OneVoice has launched a weblog. OneVoice is an amazing organization -- a movement, really, in the best sense of that term -- that seeks to mobilize the moderate majority of Israelis and Palestinians to find a workable path to peaceful coexistence through honorable compromise. OneVoice is a pragmatic effort to reclaim the public debate from the radical extremists, built around broad participation on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The great virtue of OneVoice is its pragmatism, expressed through on-the-ground actions. At the moment, for example, OneVoice is conducting a first-ever get-out-the-vote campaign in the Palestinian Authority. They are about to start running a 1-minute ad on Palestinian television that features the amazing trio of (1) Sheikh Taysir al Tamimi, the Chief Palestinian Islamic Justice, (2) Father Attallah Hanna, the Patriarchite of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, and (3) Richard Gere. Sheikh Tamimi proclaims in the ad that it is a "religious and a national commandment" for Palestinians to participate in the upcoming elections.
My commandment: put the OneVoice weblog on your daily reading list, and think about what you can do to help.
The last few weeks have seen some amazing moves in the direction of opening the Kenyan telecom market to Internet-based voice services (known as "voice over Internet protocol" or "VoIP"). Credit goes to the relatively-enlightened and by-all-reports relatively-uncorrupt Communications Commission of Kenya, as well as to the ISPs and others who have been pushing tirelessly for reform. The CCK's new licensing policy is designed as a first liberalizing step toward the following remarkable objective: "...the Commission intends to adopt a unified and absolute technology neutral licensing framework that permits any form of communications infrastructure to be used to provide any type of communications service that is technically capable of providing." That, in a nutshell, is exactly what we've been fighting for in Africa since the late 90s. It's a thrill to read it in a government policy statement. It's a real testament to Kenya's democratic transformation, and to the hard work and dedication of the CCK staff over the past few years to pursue a rational, transparent, open, and people-centric, regulatory regime for communications.
The most dramatic element of the CCK's immediate changes in policy is the decision to stop granting licenses by auction, a practice which raised the amount of money paid by the winning bidder to government coffers, but correspondingly reduced the funds available to it to invest in actual infrastructure. Operators were forced to borrow more at higher rates of interest, leading to delays in construction and higher passed-through prices for consumers. The CCK has now made most licence categories open on a first-come-first-served basis. One stubbornly lingering exception is fixed-line domestic and international voice, which will as a practical matter be confined to Telkom Kenya for the foreseeable future.
Another immediate and happy consequence of the new licensing policy is that mobile operators will be permitted to operate their own international gateways and to deploy VoIP technologies. One mobile operator estimates that these changes will result in a 90% drop in the cost of international calls via mobile phone. There are still plenty of obstacles in this path, however. Kenya's corrupt political elite is clearly terrified at the potential loss of bribe income from Telkom Kenya's monopoly cash cow. Less-pristine government agencies like the Ministry of Information and Communication will doubtless erect whatever regulatory brakes they have at their disposal. Indeed, that Ministry was recently behind the cancellation of a prospective second National Telecom Operator licence as well as an awarded third mobile license, a decision that has been enjoined, for now, by the Kenyan courts. The Ministry has also backed off of a common-sense plan to deregulate VSAT (small satellite dish) Internet links. Not surprisingly, there appears to be a real struggle for administrative power between the quasi-independent CCK and the still-politicized Ministry.
Nevertheless, the CCK continues to assemble the regulatory elements of a freer market in communications services. Mobile number portability is scheduled to begin in July 2005. Wisely, the plan is to use KENIC (the non-profit that has done an outstanding job running Kenya's .ke top-level domain) as the neutral operator of the number portability database.
I have a thing for Mongolia (OK, an esoteric thing). Mongolians have a thing for power chords. For example, the Mongolian band Hurd makes really cool music that transforms traditional themes and melodies into everything from sugar-sweet pop ballads to screaming metal bonanzas, often incorporating traditional instruments. And now even the New York Times is focusing on the geopolitical implications.