By Richard Agnew
Calls by the Arab Broadband Internet Forum (ABF) for telecoms operators to pool resources in support of a regional content development centre are set to resurface next year.
Calls by the Arab Broadband Internet Forum (ABIF) for telecoms operators to pool resources in support of a regional content development centre are set to resurface next year.
The proposals, which aim to help solve a chronic shortage of locally developed internet services in the Arab World, would see telcos channeling a single-digit chunk of international bandwidth charges to a facility dedicated to content creation.
This, the ABIF argues, would create an entrepreneurial platform for software companies in the region and generate payback for operators through an increase in demand for broadband subscriptions.
A greater amount of locally hosted services, it says, would also prompt a greater amount of internet traffic to be routed within the Middle East and North Africa, offseting the high charges internet service providers (ISPs) have to pay for international connections.
“Availability of locally hosted content is very poor — the region is dependent on content developed in the US and Europe,” Ahmed El Oteify, founder of the ABIF, tells CommsMEA.
“We are trying to convince the big operators around the region to give us a percentage of the cost of international bandwidth. We can channel this through funding mechanisms into smaller companies that are working on developing and Arabising content,” he adds.
Preliminary plans for the development centre were first put forward when the ABF was formed two years ago, but a more detailed framework is now being finalised by a sub-division within the association. This will be presented in industry meetings next year.
The group accepts that it may have a hard time persuading telcos to put money into the regional initiative — a must if the plan is to gain momentum.
“The problem is that no one party wants to take ownership of the issue or invest in content,” explains El Oteify.
“The large network operators are concentrating on their telecoms businesses and international owners of content aren’t interested in the region. The only companies that are looking at content are the small ISPs,” he adds.
Nevertheless, the ABIF believes that improving content should be one of the industry’s highest priorities in 2005.
“The first inhibitor of internet penetration was pricing, but prices have come down,” says El Oteify.
“Then, the main factor was the number of PCs, but there are lots of initiatives in the region now to increase PC penetration. Now, the main inhibitor is the language barrier. There’s a low amount of content in Arabic and this needs to be more aggressively addressed,” he adds.