Monday, April 22, 2013

The Gambia: Internet communication restrictions flare up debate on social media

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
This (Skype) is banned in internet cafes in The Gambia as a commercial service since April 19, 2013 by a brief press release (Image via Crunch Base)
Friday’s restrictions on Gambians using internet service communications has since flared up a debate on social media.

The Gambia’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, PURA, on April 19, banned companies and individual Internet Cafe operators from “offering dating services and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services as a commercially available service” to Gambians.

“PURA wishes to make it abundantly clear that the offering of “International and National Calling Services” within Internet Cafes using VoIP services (Viber, Skype, etc) is strictly prohibited,” a regulatory statement said.

Anyone who is engaged in this activity is depriving the country of the much needed revenue from International and National calls, required for the development of The Gambia, PURA claims.

But, the move have since been criticised by netizens. A post on the popular facebook group Balafong on the subject attracted close to 100 comments as of Sunday morning.

“This new law is really unfair to the poor people in a country with a GDP of $605 (est 2010),” wrote facebook user Babou Njie.

Example of residential network including VoIP
Example of residential network including VoIP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“The public should be allowed to resort to cheaper and more reliable and safer means of communication which can’t be easily censored and tapped unlike a telephone/GSM line,” Njie said.  “Invasion of privacy. This will also hurt small businesses and increase poverty levels.”

Amran Gaye also wrote: “Dating sites” really? That’s our problem right now? I wonder how they came to that decision (and does anyone even know any Gambian who uses dating sites? I don’t know a single one).”

For Hassan Njie, the issue is a matter of “Progressing vs Retrogressing and we chose the latter”. “Posting adverts on local tabloids about internet dating sites is not a crime in The Gambia. If internet cafes are charging for VoIP, PURA should instead look at the interest of both parties i.e Internet cafe and consumer and suggest a fee which may be in the interest of both parties. My hopes for Jollof are fast dwindling.”

Jainaba Haritti Jekaram Touray, also wrote: “As the legend Youssor sang it “fuki nit di gas, fuki nit di sul”. It will be very hard for us to see progress in our beloved country since technology that even the richest nations are taking advantage of is against the law in our lawless nation. I know it’s only Internet cafes
now but ndanka ndanka moi japa golloh”.

Internet Café
Internet Café (Photo credit: gsbrown99)
Away from the Fong, Mr Mathew Jallow wrote: “Insane if you ask. Your laptop and Internet is yours; you can do with it whatever you want, including downl
oading Skype.”

“There is no law between a man/woman and his/her property. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

The online blog, Gambia Beat ran this headline: Blocking Skype, Viber, ‘unacceptable, outrageous’. Gambia Beat quoted Musa Barrow, a resident of Kotu who said the government should reverse their decision because he thinks “it is against the interest of ordinary people”.

“The decision is anti-competition and out of step,” Gambia Beat quoted Baboucarr Ceesay, a civil society activist as saying.

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