Why Internet Connectivity and Cost Reduction should be a top priority for this Papua New Guinean Government.

In 2011, there were just 70,000 people using Facebook in PNG. A mere 1% of population. Elsewhere around the world, Facebook had effectively become the mainstream communication forum and sudo news outlet. In PNG it was being used by a few savvy Papua New Guineans, but in general it was used as a the primary form of external communication for the many Fly-In Fly-Out and Residential Expatriate contractors. Much of whom were in PNG as a result of the economic growth created by the ExxonMobil PNG LNG project.

Internet Services were provided adhocly, and were both expensive for equipment and installation as well as ongoing monthly costs. A gig of data on a slow, somewhat sporadic connection was costing around USD$100 per month. All internet services were connected via either the poor performing and oversubscribed Tiare Gateway, or via Satelite. Costs to business were astronomical, and in fact still are.

At this time, mobile infrastructure was expanding via Digicel’s ever increasing network, and the days of carrying both a bemobile phone and a Digicel phone were slowly reducing. Dual-SIM phones are still an attractive proposition in PNG though, and that is purely driven by consumer’s managing costs – not consumers trying to get coverage.

The big play in that time was Digicel’s move to provide not just 3G on the mobile, but also start strategically selling low cost Andriod Smartphones. Asian stores were already in this market, but Digicel did seem to lower the price tag across PNG. Digicel could see that possibly taking a loss on hardware opened up the market and drove the data adoption which at that stage had been confined primarily to business and wealthy residents/expatriates.

The Internet opened up, albeit slowly – and the place where Papua New Guinean’s started first was Social Media. Digicel fuelled this by utilising the 03B Satelite and new Madang/Guam fibre in conjunction with good marketing for data services. The trend for Facebook users in PNG was immediately going up, and Digicel followed this up with a period of “Free Facebook” across it’s network.

During this time, Digicel really started to focus on diversification, mobile ads, then TV, then online news. But meanwhile it’s subscriber base was increasing alongside the emerging middle class of PNG, but not everyone was happy with the neglect that Digicel’s diversification had caused it’s mobile network. The implementation of LTE came with it huge billing issues, and the re-emergence of bemobile as bemobile/vodafone gave consumers more choice. Data prices were decreasing, but consumers were feeling ripped off through a lack of transparency on smartphone updates etc, and Digicel playing around too much with it’s billing.

The unfortunate aspect of Mobile Broadband was that is was still expensive, and as people had no other forms of internet access they had opened up Pandora’s box with viruses, ransomware, malware and lots of other nasties just because it was too expensive for all those updates to download to their devices.

Companies too, struggling with a lack of experienced IT personnel created nooses around their necks by opening up mobility to their staff without any management, cost control nor training and education.

By 2016, a new wave of threats was starting to make inroads into Papua New Guinea. Companies finally figured out that even though they might be in a place no one wants to target, cyber criminals were finding their way easy and open. Companies in PNG were having websites hacked, ransomware infections, and rampant viruses traversing their orgainisations.

I recall ringing a friend of mine who was an Executive in a very large enterprise letting him know his companies website had been hacked – he had no idea. It stayed that way for some time… At about the same time, I had a call from an expat in another company advising me that another companies website had a backdoor straight to their database, and did I know who to talk to… A month later, a local Club of which I was a member had their website hacked and defaced. After talking to the General Manager, they had no idea what to do – and their local website host couldn’t help – interestingly enough, it’s still unavailable at the time of me writing this.

I had interesting calls and emails from IT Managers in other organisations wanting to know how they could get rid of the Ransomware on their network, or wanting advice on AntiVirus to use (it had expired across their network some years ago – but they weren’t getting any viruses, so it was all good, right?). Or the other company with it’s many Windows XP machines, or the IT Manager wanting help on how to patch his PC’s across his network, as they hadn’t done it and every time they tried it crashed their Wide Area Network – they couldn’t afford any more capacity

And these are organisations with IT teams and IT Managers in place…

I shudder to think what the country is now exposed to across the it’s fast expanding internet presence.

A year ago, local news reported something that I thought was really telling. Papua New Guinea was ranked #1 in Google for searching for “Porn”. Not Gangbangs, or MILF’s, Interracial, Beastiality, Hardcore, Softcore or any other of the many search terms you could use, just “Porn”. And there was national upcry! Seriously… PNG is NOT and I repeat NOT the worst in the world for searching for pornography – they are just the one ranked using the search term “Porn”. And why is this important?

Because PNG is a late bloomer with having some sort of widespread internet, Papua New Guineans haven’t figured out the nuances of searching for something. This goes hand in hand with the viruses, the malware and everything else out there that is causing issues. If you go onto a Facebook Page like “Voice of PNG” you will note the appalling language, lack of etiquette, bullshit artists, con men, and keyboard warriors.

I read an article on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, then in the comments a young lady from a major company in PNG basically called the company she worked for all sorts of names, and that then fuelled other people having their say, and in fact co-workers jumping in and having a blast. How idiotic can you get? I just don’t think they realise that anything they dump on the web is there for everyone to see – forever. Bagging out your employer is just a big no no, and I don’t think they expected anyone to notice..

Education is the most important thing for Papua New Guineans right now. PNG needs to learn how to use the internet, but of course they can’t, because it is too expensive and too unreliable. They needed to be guided on Cyber Safety, companies and ISP’s need to ensure that employees and consumers know it’s their responsibility to look after themselves not just at work, but at home as well.

I believe the PNG Government has an obligation to both open the internet up to the wider populace, but also setup an Internet and Cyber Task Group like the brilliant www.Netsafe.org.nz here in New Zealand. This fundamentally starts the education process in schools, and then carries this through to business and the community.

I also believe that mandating a lowering of cost to a level the same as it’s neighbours within the next 12 months would create a huge amount of opportunities leading into APEC in 2018.

Some time ago, there was articles in the papers that explained how the new IXP was going to lower costs drastically by the end of 2016, Business Advantage did a little piece on it: Business Advantage – IXP Many Lower Costs

But the reality is – nothing much has happened, and neither will it. The issue with the IXP is that most services were being hosted outside PNG anyway, so routing local traffic to local websites etc that didn’t actually exist was just trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. And companies like Digicel and Speedcast are all popping their traffic out via 03B so commercially it wouldn’t make sense. And aside from Mobile, local loop costs are still going to hit consumers and businesses in the back pocket.

I remember in NZ having to pay for International traffic and then free National traffic, and it still didn’t really make a huge impact as we weren’t hosting a lot in NZ back then (although times have certainly changed in NZ)

Yes – this might put some businesses out of business, but quite frankly, they all need to get a lot more competitive.

With increased access and lowered cost of Data and Access, Businesses and Consumers would be able to actually update PC’s and Phones, reduce Cyber Risk, get more outward Education, start an online business, promote PNG, develop opportunities, raise tourism profiles, create external investment opportunities.

So.much.opportunity

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