Laurie Goering reports that Mauritius is likely to become the first country completely covered by WiFi: 'Mauritius Set to Become First 'Cyber-island' (Digital Communities, Jan 26, 2006):
In the next few months, it [Mauritius - Ben] is expected to become the world's first nation with coast-to-coast wireless Internet coverage, the first country to become one big "hot spot."
"If there's anyone who can do it, it's us," said Rizwan Rahim, the head of ADB Networks, the company installing the wireless radio network across the 40-mile-long island. "It's a small place, so for a wireless network it's manageable. For us, it's a test. If it's successful here, we can island-hop to (mainland) Africa."
Mauritius sees computers and telecommuications as a way around some development deadeneds:
Like many African nations, this modest country has struggled economically as the industries that underlie its economy -- particularly sugar production and textile manufacturing -- have run into tough global competition and declining prices. Looking for alternatives, the government has settled on a new and ambitious vision: turning sleepy Mauritius, with its endless sugarcane fields and tourist beaches, into a high-tech computer and telecommunications center.
"It is our vision to transform Mauritius into a cyber-island," said Deelchand Jeeha, the country's minister of information technology and telecommunications, in a speech last year. The nation, he said, "is confident in the potential of (the industry) as an engine of growth which can generate jobs and wealth creation."
Remote Mauritius is in many respects well-placed to win the high-tech investment it wants. An undersea broadband fiber-optic cable, completed three years ago, gives the island fast and reliable phone and Internet links with the rest of Africa and with Europe, India and Malaysia. Many of the country's 1.2 million people -- a mix of French, Indian, Chinese and African descendants -- are bilingual or trilingual, speaking French, English and either Chinese or Hindi. The country is democratic, peaceful and stable.
In Ebene, just south of Port Louis, the capital, the government has built the first of three planned high-tech parks. It also has stepped up training programs to turn out tech-savvy workers and has rewritten its business rules in an effort to create an attractive investment climate. The changes are aimed at luring call centers, remote data-backup facilities for companies worried about terrorist attacks and, eventually, software development companies.
The government's efforts have brought in investment by players like Microsoft, Oracle, Accenture and India's Infosys Technologies and created about 2,000 jobs in the past two years.
"It's the future," said Satyam Gutty, a taxi driver in Port Louis whose daughter just graduated with a university degree in information technology. "It's a big chance for Mauritius."
Nevertheless, government policy isn't fully consistent with its objectives:
Despite the government's effort to provide an inviting investment climate, regulation also remains a problem. Rahim, who applied for a license for his wireless Nomad Internet network last December, finally got approval in May, three months later than expected.
The main problem, he and others say, is that the government holds a substantial share in Mauritius Telecom, the island's only fixed-line telephone operator, as well as one of its Internet providers and the company that controls the submarine fiber-optic cable that provides all of the country's phone and Internet bandwidth.
Because the government makes so much money from the company and its cable, it has been reluctant to open the market to competitors that might reduce Telecom's profits, even though the country's National Telecommunications Policy, passed in 2004, calls for "positive discrimination" by regulators in favor of start-up companies facing off against established firms like Telecom.