Connecting the Middle East

Photo by Jennifer Scully and Nicholas Yates

The people have spoken in the Middle East and we’ve heard them. But didn’t you think it was a little slow? Once the turmoil settles down, one of the first thing that the entire region needs to do is reassess its digital communications infrastructure and play a little catch up to get ahead.

In Thomas Friedman’s (2006) account of globalization, he attributed the rise of India to the heavy investment in fibre optic cable. It is what brought India online and makes them a powerful emerging economy today. The fact that India could keep up and get ahead of the game made them a player on the world stage.

Australia is investing over AUD$40 billion over a period of 8 years in its bid to make the island a digital economy (Oliver, 2009). They’re hoping that the network coverage will improve access, develop innovation, and increase equality for all citizens, businesses, industries, and government departments.

The Middle East needs to build, upgrade, and network their communications infrastructure to make the region competitive on the world stage. We’ve seen recent examples of the power of social media to raise their voice against those they oppose, Egypt, and we’ve seen the digital world aid those in need and to make their voices heard, Japan.

The key is reliable fast access to the networks that region needs. The United Arab Emirates ranks highest at #35 with an average download speed per household with 9.73 mbps but next is Saudi Arabia at #74 with 4.4 mbps. Qatar is #82, Bahrain #106, Egypt #149 and Iraq, Iran and Lebanon occupy the spots #166 – #168 with an average 0.56 mbps between them (Ookla, March 28, 2011) .

South Korea is a prime example as they have invested heavily in digitizing their lives and are steadily progressing towards their digital future (Rushkoff & Dretzin, Feb 02, 2010). Incidentally, they are downloading towards this future at 33.45 mbps and sit at #1 on the list. They are educating their 6 year olds to be Netizens and are hoping they will develop instinctual innovative, yet positive, behaviors that will transfer into their secondary and tertiary education and beyond into the workplace.

Back to India. The flattener moved their population onto the global network and this enabled them to access things they couldn’t dream of before; information, jobs, prosperity. This seismic shift upwardly moved a large section of the Indian community and transformed their economy at the same time.

Could this happen in the Middle East? Some countries are using petro-dollars to invest in its future. They are trying to diversify their economy away from solely relying on oil to education, trade, and services. Other countries without this rich natural resource are struggling. They don’t have government investments and their capabilities to compete within the global network are limited.

Millions are waiting to get connected in the digital social network but until more reliable and better quality infrastructure is built, their voices may or may not be heard.

Original Post: April 03, 2011

Rushkoff, D., & Dretzin, R. (Feb 02, 2010). Digital Nation . Retrieved March 04, 2011 from

Ookla (March 28, 2011) Household Download Index. Retrieved March 28, 2011 from

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