An interesting study by the Department of Statistics was released, stating that 54% of Jordanians own computers and only 18% of them are actually connected the Internet. According to a Ministry of ICT spokesperson, 30 to 31% of Jordanians “use the Internet”, but I have no idea what that means. Do they mean penetration rates, access or simply usage?
But here’s the interesting part:
“half of Jordanian families that do not have computers indicated that they cannot afford them, while more than 40 per cent said they do not need them. The study, e-mailed to The Jordan Times, found that 40 per cent of Jordanians do not have computers as they do not know how to use them” [source]
I’m not a fan of studies that attempt to gauge Internet usage through a “representative” sample, especially in a developing nation like Jordan where Internet is still relatively expensive for the average Jordanian, who will tend to access the Internet from work, school, cafes, universities, etc. Again, there is a difference between penetration rates assessed by the number of subscribers, surveys, which are based on sampling, and access, which is difficult to gauge.
Regardless, the opening up of the telecommunication market to aggressive competition, the likes of which is fairly absent throughout the entire Arab world – has helped provide options, greater services, and an overall increase in the number of people who are using the Internet in Jordan over the past decade. Overall, the progress is encouraging and I think the government may be successful in achieving the National Strategy goal of getting Internet penetration up to 50% by the end of 2011. This will depend largely on it finding a way to balance regulation. The government’s tendency to over-regulate a market, such as the tourism sector, is often detrimental. The more balanced the regulation, and the more hands off the government is, the more these sectors tend to experience growth.
But all that aside, it may be high time that both the private sector and civil society play a more active role in arming the average Jordanian with computers and Internet access. The government subsidized computers at one point, allowing for citizens to purchase a laptop through payments spread out over a lengthy period of time. I don’t know if this program is still active, and I’m not sure if it was even met with any degree of success. Regardless, it might be a model for the private sector and civil society to take on and develop at higher levels – funding Internet access. While on the surface it may not appear as sexy as funding water projects, cultural events, or even education and medical programs – both access to computers and the Internet are becoming an integral part of the system of things. Access to the Internet is quickly becoming a universal human right, and as well it should be.
The One Laptop Per Child initiative has been an interesting endeavor to watch, and at this point in history, Chinese netbooks sell for as little as $200. What would it take for the biggest companies and NGOs in the country to take on a project to arm every student in Jordan with a laptop, and complement that with a proper educational course. What would it cost? Even if half the country is in school, that’s about 3 million students. If half of those are at the appropriate age level for computer literacy, then you have 1.5 laptops to distribute. That’s $300 million, or, JD213 million. Stretch that budget over a few years…
Between the government, the private sector, NGOs, the King’s political capital and the Queen’s star power – what would it take to raise that money?
Contrast whatever figure you get with how much is spent on e-government services people are under-utilizing, with what is gained from expanding the market of potential Internet consumers. What’s the externality? The social benefits? Creating global citizens, creating a tech-empowered community, computer literate, etc?
What would it take?