Friday, October 29, 2010

A Question of Priorities

Those interested in a more wired world will probably welcome the following report that ran on the BBC News Web site this morning:

Mount Everest climbers can now surf the internet and make video calls through a 3G network, Nepalese telecoms firm Ncell says.

The company has installed eight 3G base stations along the route to Everest base camp.

The wireless network could help thousands of tourists who visit Mount Everest every year, Ncell claims.

Climbers and trekkers in the Everest region have so far relied on satellite phones and a voice-only mobile network.

Ncell, which is owned by the Swedish company TeliaSonera, says its highest 3G base station is near Everest base camp at 5,200 metres (17,000 ft).

The coverage would reach the summit of the world's highest mountain, company head Pasi Koistinen, said.

He added that this had not been tested yet.

The 3G network will help climbers and trekkers stay in touch with their families and trip organisers, Mr Koistinen said.

It will also enable them to receive weather reports and safety information while they are climbing.

So I appreciate the value of that last sentence;  but I also appreciate Jon Krakauer’s argument that there are too damned many people trying to be tourists on Everest, most of whom are neither physically nor mentally equipped to be there.  Consequently, I cannot help but wonder if this “new connectivity,” whatever benefits it may provide to that elite few who are serious about what they do, will worsen a situation that is already pretty bad.

However, there is another twist to this story, which is the one that really motivated me to write this morning:

Less than one third of Nepal's population have access to telecommunication services.

TeliaSonera announced that it would invest more than $100m (£63m) in the next year to increase mobile coverage in the country.

The good news is that the Nepalese government cut a deal with TeliaSonera through which a major chunk of their population may get telephone service for the first time.  The bad news is the sense of priorities in the arrangements for that deal:  We’ll let you bring connectivity to Everest if you then bring connectivity to the rest of Nepal.  A government that cared more about its own population than about its tourist trade would have reversed the order:  First help us with a national telecommunications solution, after which you can do your thing on Everest.  It takes more that a little chutzpah to be so overt about such priorities, which is why this week’s Chutzpah of the Week award will go to the entire Nepalese government!

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