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.
International leased lines cost 16% less
This measure has been consistently put in place for the last couple of years. Since 2005, Finance minister, Duval says the cost of international leased lines has decreased by 80%. This year, again, the price is going down by 16%. This means a decrease in the cost of Internet packages, which is expected to happen in January 2014.
FTTH deployment to houses in 2014
Orange has started rollout of its Fibre To The Home (FTTH) programme this year, to cities such as Ebene, Quatre Bornes and Beau Bassin, at the moment. The budget forsees this deployment continuing at a rapid pace in 2014. Nothing too unexpected here. I expect Orange wants higher-paying users and will want to complete its rollout as fast as possible to compete with other ISPs such as BTL.
The speed is up to 30Mbps. What was not mentioned is the unreasonably low capping of 150GB. At this speed, 150 GB is exceeded rapidly, even with casual usage. YouTube and other sites, for e.g., will automatically adjust their quality according to your connection speed. You’d be streaming large 1080p videos a lot, if you like streaming sites. After this, it’s Rs. 50/GB, a price not many can afford.
Cross-connect LION and SAFE cables
There is a project to cross-connect LION and I believe, the SAFE cable. I need to recheck this. I’m not sure what this entails, except perhaps load sharing on the cables and redundancy if one of the cables fails.
I hope this leads to better speeds and response times, as the SAFE cable is apparently quite full these days.
ISPs must guarantee service-levels to customers
This one is an interesting measure. ISPs will have to provide guaranteed Internet speeds to customers. The fact that the software for mobile field service companies is easily accessible and transparent to customers gives hopes to customers. For e.g. if they sell you a 2Mbps package, they have to make sure you’re getting at least 2Mbps download speeds. This means at least 256 KBps actual download speeds.
As you already know, you rarely ever get these speeds due to attenuation of signal strength and capacity sharing, among other things. This situation is exactly the same for ISPs in foreign countries. Contracts stipulate a clause like “best efforts” because sustained speed is hard to guarantee. Maybe it’s easier on fibre, but until fibre rollout completes, ISPs will have a tough time guaranteeing this.
So, how will they cope? I think they’ll just limit you to what they can safely give to you. For e.g., if they’re not sure they can provide above 2Mbps to where you live, 2Mbps is what you’re getting at most. No 4Mbps or whatever higher for you. You’re stuck with that.
However, even with that, it’s hard to provide the maximum speeds over copper. Even fibre isn’t guaranteed speeds. So I’m not too sure how this will be enforced, especially that ICTA will be monitoring ISPs and making sure they provide their advertised capacities. Whether these are sustained capacities or peak capacities wasn’t mentioned.
Another Accelerator in Port-Louis
An IT Accelerator was opened in Ebene to help youngsters create their own startups based on their ideas. Govt. wants to open another in Port Louis. I am a supporter of startup companies with innovative ideas so I welcome this measure. Hopefully we’ll see some good things come out of these, such as the measure below.
SMEs get free websites
I’ve mentioned this in previous articles: Mauritian companies, even large ones, have a negligible online presence. I don’t care if it is just a Facebook webpage, but in 2013, any company should have an online presence. If you’re not present online, you don’t exist to me, and to many others like me. When I look for a company, I Google their company name. If I can’t find a result, I move to the next company.
To this end, Govt. wants to help SMEs get online. SMEs will get a free, basic website, which will be made by the Ebene and the (to be set up) Port-Louis Accelerators. Let’s see what startups can come up with for SMEs. What was not talked about is, who is going to maintain these websites? I doubt many SMEs know how to maintain a website, or keep it up-to-date with their up to date products. So unless these Accelerator people find a solution to this, SMEs will find it troublesome to have a website, even if provided freely, and they will not be kept up-to-date – defeating the purpose of the project.
Free WIFI in schools and yet more tablets
This measure continues from last year. More tablets for students, even if the current batch has not been delivered to Form 4 students yet. Minister Duval claims they will be delivered in January 2014, and exceptionally, both Form 4 and Form 5 students will get tablets next year. We’ll see if this happens or not.
There’s a big trouble with this, however. How do you keep students’ attention inside classes, when they have Facebook/SnapChat or whatever in their hands, with free WIFI connection? Previously, teachers were confiscating mobiles during class hours. They can’t do that with school-issued tablets: students are supposed to read books on them during class! So Govt will have to invest in Internet control mechanisms, but also lock down the tablets to prevent students browsing porn and whatnot. All these infrastructure have a cost which I’m not sure is factored in the cost of the project. Also, students have a strange ability of completely defeating any scheme that restricts their abilities when it comes to technology, so whatever you do, you won’t prevent them from liking pictures during class-hours.
Free access for Internet to needy students
Needy students are to get free Internet access at home, and they won’t have to pay the Rs. 650 insurance fee to get a tablet. Not much else was said. Not much information on how families qualify to get free Internet yet.
HSC Pro for IT sector
There will be a new education stream called HSC Pro, which is like vocational training. The program will be extended to IT. Again, not much information here at the moment.
8 additional scholarships for IT
Govt will now provide more scholarships for people who qualify in IT sector. There were no scholarships for the subject before, so I welcome the measure. I hope these people come back here and work in the
call centre IT sector.
School premises will be open after hours to allow for adult education. It was not specifically said that adults will be given IT education, but I think it can easily be provided, just like the IC3 program was being done.
However, I’m not sure the project will be viable. Why? Because people are afraid of going out at night due to security issues. Second, a similar measure was put in place so that schools keep their facilities open after-hours to allow people to practice sports, even during weekends. Most schools are closed after-hours and week-ends. Thus, I doubt this one will live long.
IIT Delhi to set up in Mauritius and recruiting foreign lecturers
This one, I’ve been hearing for around 5 years now. Prestigious IT university IIT will set up a campus in Mauritius. They still haven’t done it yet. It’s announced in 2014 budget that a campus will be opened here, so let’s wait and see if it finally happens. I believe there are too many campuses in Mauritius for our population size and it will be hard to ensure quality, but that’s just my opinion. Oh, 3 more campuses will be opened, as per new budget 2014.
Independent ranking system for university faculties
To handle the problem I just mentioned above, university faculties will now get a ranking system which should help students make a decision on which university to join. Hopefully, this system will be conducted by an independent organization and not be biased towards… let’s just say campuses owned by certain people.
More money to YEP
The YEP program helps youngsters find jobs, particularly in IT. In 2014, Govt is increasing its funding, so it can put more youngsters in jobs. There are around 25,000 jobless youngsters
Employment trend survey
Government will conduct employment surveys, which should help students decide about a career if they want to work in Mauritius. I have one question: will the survey not be biased towards a sector like IT, which is always recruiting large numbers of students out of universities?
This survey should help students choose an education which leads to a job if they want to work locally, instead of choosing any course and end up unemployed at the end of their course.
More online services
Again, this is something I’ve written on before: Mauritius needs more online services. Govt has heard me and putting the following services in place.
An IT-based alerting system in case of natural calamities or other problems in the country. This will be done by SMS and through a website. Moreover, other bodies such as the Registrar of Companies, the National Transport Authority etc.. will provide online services to allow registration, paying fines and other dues online and through SMS.
To enable people to use these facilities, kiosks will be put in post offices to provide access to these services for people who don’t access to computer facilities.
Prepaid electricity meters
Not strictly an IT measure, but vulnerable families will be given prepaid electricity meters so that people don’t get bills above their means. The IT meters will be provided at a cost of Rs. 100 to customers. The meters are implemented in cooperation with Mauritius Telecom.
Agalega to get Internet access
The island of Agalega, just like Rodrigues, will get Internet access in the near future. You’ll soon be able to buy coconuts online! :p
Well, that’s it for the budget 2014, regarding IT things. I hope not to have missed anything major. Overall, some interesting measures and some good continuity from the last budget. Only thing that remains to be seen: how many of these measures will actually get implemented? Let’s hear your views below.