A call for regional co-operation

The Arab Broadband Internet Forum says Arab states must work together to make broadband internet a reality in the region.

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By  David Ingham Published  November 10, 2002

High costs and an absence of locally developed content are the biggest inhibitors for broadband internet uptake in the Middle East, according to the Arab Broadband Internet Forum.

Ahmed Al Oteify, spokesperson and founding member of the Forum, says co-operation between Arab countries will be fundamental in dealing with the problems.

On the question of cost, he says that bandwidth prices could be lowered dramatically if Arab countries made more effort to share capacity between themselves. “If you send a mail to sometime next door, it should not go through the States. Keep the traffic of the region inside the region,” urges Al Oteify.

On the question of localised content, he is also calling for pan-Arab co-operation. “I believe there should be a mutual effort,” says Al Oteify.

“We would like to create a pan-Arab organisation or company where all the incumbents participate in order to pump a large amount of money into development of content. Otherwise, the [broadband] business is not going to pick up.”

He says that a failure to deal with the question of localised content will mean the internet becoming a, “threat to us rather than being an opportunity.”

The Arab Broadband Internet Forum has warned that a failure to transition the Arab world towards broadband internet could deepen the so called ‘Digital Divide.’

“DSL will become the predominant way to access the internet by 2005 and content will become broadband. This is why we, in the Arab countries, have to catch up with the world,” says Al Oteify.

“There is what we call now the information divide and the information divide is leading to an economic divide. If your children are not accessing the same type of information and knowledge, then in the long term it will lead to economic inequality.”

Egypt, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have so far made DSL services available, with monthly access rates ranging from $50 to $100. Some PTTs also plan to launch internet over cable and wireless ‘hotspot’ services.

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