Power supply issues hamper ICT growth in Liberia

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE – Five years after Liberia’s civil war, most areas of the country on Africa’s north-west coast still lack constant electricity, adversely affecting ICT use and development.

“To charge your [mobile] phone to the fullest, which could serve you for two to three days, will cost you between 20 dollars and 50 dollars depending on your location,” said Lilian Davies, a secondary school student standing at a telecenter – a kiosk where people can buy recharge cards, make calls and charge their phones with a small generator.

A laptop user may have to pay more, she said, because it is perceived to be more sophisticated and to consume more power than mobile phones. Laptops are also less common than phones, which have become more accessible and affordable recently, she said.

In addition to a general lack of improvement in Internet accessibility in Liberia, the recent increase in petroleum prices has added to the high cost of accessing facilities.

It now costs about 115 Liberian dollars (US$1.82) to browse the Internet in the central parts of Monrovia due to the area’s high volume of commercial activity. Access is even more expensive in residential areas.

“We were forced to add extra 10 dollars to all our charges in February because of the fuel price increase,” said an attendant at a cybercafe. “I believe most of our customers understand our plight and reasoned with us. We never meant to constrain our users, but circumstances led to the increase.”

Computer training centers have also suffered, with a the price of a basic two-month course rising to about 3,000 Liberian dollars.

Though it is not clear if fuel costs are responsible for an increase in calling tariffs, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) operators are also complaining about the price hike. Comium Liberia, for example, spent approximately US$1.5 million on fuel in the last year, which executive chairman Monie Ralph Capton said is too high while speaking at Wednesday’s Liberia International Trade and Investment Partnership Forum.

While Capton praised Liberia for its high ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2009” report, he noted that more must be done to ensure smooth business operations in the country.