Sunday Afternoon, after a long day I retired home with a visitor from Senegal who came to pay his respect and condolences the family. As soon as we got to my house, I asked him if he needed a wi-fi connection and casually took his laptop to connect him to my homeinternet Wi-Fi. Lord and behold, it was going to be a #NoInternetSunday!
I frantically tried to connect him through my two internet service connections and even resorted to use my two cell phones to hotspot my guest through two different LTE mobile internet provider. My techy son tried to reset routers, change dns settings etc thinking it was a networking problem without any success. Frankly, we did not even bother to ping (a way of checking the internet speed) because we assumed that the problem was with our providers doing their routine maintenance. It didn’t even dawn on me that the whole country didn’t have internet access and in fact I tried to send my guest some data to local number through my banking app but guess what, it needed internet access to work. On a brighter note, I had a quiet Sunday without Internet and frankly it was very relaxing. I later found out the internet was down very late in the night from one of my internet junkie friends @balasardin and GHD buddy. I didn’t lose sleep over it and in fact, I slept like a baby.
Up to this morning, no email or text or whatsapp from any provider explaining the reasons for internet blackout of more than 8 hours. No word from PURA or MOICI either. I guess later in the day, the responsible authorities will give us an explanation.The sooner we hear from our Government and the regulator, the better for the thousands of anxious consumers to avoid speculations as to the cause or reasons behind the internet blackout. We have a right to know !
The last time we experienced an Internet blackout of this magnitude if my memory serves me right, was the government sanctioned Internet shut down during the 2016 elections. I am not suggesting the Internetblackout is deliberate but it did bring back memories or rather the nightmare of the election 2016 night. I vividly recall the picture of ayoung man with a cardboard demanding his right to Whatsapp. Internet access is lifeblood of our modern economy, part of our livelihood, a critical communication tool of the populace and oxygen to the youth.
Thank god, the blackout was on a Sunday as the impact would have been worst on a working day. Imagine the whole banking sector would have been paralysed, from ATM’s to the use of Banking APPS. Imagine the impact on remittances – no western union, no moneygram , no Wari ! No one could buy cash power. Imagine travel agents will not be able to book flights or issue air tickets. The thousands Gambians who get their daily news, information and some therapy on Facebook were disenfranchised on black Sunday- #NoInternetSunday. The chat rooms, or the modern bantabars, vous or grandplace were surprisingly quiet yesterday. From twitter to the zillions of whatsapp chatgroups, it was like a quiet storm. Ironically, I didn’t miss the quintessential notification and message alert I get ever so often on my phone from my cyber connections and family.
On a lighter note, my Sunday evening and night was very peaceful. After all, there is life without internet and a very peaceful one at that. I even read myself to sleep something I have not done for a long time.
My take away from the internet black out aside from the benefits of shutting off from social media, is that the country needs to ensure that back-up internet services is mandatory for all service providers or collectively ( through the ACE Consortium – GSC ). This will ensure continuity of internet service when our one and only access international connection (ACE Submarine Cable) is down, we can still enjoy seamless internet connection. Our situation is akin to having a car without a spare wheel. It’s perhaps time to seriously consider another submarine cable connection if it makes financial sense to complement the ACE. This will bring more competition in the market and also mitigate the impact of relying on just one single point of internet access into and out OF the country for the majority of users with exception of institutions that can afford VSAT (satellite connections)
Internet access should be considered as a right that needs to be recognized and protected as part of our fundamental rights. Freedom of speech, a fundamental right is perhaps more potently expressed digitally in modern day Gambia.In modern day democracies, the preferred mode of communication is through the internet and there is a growing school of thought that posits the recognition and protection of digital rightsAs we forge to transform our country, ICT is an important pillar that is an enabler and driver of change, particularly for the youth. The availability of reliable, affordable and fast Internet is critical for any country serious about harnessing the power of the digital economy. This is the #GambiaWeWant.