Saturday, June 5, 2010

CCK should extend fair play regulations to internet access

The Communications Commission of Kenya – CCK – recently drew ire and cheers in almost equal measure when it enacted fair-play regulations within the communications sector. For companies that perceive themselves as targets of the measures, this came across as an unfair act singling them out for their success. But for those who are more concerned about consumer-end issues, the measures are welcome, and might even not go far enough. This group ranges from wild-eyed price-control freaks to consumer advocates. And they do have a point: as far as internet connection charges are concerned, CCK is sleeping on the job.

The excitement that accompanied the landing of fibre optic cables at Mombasa over the last one year has swiftly been replaced by disappointment and even anger as internet costs have remained stubbornly high. There have been various excuses advanced for this: CCK Director-General Charles Njoroge incredibly stated that he “hoped the sector would be self-regulating”.

The naivety of this approach is seen in the failure of the sector to innovate and drop access prices. It does not help that the TEAMS cable, which is owned by the Kenya government in consortium with various telecoms companies in the country, is the one best placed to force prices down. But with those companies having invested millions of dollars in the construction of the cable, it is nonsensical to expect that some sort of altruism will suddenly infuse them to the extent that they reduce prices to match what the market is asking for.

A collusion of sorts therefore exists across the sector insofar as internet charges are concerned – there appears to be an unspoken agreement by the telecom majors to keep prices at their current levels, a state of affairs that is clearly hampering increased internet access across many other sectors in the economy.

CCK’s recent fair-play regulations have the marketplace in mind, but it would not take much to tweak them to view the consumer with a little more consideration. Taken together, the current owners of the fiber optic cables are clearly a market-dominant entity, and should those regulations be brought to bear on that sector of telecoms, the consortium of telecom operators would be made to quit their overt collusion and introduce some real competition in internet service provision, failing which the ugly alternative – outright price controls – might look more and more attractive.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another week dies - in Riyadh

The Saudi work week lasts from Saturday to Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday making up the weekend. Given the strictures of daily life in Saudi Arabia, one can well imagine the rush to get over to Bahrain on Wednesday evenings - and the resultant traffic hazards. Still, Wednesdays are a welcome relief from the relentless barrage of bullshit that one runs into in this country - you get to forget, for 2 days, that you are in one of the world's most socially conservative countries, and you might even be among the ones lucky enough to have a weekend visit from a Filipino nurse. The gender of the nurse is best left unmentioned. Let your imagination run wild.

And what's that Shimita and Soukous Stars are doing on Nairobi Nights, 11:10? Magic! Makes my Wednesday evening - even if it could be better!

Friday, February 12, 2010

What WORKS on a Toyota?

Early November 2009: Toyota recalls a bunch of models due to a "heavy floormat" problem: in English, heavy rubber mats were sliding forward and jamming accelerator pedals.

Late November 2009: Floormat recall extended as it becomes clear that Toyota brake overrides are becoming problematic. Over 4M vehicles affected.

January 2010: Faulty accelerator pedals compel Toyota to announce an even wider recall.

February 2010: Prius' brake problems force another mass recall - 500,000 vehicles.

February 2010: Mass recall of Camry models due to brake tube problems.
February 2010: Toyota Tacoma pickups recalled due to faulty drive-shafts.

So what's next - a recall of all Toyotas ever made, due maybe to "not being motor vehicles at all"?


Three Men on a Hike*

Three men were hiking through a forest when they came upon a large
raging, Violent river. Needing to get to the other side, the first man

' God, please give me the strength to cross the river. '

Poof! . God gave him big arms and strong legs and he was able to swim
across in about 2 hours, having almost drowned twice.

After witnessing that, the second man prayed: ' God, please give me
strength and the tools to cross the river '

Poof! .. God gave him a rowboat and strong arms and strong legs and he
was able to row across in about an hour after almost capsizing once.

Seeing what happened to the first two men, the third man prayed: ' God,
please give me the strength, the tools and the intelligence to cross the
river '

Poof! . He was turned into a woman. She checked the map, hiked one
hundred yards up stream and walked across the bridge.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Summer Over...

The temperature madness is over in Riyadh...makes you want to twist and shout...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Riyadh's Temperature Tales

Temperatures are going nuts here, even by Riyadh's hellish standards. Temperature readings are displayed all over the city (there is a law that when it hits 500 celcius, all outside work must stop). This was May 29th, 2009!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jeddah: Beauty and Beastliness

...side by side. The town, the city centre of Jeddah, is lovely, if a little crowded: it reminds one of Mombasa's Old Town.
The roads are just as narrow (compared to the wide lanes filled with large American cars moving at frightening speeds, in Riyadh), but the cars are not quite as large: you dont see so many GMCs or Fords as you do in Riyadh. Perhaps it is the age of the town and the nature of those settled here: Jeddah is an old trading port, and the kaleidoscope of faces one sees in the streets is testimony to the city's age and its cosmopolitan nature.

Unlike Riyadh, too, it has had the time to mature, and the social sediments are clearly visible in Jeddah's neighbourhoods, from the wealthy suburbs up North to the slums south of the city, closer to the port.
There is an unhurried elegance about doing things, perhaps a consequence (and characteristic?) of being a seaside town: at the airport, there is only one check-in clerk serving hundreds of harassed passengers. His attitude to queues is interesting: if your flight is nearly due, you move to the front of the queue!

There is also lots of poverty in Jeddah. To the South of the town, paperless immigrants - mainly from Somalia, Sudan and Yemen - perster everyone for alms. In a society with a notorious affinity for officialdom and the attendant need for papers of all sorts, they are invisible to the government, if not quite non-existent. They sleep under the enormous road interchanges or in rundown buildings, and defecate on the pavements at night: you will see the unwelcome results of such an existence should you drive past these places early in the morning, before the municipal council trucks arrive to clean up the mess.

But there is little doubt that one is in Saudi Arabia: examples of centrally-planned extravagance abound, from the Jeddah Fountain - a gigantic articifial geyser in the sea, just off the coast - to the Jeddah Corniche, a lovely stretch of beach where people mingle freely and lovers even have the temerity to hold hands and share a meal in public - in Saudi Arabia!

While prayer times are generally observed, there isn't the stultifying compulsion to close businesses when the Muezzin calls, as one finds in Riyadh: I wandered into a restaurant on the Corniche at prayer time, and no one seemed to care. It remained open throughout the prayer.

The beaches are absolutely astonishing: mile after mile of pristine public sand where anyone can go anytime. None of the "this is a private beach" notices one runs into all over the "free" world: here, the beach belongs to everyone. Sure, they get dirty in the evenings, when everyone comes over for a drink and a meal, but who cares when vistas like these are the reward?

I love Jeddah!