There has been much talk in Papua New Guinea lately about the use of Internet and the need to allow universities and research organizations to have broadband access. According to a friend of mine studying in Tokyo, historically broadband technology and Internet’s very being of existence resulted because universities, institutions and laboratories envisioned the necessity and supremacy for efficient collaboration and transfer of information worldwide. This vision was brought to life through the commencement of an experimental project called the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) in 1969. That project lead to other developments that has evolved into the Internet, as we now know it. Internet is, among many things, a vital tool for communication. A simple email is faster and cheaper than communicating via telephones, facsimile or post in both developing and developed economies except, it seems, in PNG.
In Papua New Guinea access to Internet is a slow and an expensive exercise. This is partly due to the monopoly enjoyed by Telikom PNG as well as the internet access bandwidth. To illustrate, the University of South Pacific in Fiji has an internet access bandwidth of 155 megabytes per second (Mbps) while universities in PNG have to settle for 2Mbps. According to Professor Ross Hynes, Vice Chancellor of UPNG, “most universities and research institutions find 100 Mbps a minimum”. He also said that the 2Mbps access provided by Telikom PNG is well below this standard and is counter-productive.
I was a tutor at UPNG before leaving for overseas to do post-graduate studies. One of the first things that were required of an academic staff was to have an email address. I was readily given an email address by the IT department but I had no access to a terminal where I could read my mails or search for information. I had no Internet line in my office or in my department. The only terminal was in the central administration office where I was required to have a laptop computer (which I did not have) because that’s where the terminal was provided. I therefore had to go to a friend’s office to open my mails. Sometimes I used the curriculum development office or the library for Internet access. More frustrating was that when I did open my emails, the download process was very slow and I spent two to three hours just reading my mails and replying. To search for online journals was even worse. I therefore decided that the quickest way was to go to Internet Cafes to open my mails or to research information on online journals. This was a very expensive for me. I spent about $US8 for one hour in an Internet Café and went there twice a week therefore I spent $US14.66 per week, which is $US28 a fortnight. That is nearly $US33 a fortnight for Internet access and amounts to roughly $US866 in one year. My salary was $US 8000 per annum. So that’s nearly 11% of my salary. Being away from the campus also meant I was not in my office so students were also missing out on some of the consultation time with academics as required.
I arrived in Japan in April 2005 and quickly settled in my new learning environment. To my delight I was given a computer with my own desk with 24 hours Internet access at my fingertips. I quickly realized what difference it would make in my own institution if the same things were done for academics and researchers. A few months into my Ph.D. program I realized I needed to keep regular contact with my colleagues in PNG and in other parts of the world. Although an email was sufficient for one to one communication, I needed a way to link everyone together so that we are part of a virtual organization that has no visible office, meeting place or time schedule for meetings. A place where we could meet and talk anytime or any day or night. I started searching the Internet for free resources that could be used to suit what I was looking for. After trying many community service tools on the Internet I came across yahoogroups.com, a free service provided by Yahoo! All it required was for me was to have a yahoo ID. Using this tool I created ‘PNG Doctors Internet Group’.
PNG Doctors Internet Group has members primarily with a health background but we try to include other individuals who are concern with health in PNG to join as well. Our membership is made up of Papua New Guineans, Pacific Islanders and expatriates and consists of students, a journalist, a nursing officer and medical officers either working or studying in PNG, Solomon Islands, Australia, USA, England and Japan. Using our Internet group we have discussed issues affecting health in PNG either directly or indirectly. The health and welfare of women and children in PNG and in other pacific island countries has been one of the most talked about issues in our group. As we continue to share ideas and talk about this things we want to develop policy frame works which can be used to improve mother and child welfare.
We have realized the importance of research and continuing medical education and decided to create a separate group through which our members doing research or want to update each other on latest developments in the medical field can do so. This idea has proven to be very successful and very rewarding for our members. A highlight since the formation of our group was when a journalist from England working as a correspondent for an international medical journal contacted me for an email interview regarding the deteriorating health care system in PNG. He told me that he came across our Internet group while researching information on the health system and corruption in PNG to write an article for the Lancet, one of most prestigious and widely read medical journals in the world.
Using this Internet tool we have been able to keep in touch with developments in the public health system, research and education in the medical field in PNG while overseas. Some of our members who attended the recent medical symposium in Madang were able to communicate developments in the medical field in PNG via our internet group to members overseas who were not able to attend. One of great feature of this Internet tool is that all our group discussions and email correspondents between members are archived for public viewing. Therefore virtually anybody who has Internet access can read the messages and know what is happening in PNG and how we as medical professionals from PNG are responding to it. We therefore try to maintain professionalism, manners and professional courtesy in all our communications. This so that students who are part of our group can learn early on how to communicate effectively and make a strong point regarding an issue of debate while maintaining manners, avoiding abusive and discriminatory language and show professional courtesy to colleagues.
Internet is a tool. A tool that can be used to build or destroy depending on the intent of the user. By sharing our experience we hope that Internet will be viewed as a tool that can used by all individuals for personal as well as professional growth. Just as a baby learns that fire can burn by getting burnt, Internet must be made cheaply available with easy access so that only by using it people can know what is good and bad about it. The recent announcement by the Information Minister, Arthur Somare that a policy framework has been formulated and will be tabled before the parliament is a step in the right direction.
We will follow these developments closely and want to see the policy implemented to benefit all Papua New Guinean individuals, families, institutions and organizations.