Thursday, 7 April 2011

Critical infrastructure

What happens when services provided by private companies become critical to the nation? First off, governments start paying more attention to you. They may monitor and protect your facilities and supply lines, as Wikileaks showed. But companies also stands in the duty to ensure the provision of these services is widely available if required.

Mobile phones are a great example of this. State run telecoms monopolies have been undermined by mobile networks, although some have been reigned back in as the case of pro-Mubarak messages in Egypt showed. Largely they now stand a as a bulwark that allows people to communicate, even if everything else falls apart.

That's if you can get hold of phone credit. Most people who first come to Lagos are astounded by the plethora of recharge retailers that sell their ware for a 3% margin. They are everywhere. However, if there is violence or even war these guys would disappear pretty promptly I'd imagine, or people might not be able to go on the street to buy any for fear of being shot, or they might not be able to afford any because they haven't earned their day wages due to the unrest or there's simply no currency available. These factors certainly seem to be the case in Ivory Coast, even though credit is more desperately needed than before to get in touch with loved ones or update everybody on events (maybe using Twitter). Now, after a campaign started here and promoted here, Orange is the first provider to commit to free credit. According to Ethan Zuckerman, they are:

giving credit of 2000 CFA (a little under $5) to all customers, a week of free calls to a landline number of their choice or an Orange number and a week of free Internet access. Most touchingly, they closed their announcement (posted to their Facebook wall) with this statement:
Par ces gestes de solidarité, Orange Côte d’Ivoire et Côte d’ivoire Telecom apportent leur soutien à tous leurs clients pour leur permettre de garder le lien avec leurs proches en ces moments difficiles.
(Rough translation: With these acts of solidarity, Orange Côte d’Ivoire is providing support to all their customers to help them stay connected with loved ones during this difficult time.)
HT: Ethan Zuckerman

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