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LTA Universal Access Project, Its Impact On The Gol’s Pro-Poor Agenda

Willie Bee Tingba, Jr
Digital Rights Activist
Republic of Liberia

Earlier this month (February) I witnessed through the LTA’s social media (Facebook) page a Memorandum of Understanding being signed with town elders of Parluken and Universal Access Project Coordinator Mr. Lynch Monbo, Liberia Telecommunication Authority’s Universal Access Project Fund Coordinator Mr. Elijah Glay and K-Net Project Coordinator Mr. Mike Ntow from Ghana.

The understanding underscores the responsibilities of the Township to provide protection for the site that would usher them into the world of modern technology with the rest of Liberia and the world.

The installation of the first communication tower in one of the remotest parts of Liberia didn’t just bring excitement over residents of Parluken Town, Grand Kru County but Liberia as a whole after several years of being un-served and under-served.

As I write this article, temporary WiFi services are now available for the first time in the township which is a boost for the locals who prior to this had never experience internet and voice connectivity. From Parluken, Forpoh District, Grand Kru County- using satellite link from K-NET Limited in Ghana one can now access Facebook, YouTube, Google et al online tools for rural developmental purposes.

The Universal Access Fund Project is a great step and highly needed as we all strive to make internet and voice connectivity accessible to the un-served and under-served across the country. President Dr. George M. Weah and his entourages driving the Pro-Poor agenda cannot ignore universal access which is the provision of affordable telephony and the internet to the un-served and under-served, in order to reduce the ICT divides that arise from geography (rural/urban), gender, physical disability, socioeconomic issues (income, race, caste, and class) and skills (education). Achieving universal access is an objective of virtually all telecommunication regimes.

When discussing ICT as it relates to a pro-poor agenda, the issue of access emerges. Pro-poor ICT access involves access to and the use of ICTs by the “poor” to resolve concrete problems of everyday life. Pro-poor ICT access is guided by the assumption that ICT tools and services should be affordable and accessible to the poor at reasonable prices. It also assumes that ICTs should be used meaningfully to address the challenges of poverty and secure broader development benefits and that relevant content that addresses the needs of the poor, should be available to facilitate their use to resolve day-to-day challenges.

Having said that, just in recent times, I honored an invitation from Honorable Johnson N. Gwaikolo, representative-elect electoral district #9, Nimba County to tour four of the seventy-three towns/villages under his leadership in his district. During the tour, I experienced the digital divide among urban dwellers and many other districts within the county, especially electoral district #9.

The digital divide can be defined as “the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access ICTs and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities”.

Imagine one of the towns in the district called “Ganwee” in which we slept for a night has no network coverage; the village has approximately 120 homes and 800 plus persons residing there but lacks network courage. Before a resident of that town can make a call, they’d have to drive for an hour of five (5) away from the town to a hill in other to access a single signal out of the four Orange Liberia signals. A data connection isn’t possible in that part of Liberia.

We were able to make our way to another town called “Kpaletuo”, it’s situated in the Doe Administrative belt and they too have no access to voice calls or internet connectivity. Before then, we passed through several towns/villages that lack access to smart lives as well. In Kpeletuo, before you make a voice call or access the internet, you’ll have to travel two hours from there to Tappita before accessing a mobile connection.

Clearly, for any country to progress, the rural area contributes a lot to the development of that country. With reference to our own country Liberia, there are 15 Counties, 750 villages, and overpopulation in urban agglomerations of more than 1 million (% of the total population).

The villages are in huge numbers as compared to urban areas. But the contradiction to this fact is that rural area is lagging in progress as compared to the urban areas. The primary occupation of Liberia, I guess should be agriculture; the rural area is quite concerned with this occupation.

Still, the observation is that the strength of our rural areas in terms of financial, standard of living is not so good, which indirectly affects the national growth. With this, as a passionate Digital Rights Activist who understands the meaningful contribution they (ICTs) can make to our economic development programs, I write to commend the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) Universal Access Fund department and Universal Access Fund project management team for a job well done thus far, but they shouldn’t stop there; we need more telecommunication base stations across the remotest part of Liberia. This would help us to effectively use ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to strengthen the rural areas.

There are various aspects on which rural development is based on agriculture, improving the standard of living, imparting education, women empowerment and many more. Firstly, the active participation of citizens and the positive response of them is necessary to implement all those things.

For example, making the internet and voice call accessible to rural dwellers would promote information via communication with the help of technology. The large business investment must be done in agriculture, animal husbandry, etc.

My focus as an emerging technologist is on the need of ICT for rural development. Implementing ICT involves a lot of things. First, is to interact with people establishing the network et al.
The strategies can be changed by using ICT as using it by connecting to the experts in the European countries and taking guidance from them to improve the current situation.

Today, the world in which we live is in the 21st century. European countries like France, Germany, England, etc. are known as developed countries. Liberia, which capital city was historically named after “James Monroe”, is still a developing country. 60% of the Liberian population lives in rural areas.
Sincerely, I have realized the main problems and issues which are responsible for obstacles in our rural progress and how ICT can be used in the development of rural areas. The first thing is education. Literacy is an important factor on the basis of which ICT can be bought in rural areas. People in rural areas must understand that without education there is no progress, and to equal up with the world’s? lifestyle, the first thing is to know the primary education.

For example; Attitude, Aptitude, Approach, and Appearance can be implemented to develop the rural part of the country. On the basis of this factor, we can introduce “ICT” to our rural dwellers which would help in bridging the digital gap that exists between Liberia’s rural and urban communities.
Again, there are many aspects of ICT on which rural areas can be effectively developed.

Rural development can contribute a lot to the progress of any nation. Take a pause and figure this out! Information that would otherwise be conveyed through face-to-face contact, post, courier, print delivery, telegraph or a telephone may instead be communicated in digital electronic form via the Internet. This working will help in eradicating rural-urban disparities and will fully contribute to national development.

ICT includes the full range of computer hardware, computer software, and telecommunications facilities.
This will assure that Liberia can 100% stand as a developed country if the progress of rural areas is taken as a priority by the government of Liberia.

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