inefficient" don't wash with me. They are code-words for any excuse to privatize. An article in Nigeria's *Punch" newspaper actually goes further arguing that: "…we can be certain about one thing: NITEL is currently bedeviled[sic] by multifaceted problems. These problems include malfunctioning lines, erratic billing system, poor customer satisfaction, infrastructural decay and a backlog of worker's salaries…" It seems to me that chance would be a fine thing were NiTel to escape privatization.

NiTel Privatisation Not New
As far back as May 2002, then-President Obasanjo was planning a divestiture of the state-run phone company. It had been scheduled for March of that year, but had to be postponed for September 2002. It is interesting to note that still at that time, 51% was what was being offered to the so-called strategic investors!

On a more serious note, whereas the incumbent Ghanaian administration has put forth 70% of GT to be privatized, even the horror stories associated with NiTel have warranted 50% to Vodafone. Why such discrepancy one wonders? Is it that Ghana Telecom has more of these calamities at its doorstep than NiTel? Let's examine them for a second. Last time I looked, GT was offering broadband4u (; dialup4u; ExZeed company which offers 24hour service to ONETOUCH subscribers, where MTN has not a 24-hr hotline, and Tigo's is non-existent (exists only as a number); a mobile provider since 2000 (albeit itself bedeviled with astronomical prices when it started, with sim cards then going for around GHC150!); Ghana Telecom University; EasyFone (which enables landlines to be set up more easily than ever before).

According to the reports I've been reading, M-Tel, NiTel's mobile operation that is a year younger than NiTel (having been established on October 2001), has only 176,000 subscribers. Compare that to MTN Nigeria that has 15,873,000 active lines. Switch to Ghana, and we find that where MTN Ghana is around 4 million subscribers, with ONETOUCH around 1.4m. That is subscribers over one million, yet Nigeria's is able to attract only a fraction. Despite this, it is being sold for 50%!

Is it me, or is there something odd about the whole rationale of the GT purchase?

Still always about politics?
Then I think, and think some more, and remember how early last year, South Africa's Standard Bank, operating under Stanbic Bank, was so keen to take over state-owned Agricultural Development Bank (ADB). One of its main motivations for the attempted sale (which incidentally, the government, according to financial papers two weeks ago have *de-prioritized*) was so that it could use the entry of Ghana as a gateway to penetrate the Nigerian market. A year ago today, Reuters reported that Standard Bank had bought a part of Nigeria's IBTC Chartered Bank Plc, which expertise is in investment banking with 55 branches across Nigeria. Standard Bank spokeswoman Kim Howard would say that "If you are going to have a pan African strategy, you have to include Nigeria."

Looks like this time, they decided to strike Nigeria after an attempted one here in Ghana. Whether they will succeed remains moot. Whatever will happen with the sale of GT, it has become crystal-clear that the stage has certainly been set for a new revolution before our very eyes.

Forget the Industrial Revolution. We are all sitting at the cusp of a revolution that implicates a sector so critical to our lives we could never have imagined. To think that a consortium of former MTN executives are bidding—so the telecoms newsletter Balancing Act reports – for NiTel is not just a reflection of the motivation of big people with big capital, but where the next wars might be fought. Forget your Cold War. Prepare yourself for the Telecoms Wars.

Posted By Emmanuel.K.Bensah II to From WSIS at 7/24/2008 03:02:00 AM

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

MTN Ghana denies tax evasion charges


MTN Ghana denies tax evasion charges
BY DAMARIA SENNE , ITWEB SENIOR JOURNALIST [ Johannesburg, 27 June 2008 ] - MTN has denied it is evading its tax and social responsibilities in Ghana, stating it was the top taxpayer in Ghana in the past three consecutive years.

MTN paid a total of $172.1 million in taxes in 2007, with 2006 payments adding up to $127 million, and 2005 taxes coming to $103 million, says Mawuena Azo Dumor, MTN Ghana's corporate services executive.

The denial follows a statement by Solomon Abam Quaye, the district chief executive of the Awutu-Senya region. He alleged that telecoms companies operating in the districts were evading their tax and social responsibility obligations, which resulted in low revenue generation.

Click here
Quaye named MTN, Tigo, One Touch and Kasapa as those refusing to pay up.

Modern Ghana reports that Quaye's office "met with the companies to prevail upon them to pay their taxes, but to no avail; and that – apart from MTN, which has paid something small – the rest have refused to pay".

"He said letters and bills have been sent to the companies informing them about the need to pay their taxes to the assembly, but none had responded. Quaye called on the companies to pay up their taxes and that the assembly would have no option but to take legal action against them," the report says.

Breaking it down

Dumor says MTN Ghana's payments included withholding tax, value-added tax, pay-as-you-earn taxes and custom duties.

MTN's 2007 tax payments included $8 million in withholding tax, $43 million in value-added tax, $0.9 million of pay-as-you-earn taxes and $5.5 million in custom duties, she says.

These figures represent payments outside of property rates for telecommunications cell site roll-outs and other fees charged by local government assemblies as operating fees, Dumor adds.

"It is clear that the district chief executive [DCE] unfortunately is unclear about the difference between corporate taxes, local government property rate/operation fees and corporate social responsibility investments," she says.

Fragmented regime

Dumor concedes there have been challenges with standardising the tax payment regime in Ghana.

However, the industry is working closely with the regulators and the sector ministry to address those disparities, she says.

"Operators were recently informed at a meeting with the honourable minister for communication that a directive had been sent to the various local government assemblies that this standardisation process would be addressed within the next one month time frame."

In the interim, further payments were to be deferred, she adds. The deferred payments are probably the fees cited by the DCE, which he erroneously called "taxes" in the corporate sense, she says.

Corporate social responsibility

Dumor also contends that MTN has invested heavily in social responsibility initiatives in Ghana.

Scancom Ghana donated $20 million to the Ghana Water Company, and MTN provides educational scholarships to about 400 students, she says.

In addition, MTN has committed $600 million towards the refurbishment of the country's major referral centre for all maternal health cases, she points out.

Damage control

Dumor says the Ghanaian Ministry of Communications has noted the publication of the tax evasion allegations, and supports efforts to ensure the DCE is acquainted with the relevant distinctions.

The government also supports MTN's view that property rates and operating fees are separate from corporate taxes, as well as social responsibility, she says.

"MTN is making efforts to engage with the DCE to clarify his comments and the company is aware that other operators that were also mentioned in the article are doing the same."


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fwd: Ghana Telecom Majority Sale to Vodafone: Potential Threat to National Security of Ghana


Myjoyonline                               Print<<Print>>
Ghana Telecom Majority Sale to Vodafone: Potential Threat to National Security of Ghana

The sale of majority shares of Ghana Telecom, GT, to Vodafone will have the potential to diminish the integrity of Ghana's sovereignty and threaten its national security.

Since taking over power of the state of Ghana in 2001, the New Patriotic Party, NPP, government led by President John Agyekum Kufuor, has not ceased playing political games with the telecommunications sector of the country. The expected sale of GT to the British-based Vodafone is ample testimony that the Kufuor administration is bent on handing over a strategic asset of our country to all-comers, within the circuit of neo-colonization and world imperialism.

When the British government offered recently to pay for the medical bills of pregnant women of Ghana I could not help myself to thinking that there was a string attached; there is no free lunch in the international system. It is commonplace knowledge that in the capitalist world economy nations have tended to pave the way for the profit interest of private corporations in their dealings with the foreign countries they expect to exploit. So, there you have it.

At the time of writing this article, both the government of Ghana which has the controlling authority over GT and Vodafone of Britain had announced versions of completion of negotiation for the latter to acquire 70% majority ownership of Ghana's leading telecommunications corporate agency of the state. A Reuters' news report released simultaneously in Ghana's capital city Accra and London on Thursday July 3, indicated that Vodafone Group had "paid $900 million (454million pounds) for a 70 percent stake in Ghana Telecom, the African country's third largest mobile phone operator," news carried the story.

According to the Reuters news story, the agreement signed between the government of Ghana and Vodafone in Accra "still requires approval of the country's parliament." In that regard, "Vodafone spokesman Simon Gordon said it was expected" that the parliamentary approval will be "given by the end of the third quarter of 2008."

When I broach the fear of threat to national security of Ghana in connection with the negotiated GT-Vodafone deal, I have in mind the infamous political episode that ended with swapping some citizens to the United States for the release of former President Jerry Rawlings' cousin Michael Soussoudis from American prison. The Soussoudis case remains a clear indication as to why and how the integrity of national security of a developing country like Ghana can be compromised easily by the infiltration of foreign intelligence agents for the collection of vital information. Did Ghana learn any useful lesson from the Soussoudis Spy Swap case?

Who knows what could happen to Ghana when foreigners are given unfettered access to the nerve center of the country's only significant telecommunications superhighway outfit in this day and age of advanced Information and Communications Technology, ICT.

Meanwhile, the leading opposition political party in the parliament of Ghana has issued a statement raising serious questions about the process and content of the reported deal signed between the Ghanaian government and Vodafone. The opposition National Democratic Congress, NDC, questions why the GT-Vodafone deal was for 70% acquisition instead of the advertised 66.77% shares.

In a press statement released July 3, the NDC parliamentary opposition expressed "disappointment at the general lack of openness and transparency in the privatization of the major National asset (GT), which has major National Security and Economic implication[s]." The statement indicated that several telecommunications companies from around the world, including "a local Ghanaian-led consortium," had expressed interest in GT in October 2006, "when the Government of Ghana begun a process of identifying a strategic investor to acquire between 55% and 65% of the equity of Ghana Telecom (GT) and to take over management of " it's operation. In that context, the NDC DOCUMENT
posted on July 3, 2008, stated: "The minority wants to know why Government is exclusively negotiating with only Vodafone plc UK without consideration for other bidders who are likely to offer higher bids than Vodafone, and address the socio-economic needs of the country."

"In March 2008, overtures were made to Vodafone plc UK seeking an offer. Vodafone's offer as we were told from Government's own sources was $960 million with stringent caveats still far below the Minority expectations of $1.5 billion or more for the value of GT (subject to its own internal valuation and audits to be conducted during its due diligence process)," the NDC document stated.

In news reports regarding completion of negotiation with Vodafone, the Kufuor administration invokes rising expectation from the deal, suggesting higher level of efficiency and technical competence in Ghana's telecommunications industry. While the government's statement assures Ghanaians of benefits from the GT-Vodafone agreement, it seems to be silent on Vodafone's profit interest, as if Vodafone were a charitable organization.

Vodafone sees its principal benefits in the GT acquisition deal in terms of "Exposure to the attractive and growing Ghanaian telecommunications market," in a country with "total population of 24 million with more than 50% under the age of 25" and with "real GDP growth of 6.3% in 2007, contained inflation and a stable political background," according to a statement on Vodafone's website (, accessed on July 4, 2008. The statement notes also that Ghana has a "low mobile penetration at c.35%, with 2.7 million subscribers added in 2007." More interestingly, Vodafone notes "significant additional growth prospects from recent oil field discoveries" in Ghana.

A fair question to ask is that given the positive indicators identified by Vodafone and the prospects for growth, what stops Ghanaians themselves from managing operations of GT in order to realize the benefits for the country, as opposed to giving away the hen that is expected to lay golden eggs, so to speak? In the possible answer to this question lies the issue of diminishing sovereignty of Ghana: Why can't Ghanaians do for themselves what others can do?

In addition to the positive indicators associated with GT mentioned above, Vodafone recognizes it is the third largest mobile telephone player in Ghana "with approximately 17% market share and 1.4 million customers as at 31 March 2008." In addition, GT is the "leading fixed line and broadband operator with c.99% of the total number of lines and c.90%market share of the retail ADSL market." Vodafone has noted also that GT had "revenue growth of 9.3% in the 12 months ended 31 December 2007 …." Again, it is fair for one to ask why would Ghana hand over majority controlling share in a corporate entity that has the market data indicated by Vodafone?

Of course, it is no wonder that Vodafone has recognized the "Substantial turnaround potential" of GT and expects "to invest US$500 million in its operations and network, restoring and expanding network coverage and completing and integrating the fiber backbone." However, the parliamentary opposition, NDC, has raised its ire with "the inclusion of the National Fiber Optic backbone constructed at the cost of $100 million with a loan from China, which has never been part of Ghana Telecom's (GT) assets," in the Vodafone transaction. "We demand to know why this [fiber optic] has been included as part of Ghana Telecom's assets as the second phase of this ICT infrastructure highway is yet to commence," NDC's press statement stressed.

The parliamentary opposition notes also that selection of Vodafone contravenes "A major requirement as was advertised by government for a strategic investor" with "significant fixed wire line operations experience." As it turns out, "Vodafone is the world's largest mobile telecommunications group …," according to the corporation's statement on its website. In this regard, Ghana's parliamentary opposition states, "The selection of a mobile only network operator (Vodafone) clearly flaunts the Government of Ghana's own non negotiable selection [criterion] that states the successful bidder must have significant experience operating Fixed Wire Line telecommunications network with (a minimum of 10 million lines/subscribers)."

In connection with the need for experience in fixed line operation, the parliamentary opposition NDC noted, that "This requirement cannot be met by Vodafone plc UK as it is a wireless mobile network operator and has no real fixed network operations record experience, no unbundled broadband internet experience. As such they may abandon fixed network operations in favor of highly profitable mobile wireless unit unless there are legal safeguards."

Active Ghanaians may recall that the GT-Vodafone deal is not the first time the Kufuor administration has promised the country one thing and delivered another in the telecommunications sector. In 2002, the Kufuor administration's Minister of Communications, Felix Owusu-Adjepong (MP, NPP-Akim Swedru) told Ghanaians he was inviting a strategic investor in GT and brought in Telenor Norway which turned out to be an expensive "management consultant." The Telenor deal took place after politically motivated ousting of Telekom Malaysia orchestrated by Owusu-Adjepong.

Unlike the other opposition political parties in Ghana such as the Convention People's Party, CPP and PNC that have chickened out of commenting on the GT-Vodafone deal, it is commendable that the NDC has mustered the courage to air its disagreements with portions of the agreement, even though it is not against the sale, per se. Yet, the NDC cannot be looked at as an angel regarding using the state-owned Ghana Telecommunications Ltd, GT, as a political cash cow.

Four months before Ghana's 2000 general elections, the NDC government, led by ex-President Jerry Rawlings, sold 15% more shares of GT to Telekom Malaysia for which the Asian multi-national paid $100 million in cold cash. (Ref. "Telekom Malaysia to Buy 15% More in Ghana Telecom for $100 Mln," at Business News of Thursday, 17 August 2000. Source: Bloomberg L.P).

Since there was no public accounting of the $100 million paid by Telekom Malaysia, the perception that the NDC administration used that money for its electioneering campaign cannot be challenged. Hence, refusal of the NPP government to renew Telekom Malaysia's GT contract in 2001 could be considered truly as motivated by political consideration. Of course, this view is not intended to hold brief for Telekom Malaysia whose performance in Ghana left more to be desired.

It is interesting and disturbing also that with the arrival of Telenor Norway management consultant on the Ghanaian telecommunications scene, the Kufuor administration made high-flying pronouncements about potential benefits and raised expectations of Ghanaians similar to what it is doing with the GT-Vodafone deal.

In the process towards hiring Telenor, Felix Owusu-Adjepong promised Ghanaians 400,000 fixed line telephones in short order. Almost seven years to date, GT is short of the 400,000 fixed line telephones. In this regard, why must Ghanaians believe the Kufuor Administration's promise of high expectations from the GT-Vodafone deal?

Unlike the Telenor arrangement, Vodafone has protected itself with the provisions of United States Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Ghana will incur a hefty price if and when it decides to get out of the GT-Vodafone deal.

Given the degree and intensity of reportage of the GT-Vodafone deal globally, it is clear the whores and vultures of international big business are celebrating a good hunting day on the carcass that the NPP government of Ghana has delivered on a golden parachute.

The writer, Yaw Adu-Out, WOODBRIDGE, Virginia; is the author of "Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Review of the First Kufuor Administration" (Available Online)

Story from Myjoyonline.Com News:

Published: 7/9/2008


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Where did World Telecommunication Information Society Day go?

Where did WTIS Day Go?

By E.K.Bensah II


So, Tigo won an award for telecommunications company of the year; ONETOUCH launched its mobile tv outfit—BLACKSTAR TV; MTN outdoored its MTN swap kit; and Kasapa was runner-up to the company of the year for the Ghana ICT Awards. Can someone tell me when the promoters of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day can stand up?


It was as if it never happened. That Saturday 17 May, I scanned both the local and foreign media to find out whether the day had been celebrated. On the Internet, it seemed like every country was celebrating it—and considering most UN members also belong to the UN's International Telecommunications Union(ITU), it would not have been strange if they were. Instead, I consistently drew a blank. Especially painful was the Ghanaian media, which provided scant coverage of it in the news. Beyond the odd newspaper report, none of our Saturday weeklies had anything about the day on the Saturday itself.


The following Monday, I decided to ask some of my ICT journalist colleagues who were also monitoring. They all drew a blank, bar one who said that Ghana Telecom had said something about it on their website.


I do not know what it is supposed to say about the country—anyone can make up their own mind—but I believe it is a serious indictment of a country that aspires to be the ICT hub of West Africa. With companies like BusyInternet (reputed to be the biggest Internet Cafe in Africa) in the country that have propelled Ghana towards the image of a Ghana that is ICT-savvy, the lack of celebration of WTIS day puts paid to interesting anecdotal evidence about an emerging silicon valley in Accra.


Furthermore, the lack of celebration of the day reflects a lackadaisical attitude to the symbolism of such special days. Although we might be apportioning unnecessary blame to the media, I believe they are the ones that ought to stand up and promote the day for us. After all, the tools that they use—from the mobile phone, radio, satellite and television—represent the quintessential ICT tools that have come to be part and parcel of the work they do. In the same way that a week earlier, the media was able to report to us about the necessity of freedom of the press, so it is incumbent that they remind society how they are able to effectively do the work they do


The Future

I can only say that we can do better next time—and I believe we can. We still have one year to prepare—even if it falls on a Sunday! I presume there will be another Ghana ICT Awards next year and possibly other ICT-related events in 2009. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to policy-makers, industry-watchers, and any emerging bloggers out there to make some big noise about WTIS day next year.


First of all, It could be used as an opportunity to bring pressure to bear on our regulators, such as the National Communication Authority, to exercise greater vigilance on the mobile service providers in the country. Issuing threats without implementing them has never been a good way of regulating. Secondly, it could be a moment to evaluate the communication services tax  (CST) or talk-time tax and establish whether it is yielding the desired outcomes it sought to do, and/or whether there needs to be a call for it repeal or not.


In short, there are many opportunities that a developing country like ours can maximise on special days that are celebrated globally to make changes that will benefit us all. Each year the information society becomes that more sophisticated and complex; the earlier we begin to recognise this and act accordingly, the better an information society it will be for us all! / / 020.7550845


Thursday, May 29, 2008

MINUTES OF GHAJICT MEETING on 27 March, 2008 at Busy Internet, Ring Road (Belated)

Many thanks, Nana Appiah!--EKB


Busy Internet, Ring Road




n               Nana Appiah, EXECUTIVE MEMBER

n               E.K.Bensah, Ag. PRESIDENT

n               Fred Sarpong, Ag.PRO



  1. state of play:
    1. GHAJICT Logo (costs, etc)
    2. registration of ghajict
    3. contacts pro has collected for launch
  2. recommended action for launch
  3. aob




  1. GHAJICT Logo (costs, etc)
    1. Emmanuel started off first by enquiring from the others whether Veronica has been able to get things going with the Association logo and letterheads. Comments had been made a few months back on the GHAJICT list-serv, but nothing had ensued. It was agreed it was important to pick up.
    2. since time is of the essence, Vero should try as much as possible to maintain regular contact with members on what efforts she has made on the logo.
    3. Emmanuel said he would hook up with Vero to see how best the logo can be done—and how quickly.


  1. registration of ghajict
    1. Members need to act in order to make the Association a legitimate one
    2. Emily Aggrey is in charge of ensuring that members pay their dues promptly so that Association can go ahead and be registered
    3. Emily needs to provide feedback on what has happened with the registration, as well as necessary future steps


  1. contacts pro has collected for launch
    1. contacts are ready


2. recommended action for launch

a. Delegation of roles to each member towards the setting up of the Association

b. encouraging GHAJICTers to register with to enhance activities of GHAJICT

c. deadline date for all payment dues was set for 1st week of May


    1. GHAJICT preparation towards World Telecom and IS Day on 17th MAY, 2008
    2. Nana Appiah was charged to register GHAJICT with ECOBANK. ECOBANK needs the Association registered before it can accept the application
    3. Nanna Appiah was appointed as secretary as Listowell Fordjour is studying





Monday, May 19, 2008


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <>
Date: 2008/5/18

New York, May 18 2008  6:00PM
A leading United Nations body working to spread the benefits of information technology should concentrate on the four areas that most concern people around the world, the chair of that body said today.

Craig Barrett, Chair of the UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development, told the third annual meeting of the Global Alliance in Kuala Lumpur that people were most interested about: getting software and hardware, connectivity, local content and ICT education.

The Global Alliance "should concentrate on programmes that focus on access," such as public-private partnerships, community centres and ICT for schools, said Mr. Barrett, who is also the Chairman of Intel.

It should concentrate "on the fundamentals of getting connectivity; on local content, which can create huge local economic possibilities; and on educating people on using the technology -- and there are marvellous new education programmes out there that are reaching millions of teachers."

The top UN official for economic and social affairs also called for a more focused scope. "The Global Alliance is at a turning point," said Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, whose department hosts the Alliance.

"It has the brand -- it is a big name now. It has the recognition, the platform and the networks," he told some 150 participants of the Alliance's Strategic Council. "It has launched initiatives and partnerships that are already yielding initial results. It is now important to better focus the work of the Alliance on fewer activities of strong impact."

Maximus Ongkili, Malaysia's Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and co-chair of the meeting, said his country and the Global Alliance had a similar approach on the issue: both were involving all interested parties, mobilizing global partnerships, stressing the importance of human capital and emphasizing knowledge-sharing.

"ICT is gaining importance in addressing climate change and the food crisis," said International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, a member of the 17-person Alliance Steering Committee. "On these issues, ICT is part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said.

The Alliance, which was launched in Kuala Lumpur in June 2006, had already achieved results, Mr. Barrett said, such as "improvements in education, health care and the ability of governments to communicate with their citizens." A health-care project supported by the Alliance had won an award for the best application of ICT in India, he noted.

Global Alliance Executive Coordinator Sarbuland Khan said that in the past year the body had organized or co-organized some 15 events involving over 6,000 participants, including the first-ever meeting bringing together the private sector and the UN on the issue of climate change.

Created by the UN Secretary-General in 2006, the Global Alliance seeks to mobilize the human, financial and technical resources required to bridge major gaps in ICT infrastructure, services and applications across the world. Its main areas of focus are education, health, economic development and online government services. The Alliance is self-funded, and has been able to raise close to $1 million per year from governments, corporations, foundations and other sources.

 2008-05-18 00:00:00.000


For more details go to UN News Centre at

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

AGENDA for 27 March mtg @ Busy Internet

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: E.K. Bensah II <>
Date: 14 févr. 2008 13:06
Subject: AGENDA for 22 Feb mtg @ Busy Internet

             a. GHAJICT logo (costs, etc)
             b. Registration
             c. Contacts Fred Sarpong (PRO) has collected for launch
2. Recommended action for launch
3. Exposure of PenplusBytes Conference on Web 2.0 for GHAJICT / how GHAJICT can capitalise on it
4. AOB
Hope to see you all at Busyinternet by 6.30pm on 27/3/08

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ARTICLE: "No country for Microsoft's Men"

No Country for Microsoft's Men

By E.K.Bensah II


There is a stalker loose on the online world. It is going round killing competition and perpetuating monopolies through dirty tactics of vote-rigging. It has a remarkable ability to pay lip-service to development of any standards, whilst consistently reluctant in sharing what it knows. Last week, it became the victim of yet-another fine from no less than the Brussels-based European Commission.


It's Microsoft again.


Last week, the EU fined the software giant a record 899 million euros ($1.35billion) for using high prices to offset software competition. This fine, the latest sanction in the long-running battle, brings to €1.68bn the total sum that the executive wing of the EU has brought to bear on the software giant.  And it is not without good reason: Microsoft has – for four years since the fine was slapped on it for abusing its 95 percent dominance of PC operating systems through Windows—defied the EU by failing to pay.


EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes maintains in a statement that "Microsoft was the first company in 50 years of EU competition policy that the Commission has had to fine for failure to comply with an anti-trust decision." She adds: "talk is cheap; flouting the rules is expensive."

While observers and insiders alike may feel this is nothing more than the European Commission punishing Microsoft for being the market leader, there is a phalanx of committed people emerging from that ever-nebulous online world who argue to the contrary—that though the fine might have been steep, it sure as serves Microsoft right.



Microsoft may be unpopular, but it's got a certain hold over us. None of us is deluded into thinking that the ability to use Microsoft packages does not make life easier for us. Or is it merely because we have been so used to it? The Free and Open Source Foundation would beg to differ. It, along with many in the open source software community, already have a bone to pick with Microsoft on account of the manner in which it is less than forthcoming on disclosing the codes it uses for its software.


Already, as Reuters reports, rival makers of work group servers, which operate printers and sign-ons for small office groups, have seen their markets diminish considerably because Microsoft stopped providing information they would have needed to hook up to Windows office machines.


This below-the-belt practice has only gone to consolidate the image of an insensitive giant that needs it wings clipped.


It will be re-called that the 2004 case for which non-compliance has landed Microsoft this heavy fine stems from the fact that Microsoft had been tying its Windows Media Player to the then-version of Windows it was using. Norway-based Opera, also another popular browser, complained to the EC that Microsoft had done the same thing with Internet Explorer.


Actions, not Words

As Microsoft has painfully realised, reneging on a four-year decision by claiming you will pay is not just setting a bad example for a company of its stature, but it's also terribly expensive. As to whether it will get about paying as quickly as possible is moot. Either way, the above-case has shown that there is something visceral in the company that chooses to do things that make it unpopular. Many people can only deduce this to be manifestations of an unprecedented rapaciousness. They would not be far off the mark.


At the time of writing, there is a closed-door meeting hosted by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) in Geneva, where the said-organisation was supposed to assist ISO members address serious concerns that prevented them from approving Microsoft's Office OpenXML (OOXML) document format (compatible with Microsoft Office 2003, 2007 and XP file formats) as a standard approved by ISO last September.


The genesis of it all is that there already exists a format—the one document format (ODF), which has been approved by ISO. Now this approval is important, because an increasing number of national governments and public authorities worldwide are committing to use only ISO-standard-approved products—which ODF is. Failure for Microsoft to ratify its version of OpenXML would mean that many would wave bye-bye to Microsoft's products, opting naturally for the standard. This would translate into falling profits—something completely anathema to a big-business venture like Microsoft.


So if that meant that Microsoft would use unorthodox measures—such as in August 2007, when a good 25 local partners that had not participated in discussions over OOXML paid their admission fee and gave OOXML a resounding corresponding number of votes -- all after Microsoft bussed them to a meeting in Sweden over the ratification of OOXML—it would do so!


Despite all this, in September 2007, ISO would fail to approve OOXML as an ISO-standard—much to the delight and glee of Google which promptly praised the move, saying: "our engineers conducted an independent analysis of the OOXML specification and found several areas of concern, which we communicated both to the ISO and to the public." It ended: "technical standards should be arrived at transparently, openly, and based on technical merit." Google has good reason to explain this development away, for it maintains that there is an already-"high degree of interoperability" and "wide support" for the ODF format, which is already operating in Gmail's Google Docs.



In February this year, Microsoft was, yet again, found wanting by the European Commission over the issue of OOXML.  The anti-trust arm of the Commission has already begun formal probes against the company. In the first case, the EC said it was investigating a complaint filed by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) alleging how Redmond, Microsoft's headquarters in Oregon, had refused to divulge information about interoperability on a gamut of Microsoft's products. Furthermore, the EC said that it would be scrutinising the OpenOXML on the basis that it fails to work with competitors. They say bad things happen in threes—and this drama is no exception for the third and final probe resides on the EC investigating the role of the software giant in this ISO debate.


After Geneva

When all is said and done in Geneva, what will matter will be the voting. After the meeting, attending national delegations – as well as fifty others that took part in the vote last year—will have until 29 March to shift their positions, so that the Redmond-based giant might get a look-in towards a two-thirds majority. You can imagine that Google has clamped down hard against any approval—along with the open source community.


In the long run, whatever happens in Geneva will matter a great deal to the rest of us consumers, because it will underscore the need to practice the "eternal vigilance" Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah talked about in all our dealings. It is frankly ironic that in the so-called information society that we are purported to live in, issues like these assume a Byzantian feel, being further reduced to issues worthy for geeks. For example, had it not been for interested parties who passed much of this information to me, I would have been none the wiser.


There will be blood

On more substantive issues, as to whether Microsoft will naturally fall from grace or be proverbially pushed over the edge by steep fines from the European Commission remains to be seen. Ultimately, the impact of these developments would depend on how we, as consumers, here in Ghana and beyond, respond.


Opera, for example, from this month will start using Google as its default search engine on its ever-popular opera browser for mobile. The release on its website of 27 February reads: "Google has been the default search option on Opera's desktop browser for seven years. This new mobile collaboration covers all global territories except Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and includes all of Opera's standard mobile Web browsers". What is perhaps implicit in the news is the fact that despite the erstwhile collaboration on the desktop browser, Opera is choosing to link to Google in response to the Microsoft-Yahoo saga a few weeks ago. By cementing its stance vis-à-vis Microsoft, the yawning gap between itself and the software giant will be clearer.


As for the rest of us, the atavistic tendency of Ghanaians to accept all that comes from the West as the best will present challenges on combating the growing menace that is Microsoft. As long as there exists no real online regulator of the virtual world—save the increasing presence of the EC—it is clear there will be battles… and blood. It probably behooves us to become passive resistors, by boycotting Microsoft goods, where necessary.


They say you don't kick a dog when it's down. The proverb scribes probably forgot to add "even if it is a multi-billion-dollar one". What is crystal-clear in what appears to be cries of blue murder against Microsoft is this: as long as the European Commission is here to stay and as long as virtual expansionist appetites continue to know no bounds – whether it finds expression in a Microsoft-Yahoo hostile merger, or Microsoft's strategy to extend market dominance through the use of Vista—reputed to be riddled with more holes than a Swiss cheese; or vote-rigging in Geneva to have its Microsoft Office standard passed at an international body—we are quickly and surely being reminded that the online terrain will be no country for Microsoft's greedy men.



Monday, March 03, 2008

ARTICLE: (Pod)Casting Aspersions on Ghana's Media

(Pod)Casting Aspersions on Ghana's Media

By E.K.Bensah II


Quite a number of Ghanaian media outlets—both print and otherwise—own websites. Rare is the website that provides the possibility of downloading digitally-recorded material. In the Ghanaian case, it is downright non-existent. I am not quite sure whether it is a technical lacuna within these organisations, or that the Ghanaian media feel there is nothing qualitative from, say, their radio stations for download. For whatever mysterious reason, the state of the Ghanaian media insofar as facilitation of ICT tools and applications, such as podcasts, remain downright execrable.


Each time I listen to the BBC, which I know many Ghanaian journalists are wont to listen to, I am both quizzed and mad. I feel quizzed because I cannot for the life of me understand why despite the fact that some journalists enjoy the privilege of being sent out of the country to consolidate their journalism skills, their training fails to translate into dexterity and/or an appreciation for the current ICT tools. I am mad because a number of these tools that are part and parcel of what is considered the "New Media" are free! If any of us are able to become, say, a blogger overnight, you can imagine how a journalist – writing in his capacity as a private person – can maximise the use of blogs. If that journalist works for a radio station, you can imagine how much he/she can benefit from the use of podcasts by the radio or television station.


Pleasure of podcasts

Put simply, podcasts are recorded digital media files – usually audio – that can be downloaded onto any device, including mobile phones. It is exclusively distributed over the Internet, often using syndication feeds, for playback on portable media players and personal computers. The term is what online encyclopaedia Wikipedia calls a 'portmanteau' term of "i-pod" and, it is assumed, "broadcast". The Apple I-pod is the brand of portable device for which "scripts" were developed. In turn, these scripts enabled podcasts to be automatically transferred to a mobile device after they were downloaded.


Listen to the BBC World Service and within each hour, you are bound to hear remonstrations by both the station's presenters and continuity alike to visit the world broadcaster's podcast page, so that you can enjoy and re-visit the rich experience that the World Service offers. It has been advertised so many times you might get the impression that these podcasts are for sale. In fact, they are absolutely free, and can range from a minimum of 5 minutes to more than 60 minutes.


Not just for radio

It would be erroneous to believe, on the strength of the BBC, that only radio can offer podcasts. The truth of the matter is that if you look closely to how the quality Western media is doing it, even newspapers are doing it. Far be it for me to plug London's Guardian newspaper, but you cannot avoid it, especially when it's been, for a long time, dubbed the best online newspaper. The website has a podcast page, where you can obtain audio downloads on Money; Culture; US elections; Travel; Environment, etc. You name it; the site has a podcast for it—even if it's only three minutes long. In my view, this is innovation at its best: taking the print platform and revolutionising it to the extent that it becomes real—without being too in your face. Surely the Ghanaian media is capable of this as well?


When UEFA-licensed coach Nana Agyeman suggested on a private radio station (with a "refreshing lifestyle") three weeks ago that sports journalists were generally uneducated in the journalism profession, he incurred the wrath of many. The truth of the matter is that journalism has ironically had bad press for so long –- what with solidarity money, or sole, to write stories; bad pay, and whatnot –- that when journalists are not seen to make the rest of Ghanaian's lives easier by making it pleasurable to read, watch, and listen to practitioners of their profession, they will only go to reinforce an image of their profession that is far from positive.


Let's face it: podcasts are not only supposed to educate us; they are supposed to make our lives easier. Issues with internet connectivity notwithstanding, last time I looked, most internet cafes enabled you download from the 'Net and even from and unto your storage devices. Even without a connection at work or in your home, if you knew you could re-listen to your popular breakfast, or lunchtime show, by way of a podcast, I could imagine you would end up feeling both sated and dedicated to your station of choice—knowing they not only care about the kind of programmes they produce, but want you to be further interested in giving you the opportunity to listen again. To boot, your productivity would inevitably be boosted knowing you would not make too much effort to listen to a programme on the hour, especially when you can catch it again—albeit without contributions by text and email you might want to make.



Future for Media can be Podcasting

Truth be told, the tectonic shifts in technology and the media is spawning not just a whole slew of terminology that was alien to us a decade ago, but a whole phalanx of media practitioners that are forced to become media warriors—armed with new ideas and new skills on top of the traditional ones they know. Despite the fact that organisations like the Ghanaian-based PenPlusBytes—Ghana's only Institute of ICT Journalism—has regularly offered training to Ghanaian journalists, the commitment by these journalists has been this side short of poor. I do not believe for one moment that aspersions should merely be cast on the individuals, for opportunities, in theory, ought to be made by the management of these media institutions. If that is failing, that it can only be incumbent on these media-warriors to grab up their skills and interest and teach themselves within the information society.


From my experience, the saturation of information is such that there are little excuses these days to be technologically-illiterate, especially when you are a practitioner of the proverbial Fourth Estate. Journalism, surely, ought to not simply be about re-hashing press releases, and waxing incessantly about issues that are bound to polarize us, but ought, in my view, to be about formatting, or packaging, the information within society by using the information society to inform society in the traditional gate-keeper fashion. Let's be clear: podcasting alone will not do this, but undoubtedly, it can revolutionise the media and, by extension, society into keeping in tune with what the twenty-first century has to offer.