The Need to Create an Environment for Local Content Development: Making the Internet Affordable and Faster

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Last week I participated in the Internet Society Africa Chapters Members meeting held in Yaoundé, Cameroon. At that meeting several issues were discussed including access to the Internet for the physically challenged, access to the Internet for people living in the rural areas, privacy, trust, the need to develop internet policies, the need to develop local content for the Internet, etc. While all of the issues discussed were crucial and relevant to my home country (Liberia), the issue of developing local content kept resonating in my head while I was en route to Liberia. So, in today’s article, I will provide insight into why it is imperative that we create an environment that allows the creation of local content in Liberia.

First, let’s define content. Content (in the context of the Internet) is anything that is created to be placed on the Internet for the consumption by other Internet users. Content could be videos, articles, text, audio, photos, etc. All of the photos, videos, text that we upload to the social media are considered content.

But these types of contents are resident or hosted outside of the country, which makes access to them expensive and slow.

“Content “involves those thing related to our way of living/culture or things that have to do with life events. Liberia like many other countries has a rich heritage and history that should be recognized, recorded and shared for the benefit of people throughout the world. In fact, today there is a lot that goes on in

Liberia that never gets recorded or recognized, thus making what could be referred to as local content inaccessible to the local population, not to mention at a broader level. Speaking of local content, let’s look at it from two perspectives: local by context and local by the location hosting server.

Local content can be seen as web content that has its contextual origin in the region it is utilized or served from. This content includes information and videos on cultural practices, traditions, business practices and infotainment. Production of local content (in local language) can and will spur local Internet usage in Liberia. Currently, in Africa (Liberia in particular) majority, if not all of the users of the Internet receive information from foreign sources in the US and Europe. This is not anything astonishing since African traffic consists of less than 2% of the entire Internet traffic. The good thing about the creation of local content is that it provides the opportunity to create jobs, preserve culture and spur the use of Internet in the daily lives of the local people as content on the Internet will now be relevant to their lives.

On the other hand, Local by location of hosting server means content hosted in data centers that are local to the country. This is still a challenge in Liberia since we do not have data centers that host local content; not yet at least. So, unlike our counterparts in Europe or the US, Internet users in Liberia and the entire Africa continent have to cross the ocean for nearly 100% of the content they access. Even local news websites are hosted in the US or Europe as opposed to being locally hosted. For example, a user visiting the Liberian Observer’s website which is a local news daily, has to traverse the oceans to
European or American data centers to access it. If on the other hand this website was hosted in Monrovia, a user in Paynesville accessing it does not even leave the city, Internet access becomes a local loop connection.

So why is Liberia, like many other African countries not hosting its content locally? Two cardinal reasons: Lack of infrastructure and lack of an Internet ecosystem that is content-driven.

While Liberia has made and continues to make progress in building its ICT infrastructure, much more needs to be done to enable the creation of local content. The lack of data centers to host local content is a primary reason why local content is not being developed. This also makes access to the Internet expensive and slow. With the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) in Liberia allowing access to broadband connectivity, the installation of the Liberian Internet Exchange Point and all other strides that have been made, there is hope that local content will be developed in Liberia soon. What needs to be done now to
enable local content development include the building of data or hosting centers and the deployment of cache server or servers. In addition, we will need an Internet society or ecosystem that is gravitated toward the development of local content for the Internet.

Liberia has an internet exchange point that has not begun functioning as it was intended to. Because of this, access to content is slow and costly. In fact, an email sent from 18th Street to Lynch Street will have to go through Europe from the sender on 18th Street before it reaches the receiver on Lynch Street.

Fortunately, for us, we are working with Google to set up a Global Cache Server that will make traffic faster and affordable.

News of Google’s advent and USAID’s intervention in Liberia’s ICT ecosystem brought joy to many Internet and ICT lovers. Yet, with the expected infrastructure in place, there will still be a need for local content to be developed. So, all of us in the private and public sectors should start planning strategies on how to make our content local. With more local content, a lot of Liberians will strive to gain access to the Internet, which will increase Internet usage in Liberia. In addition, local content will provide better user experience as websites load faster because the page is essentially just from few hops away (on cache server); it will lower our dependency on erratic submarine cables; and since we will not be using international capacity (cache server), Internet access becomes cheaper.

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