A bit of news has been spreading like wildfire these past few days in Amman: the new 8mb ADSL Internet connection from Orange. The advertisements have been popping up all over town and it naturally got me thinking about what such a leap in speed might mean for Jordan. Yes, it is not the most significant event, but in a country this small the ripple effects of such a move can be pretty interesting.
Internet is not a commodity that is, as of yet, wide spread in the Kingdom. While many people do have access to the Internet through their workplace, through Internet cafes, through schools, universities and various other places, Internet penetration, as defined by the number of subscribers, remains relatively low. So for those who do have, say, Internet access at home, the pool is some what small.
The number of those people who have ADSL connections is even smaller.
The number of those people who have the fastest ADSL connection available is even smaller.
You can probably pinpoint the locations of Internet connections based on demographics versus connection speed. Faster connections are more expensive and so the richer you are, the more likely you are to have a faster connection. Wealth equals speed in this equation.
So with the leap now being made from a 2mb connection all the way to an 8mb – taking the price from around 300JDs to 600JDs a year – we can probably use Google Maps to pinpoint the very homes and places that will have the latest gift of high-speed Internet access.
And it makes me wonder whether this is giving way to a form of elitism (even though I hate that word lately) when it comes to Internet access.
My argument here is not against having faster Internet connections in the country, but rather suggesting that the direction this technology is advancing should be more towards making the Internet more affordable and therefore, more widespread, as opposed to more expensive and therefore more refined demographically.
You have to ask yourself, when it comes to the direction this online, inter-connected world is moving in right now, right this minute – is it right to package the Internet as a commodity of luxury, affordable only to the few?
Why can’t policymakers find a way to allow for free and/or very affordable Internet to various neighborhoods around the country? I’m not saying that all of Jordan should become a hot-spot (although that would be my ideal dream in the absence of private sector control) but, for right now, I think there are ways to turn specific areas in to “Internet Zones”. I would not mind my tax money paying for it. I’d admire more private sector companies picking up the tab with a little advertisement in it for them. Heck, how about a group of companies teaming up with a single Internet service provider?
Think about this for a minute: places that offer the public free WiFi are typically located where? Cafes, restaurants, Wakalat Street in Swefieh? You don’t see too many patrons of these places going there for the Internet. Do you know why? Because they have it at home and it’s probably faster! The country isn’t loaded with many public libraries, at least not the sort where the ordinary citizen can come in and enjoy free public Internet. So this makes even public venues more constricted to (shudder) elitist neighborhoods. Many Jordanians, as I mentioned earlier, do find a way to get connected for brief moments in a given day, but, it shouldn’t have to be such a struggle.
And on a second note:
While the goal of the private sector is to offer faster and thus, pricier, Internet connections, I’m just as concerned with maintaining the speeds we already have! Our current networks are already unsustainable. Rarely do you get the speed that you pay for. Internet disruptions are frequent and sometimes lengthy. In the past they may have been brushed off as minor inconveniences, similar to one’s telephone being disconnected. But today, so much of what we do, our education, our communication, our business activities, our transfer of knowledge, is all done on a minute-by-minute basis, every single day. When the connections slow down or come to a halt, it can be chaotic.
It is the 21st century, and there should be a recognition that there is indeed a correlation between Internet penetration and the advancement of a country. There is a great deal of untapped potential for a country like Jordan simply because the net is not affordable to so many people, nor is it sustainable for those who have it. That’s a deadly combination when we are striving to become members of a globalized community that is increasingly, if not almost completely reliant on being interconnected via the Web.
This Post Was Inspired By: Ahmad Humeid