It’s that time of the year again where the budget for the year is presented and again this time, I go over the budget speech to find the goodies for the ICT and technologically-inclined sectors of Mauritius.
Emtel is keeping up with innovation and has recently launched Airbox, a high-speed best-effort broadband service, or what the company calls “Fiber Through The Air” (FTTA).
The service comes at the time when Orange is quickly trying to cover the whole island with fiber and Bharat Telecom is trying to do the same thing to the central regions of Mauritius only.
Emtel is the last in and is hoping to be the first out with the most customers with their new service. The race to high-speed Internet for home users has truly begun…
The Mauritius Budget 2015, called “At The Crossroad” has just been presented and I’m taking the opportunity to go over the announced measures this year.
Interestingly, there aren’t as many announcements specifically for IT as with previous budgets. Maybe this is a good thing as most measures tend not to be implemented in the long run after all. Just announcements. Let’s wait and see what happens with this budget.
As you know by now, the Mauritian Government Portal, formerly located at http://www.gov.mu, will now be found at http://www.govmu.org.
Edit: For some reason, http://www.gov.mu is still operational. I have no idea what’s happening. Let’s just consider the points below as theoretical then, if ever the domain name does change.
Now let’s see, what consequences could such a change have? Surely there cannot be many big changes! It’s just a name after all! Uh huh…
1) Mauritius is now one of the rare countries whose government portal does not end in its associated ccTLD. Singapore (gov.sg), UK (gov.uk), India (gov.in), South Africa (gov.za), Japan (japanportal.jp), China (gov.cn), France (france.fr) etc etc… You get the idea. It so happens that the “cyber island” ‘s government portal does not end in .mu. Ouch, straight in the reputation!
2) You have to go through every page of every department of the Mauritian government and change everything on these pages to point to govmu.org like “Contact Us” pages (which funnily enough list emails in the mailto: format, a treasure for spammers!). I hope a “search and replace” will do the job for them, although verifying the changes might be a little more difficult. When you are done, change every application form (printed or PDF), brochures and posters to use the new addresses if they include references to other documents or literature.
3) Email addresses have changed. It was mail.gov.mu. Now it’s mail.govmu.org if I’m not mistaken. So? You simply have to change every business card of every government officer to incorporate the new address. Oh and all letterheads too. And a variety of other documents. And every contact details of every ministry, department and parastatal of the Government portal. Then tell your contacts to use the new email address too, once you’re done. Don’t forget to reconfigure every mobile phone, tablet and random devices of users, ministers and the rest to use the new email servers. Remember how the new website cost like Rs. 50 million to develop? Wonder how much this will cost to change all that.
4) You have now broken every search engine link or references to the Government portal… Google and other search engines indexed gov.mu web pages. It will take them time to rebuild their databases with the new links. This could take anywhere from a days to a few months, given how many pages are accessible from the portal. None of these links would work. So whenever people are using Google to search for government forms or documents, they will see broken links. Other websites that point to gov.mu URLs will now point to broken links. An SEO nightmare, basically.
5) Your Government / country now looks like an organisation. Who got the bright idea of using a .org TLD?! Was it the cheapest offer available? At least it could have been http://www.mu.gov, which would make more sense, even if it uses the .gov TLD (US-based mainly), if the latter was available for negotiations.
6) Once the domain gov.mu expires, the owner is free to do whatever it wants with it. Like park ads on it. Or worse, naughty pictures! Basically, the old and respected gov.mu could now host any kind of content depending on what the new owner fancies!
7) Building on the above point, if a malicious user decides to buy the gov.mu domain name, they could in theory, intercept emails that are sent to old mail.gov.mu addresses by redirecting the requests to their own mail servers.
These are the changes I can think of right now and I’m sure there are many more cascading changes that will be happening soon. Keep your eyes open and remember to update your bookmarks!
TL;DR: A few interesting things. More continuing from last year.
There are a couple of measures I think are quite interesting and I will elaborate on those. However, the other measures are what I would call continuing the trend from last year’s budget. Let’s get on with the list.
Following the March 2013 flood that caused unimaginable chaos in Port Louis, I was thinking about how private radios, in particular Radio Plus, played a major role in ensuring communication in such a time of crisis. They relayed important information on traffic jams, where water accumulated, precautions to take and important announcements from the Police etc. While thinking on how technology could have helped, it struck me – What if we made use of mobile phones? Virtually everyone in Mauritius, including kids, has a phone in their pocket or purse now, providing a good means to communicate information to large numbers of people quickly.
SMS Alert System
It’s immediately apparent that there was a lack of communication in such an emergency. Radios can only do so much. After all, you need a radio close and switched on to be able to hear announcements.
An alert system would make use of SMS messages to alert people about what to do and areas to avoid. The messages must be short and easily understandable. For e.g., in case of a flood, the messages would contain a list of regions to avoid and in case of a cyclone, it would contain the current Class alert like Class 3 now in place as soon as it is decided. For torrential rain, it would inform people that schools are closed for the day.
There are a few things to remember if such a system is to be put in place:
- The messages must be easy to understand. French is preferred since it’s close to Creole.
- The messages must be short. You can only say so much in 160 characters.
- The messages must not be sent too frequently, otherwise people would disregard them. They must only be used for the most important of messages.
- All heads of emergency services in Mauritius should be able to send messages, including Police, Traffic Unit, Fire Services, Health Services, Met Services and maybe, the Prime Minister’s Office. Access to the service should be distributed so that important messages do not get delayed by bureaucratic slowness.
- The system could cause additional load on an already-strained mobile network if there is an emergency.
For the fourth point, it’s possible to use cell-based location to restrict who gets what messages. For e.g., a flood alert and evacuation notice can be broadcast to only people in Port-Louis and surrounding regions, but not to people in Souillac. This would restrict the load to only a region of the mobile network and not affect everyone. If needed, the network could assign higher priorities to those emergency SMS broadcasts, dropping normal user SMSs if required to alleviate load on the network.
Extending the idea further, a special number, like the well-known “96” for cyclone information could be set up for emergency announcements. People could ring the number and hear a recorded message on what is happening and what to do. Ideally, this number should be the same number that sends emergency SMS messages.
A Twitter account for collaborative information sharing
Just like the @WeatherMu account re-tweets about #weathermu hashtags, a Twitter account could be set up to relay important information to the public in real-time. This method also allows for less intrusive alerts to be sent to users, as well as instructions.
To ensure people can communicate with each other, the account could be on the lookout for special hash-tags and re-tweet messages that people might send. For e.g. if you saw an accident on the motorway, you could tweet about it (after stopping your vehicle, of course) and the account would selectively re-tweet it, cutting down on spammy tweets. So, it would work as a two-way communication channel and possibly become a collaborative effort.
This idea can be implemented quite easily I believe, even without Government intervention. A “collaborative” Twitter channel that would aggregate important events about happenings in Mauritius, live. The same idea can be implemented on Facebook, possibly via a Facebook group and the information relayed to Twitter and vice-versa.
However, if Government were to do it, it would be more trust-worthy. Also, in times of non-emergency, the police could use the account to broadcast non-emergency messages such as roads to avoid because of traffic jams or because an accident is causing slow downs. Again, it has to be used only for important information, not to tell people to not speed on the roads. People will stop caring if they receive too many “spammy” messages or tweets.
Well, those two ideas occurred to me, and I thought it would be a good idea to share and get the opinion of the community. If you have other ideas about how technology could be used to improve communication in times of emergency, to reach a large number of people, please post your suggestions in the comments section below.
The Finance Minister, Hon. Xavier L. Duval has started his budget speech with a fair number of technology-related provisions. Most of them are quite significant for our country, and I can only hope they will be implemented. The Minister mandates that they be implemented by March 2013, and we hope to see most of them implemented. Below are the major measures announced and my take on them. Your opinions are appreciated; hit the comments section if possible.
I think I got all of the IT related measures, but if I missed any, drop me a word in the comments.