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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hey! Who Broke the Internet

At my last job, any time there was a significant network outage we would wander around asking, “Who broke the Internet?” In Zimbabwe, apparently, the answer would be TelOne--not because of an equipment malfunction but because there wasn’t enough hard currency in the company to pay the bill.

Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank bailed out telephone operator TelOne, which owed the sum to Intelsat.

The disconnection earlier this month cut surfing and e-mail activities by 90%, Zimbabwe’s ISP association said.

But TelOne is warning that they remain saddled with other debts and face severe shortages of foreign currency so problems could reoccur.

The firm wants diplomatic missions and internet service providers to pay their monthly subscriptions in foreign currency.

Of course, an even better answer might be that Robert Mugabe indirectly broke the Internet (for Zimbabwe’s citizens) by ruining an economy to the point where Internet services and Coca Cola both run dry in a matter of months. From a distance, it’s occasionally funny to laugh at the quadruple digit inflation, the fiscal mistakes, and the anti-Western conspiracy mongering that helps keep Mugabe in power. The closer view isn’t quite so humorous.

Not so long ago, Zimbabwe enjoyed a stable, emerging economy with one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s best educated populations, a booming farming sector, and a decent infrastructure. Now, its currency is so devalued that even the syrup to make Coca Cola is hard to come by; that may sound frivolous, but the truth is that the syrup is cheap and Coke is a standard throughout most third world countries. Your economy has to be in miserable shape before Coke becomes a rare commodity.

Just sayin’.

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