I was back in Liberia in May of this year for a short visit. Below are my thoughts and observations
What trip to Liberia would be complete with out talking about the ACE Cable. Since my last trip to Liberia in October of 2011, the ACE cable had landed on Liberia’s shores and is now housed in their terminal station. Dan Brewer, the ACE Project Manager in Liberia, was kind enough to show me around and give me a tour.
I have to admit that I’ve been rather skeptical of the ACE cable process. Things in Liberia usually take longer than expected and don’t always work out as one would hope, so I was especially excited to see the actual cable, pictured above, sitting in a modern, air condition building full of routers, servers, and cabling. All of this is powered by two generators, that can be switched over in case one should fail. Mr. Brewer said that they are hoping to connect to the Liberian Electric Company soon and only use the generators in backup situations.
According to Mr. Brewer, pictured on the left, the Network Operations Center (NOC) has the capacity to handle 20 Gigabits of capacity and that this number could be upgraded to 60 gbps by adding additional hardware. The fiber optic ring that will deliver this new bandwidth across Liberia is also under construction. The ring will provide fiber optic connections to major ministries of the Liberian government and also major ISPs and GSM service providers. Further expansions up country are also planned, but as of yet do not have well defined time lines.
At the moment the cable is planned to be activated in the 4th quarter of 2012. Then it will be up to the members of the Cable Consortium of Liberia(GoL, Libtelco, Lonestar/MTN Liberia, and Cellcom), along with the Liberian Telecommunications Authority to decide on how the bandwidth will be shared, priced, and distributed. I hope all this is done quickly and results in more bandwidth, cheaper pricing, and wider availability of internet and telecommunications services to Liberia’s citizens.
I also checked in on iLab Liberia, the computer lab I had the privilege of helping to start. This was the first time since starting iLab that I had been in Liberia with out a major project or event happening. The last time I was in Liberia, I was there for the elections, and the time before that I was there to work with Google and iLab to put on a workshop about how technology could be used to support the electoral process. This time I was able to observe iLab’s day to day operations with out the bias of major events. It was very exciting. I was impressed with the busyness of the lab and the enthusiasm of it’s users.
Our two trainers, Carter Draper and Luther Jeke were busy running classes on various topics to help increase ICT capacity in Liberia. From the basics of Ubuntu and Linux, to creating your own website, these classes were always well attended. They even have to turn away people, and put them on wait lists for some classes.
iLab holds “co-working” hours when anyone can come and use iLab. These hours run Tuesday-Thursday, 12:00pm to 3:00pm each week. It was interesting to see who was using this space and for what purposes. There was a group of expat doctors that work at JFK Hospital, Liberia’s best hospital, who used iLab to communicate with colleagues in the US. When coming back for a visit from the US it’s always nice to be reminded how something as simple as reliable internet and electricity can have such a large impact in a place like Liberia where these two things are hard to track down.
iLab has also recently hired two new staff members, Joy Kazadi, as our Communications Manager, and, Sheku Daboh, as our Office Manager. These two individuals were doing a lot to help us stream line our operations, allowing us to better focus on building capacity and providing the kind of space that encourages the leveraging of and innovations in ICT. All in all, pretty cool and something I’m proud to be a part of.
I’m sorry to say that the surfing just was not very hot this go around. I was able to get one trip in to Robertsport and the surf was OK, but nothing to write home about. It was rather small for rainy season. While in Monrovia the surf was generally blown and rainy, which is consistent with rainy season. However, the sand bars at my favorite Monrovia location, Kendeja, seemed to have shifted around and provided for little more than reliable close-outs.