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How Mobile Operators Are Caught In the Middle In the Middle East and Africa 57

Posted by timothy
from the life-on-the-margins dept.
First time accepted submitter singinho writes "In times of political turmoil, operators are caught in the middle, between the wishes of the regime and the communications needs of the public. Orange exec Marc Rennard explains how he is forced to risk the lives of his employees." Companies operating with the blessing of any particular regime end up in some interesting predicaments; trying to keep communications open in a place like Mali (one of the places Rennard oversees) must make for some exciting work days for the guys in the field.
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How Mobile Operators Are Caught In the Middle In the Middle East and Africa

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  • America's answering machine:
    We would love to come liberate you, but our last 2 liberation actions from evil groups didn't go so well. We miss the days of the grateful Filipinos, Germans, French, Polish, Japanese, Koreans, and Kuwaitis. Please leave a message, and we will get back to you when our population has the stomach for war. BEEP!

    • Please leave a message, and we will get back to you when you strike oil. BEEP!

      FTFY

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Sparticus789 (2625955)

        Filipinos, Germans, French, Polish, Japanese, Koreans

        Yes, because those countries are covered in oil. So much, huge mistake giving them their national sovereignty back after liberation.

        • by willpb (1168125)
          Sovereignty isn't worth much when your country is run by a puppet regime and is flooded with foreign spies armed with stealth murder technology.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oh yeah, you guys are all about the liberation. The US government goes to war for its own reasons, and then dresses it up with words like "liberation" and "democracy" to sell it to gullible, gung-ho twerps like you. The problem with folks like you is that you assume the rest of the world is as stupid, ill-informed, myopic, easily-distracted and short-memoried as the average USAian.

      You assume they are as ignorant as you are regarding America's evil history of toppling peaceful regimes, undermining democracie

      • easily-distracted and short-memoried as the average USAian.
        The term is American, see later you use the word America ...America's evil history to name the nation you are talking about, ergo the term to describe people from that nation is American.
        America's evil history of toppling peaceful regimes, undermining democracies, assassinating legitimate heads of state,
        Oliver Stone, is that you?I love your revisionist history show on Showtime, haven't laughed that hard in weeks.
        • by willpb (1168125)
          Hello, do you live in a hole in the ground? Merca doesn't exist as a country anymore. It's run by stealth murder technology.
      • And what country are you from? Name one country that has not engaged in "toppling peaceful regimes, undermining democracies, assassinating legitimate heads of state, waging illegitimate war and generally just fucking things up and killing thousands just for the sake of funnelling money into the right pockets" for thousands of years. If you want to hold us (America) responsible for every action our country has been engaged in, I would wager that our 250 year history is nothing compared to the rampant blood

        • by Anonymous Coward

          New Zealand.

        • by mjwx (966435)

          And what country are you from? Name one country that has not engaged in "toppling peaceful regimes, undermining democracies, assassinating legitimate heads of state, waging illegitimate war and generally just fucking things up and killing thousands just for the sake of funnelling money into the right pockets" for thousands of years. If you want to hold us (America) responsible for every action our country has been engaged in, I would wager that our 250 year history is nothing compared to the rampant bloodshed, Feudalism, and barbaric nature of 95% of the planet.

          The fucking Swiss. Aslo the Swedes, except that Ikea is getting pretty damned insidious.

          • Sweden was the home of the Vikings, Visigoths, and Ostragoths. Hardly a great example of a peaceful nation.

            • by i (8254)

              Well, there could be seen as an important difference if did it 10 years ago or 1000 years ago...

          • by Kreplock (1088483)

            And what country are you from? Name one country that has not engaged in "toppling peaceful regimes, undermining democracies, assassinating legitimate heads of state, waging illegitimate war and generally just fucking things up and killing thousands just for the sake of funnelling money into the right pockets" for thousands of years. If you want to hold us (America) responsible for every action our country has been engaged in, I would wager that our 250 year history is nothing compared to the rampant bloodshed, Feudalism, and barbaric nature of 95% of the planet.

            The fucking Swiss.

            Laundered money for the Nazis. Probably still some gold Jewish teeth rattling in a few bank vaults over there.

    • The REALLY funny part is that you think we don't have troops there.

  • if he cannot or is unwilling to operate in a country, as per the laws of said country, it is not his privilege to pass judgment. He can opt to pack all his employees and leave, without risking their lives.

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:06PM (#42617125)

      Whose laws?
      When a country has multiple groups claiming to be the government which set do you follow?

      What about when the government is obviously not legitimate?

      • by jkrise (535370)

        Whose laws?
        When a country has multiple groups claiming to be the government which set do you follow?

        When there is ambiguity on who is in charge, do you think there would be respect for the laws, whomsoever made them?

        What about when the government is obviously not legitimate?

        Rennard is not a judge, to pass judgment or rule on legitimacy. If he feels threatened operating in a country, legitimate or not, he should pull out his employees. Their security is more important than his desire to make money operati

        • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:02PM (#42617755)

          I believe his employees should be free to make that choice. If he is not paying them enough to deal with the hazards I would think they would quit.

          Now if he is misleading them in anyway, that is another issue.

          • by mjwalshe (1680392)
            Typical randian freemarket crap - how much for the risk of decapitation and having your head and body found in separate ditches (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1998_abduction_of_foreign_engineers_in_Chechnya) and ignoring the point that France telecom is ex PTT (ie civil service) and so would take its cue from foreign ministry or DGSE.
            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              I am no randroid. I just know that someone has to do these things, or the world would be even worse.

              I would say for a few million a year I might take that risk. I would also want a very large company paid life insurance policy.

              I would even support a minimum wage for this kind of hazardous work set at some multiple of normal pay. Maybe 10X or 100X.

      • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

        When a country has multiple groups claiming to be the government which set do you follow?

        Whichever one has the gun aimed at you :/

      • Whose laws? When a country has multiple groups claiming to be the government which set do you follow?

        What about when the government is obviously not legitimate?

        Orange basically goes where nobody else wants to go or where no sane company would ever operate to get money. They haven't really been able to compete very well with bigger, established players in more developed countries (with some exceptions) so they look for what you might call "garbage revenue streams" by going where there's little to no competition. Given that, they're likely to listen to anybody in charge and not ask questions if they think that doing so will preserve their revenue streams. This le

    • by Wookact (2804191)
      He was discussing a moral obligation to attempt to keep the lines of communication up. He never said he could not keep them up, or that he could not stay in business. Perhaps you should actually read the article. Mmm Kay?
    • He can opt to pack all his employees and leave, without risking their lives.

      Absolutely. Indeed, as he is quoted in the article:

      Firstly, we have to protect our 2,000 employees in this region ... You just have to be able to protect your people in the country."

      The article goes on to ask whether Orange has a corporate responsibility to keep communications running in situations such as this, and Rennard replies:

      “In the end, I decided to send just three members of staff back, because if the network goes down, the public will ask, where were you when we needed you? But if I send these three guys back, and one of them is killed, that is on my conscience and I have to live with that. It’s not an easy decision to make, but this is my job.”

  • Yeah, a real hero that guy. Snakes in suits... a real good read.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm getting really tired of people putting down snakes. They're really very impressive animals.

  • Meddle with muddled motives? Or, just money? Just like that? Justice this, justice that? Pray, they just summon Mammon.

  • I thought companies don't care about anything except profit for their directors... People are just "living assets"....they come and go....
  • ... its almost the same as the USA. Except in the USA, the FBI leans on the telecoms upper management for warrantless data requests. In Africa, the government goes after the workers.

    So management at US mobile operators should be asking, "How can we become more like Africa?"

    • Re:So then ... (Score:4, Informative)

      by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:23PM (#42617943)

      ... its almost the same as the USA

      Sigh.

      I was waiting for the 'it's like the USA!' post.

      Here's the thing: It's NOT

      In the USA example, no one at the telecom is being tortured and/or killed. No one in the government of the USA has a 'magic button' to turn off the internet & cell coverage.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Define torture.

        For a CEO, its worse not being able to keep up appearances at the local country club than having a few dozen technicians' testicles wired to a Tazer.

        I used to work for a utility that, thanks to the incompetence of a few managers, killed a number of linemen. The managers were never removed, it being an issue of them having to maintain appearances in the community. The company eventually lost their construction department, thanks to pressure from the state disability insurance program. And a

  • This [xkcd.com] is really what these guys are going through!

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:21PM (#42617913) Journal

    I'd imagine that these guys are the ones that would see the most value in the sorts of long-duration persistent experiments in putting repeaters, etc. into aerostats, drones, even low-altitude satellites, etc - it would seem that getting the hardware into the stratosphere would provide three huge advantages:
    1) on a tactical level it gets your hardware up out of the reach of people, generally. I have to imagine that vandalism, theft, and malicious mischief makes the maintenance of (even something as capital-cheap as) a cell network a bloody challenge (sometimes literally)
    2) on a more strategic level, having these things up out of (easy) reach of a government can likewise somewhat allow the carrier to maintain a neutrality as far as traffic that they might otherwise find difficult. Governments have many, many ways that they can put pressure on carriers organizationally and financially, sure, but at least this would remove one lever. (OK, it wouldn't be removed; a government could likely take down a persistent UAV given enough motivation - but launching a ground to air missile is a little more obvious and blatant.)
    3) finally, to have the hardware easily-removable from the geographic area.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I work in the 5th poorest country in the world (Guinea-Bissau, West Africa) where Orange is the only internet provider and one of the three telecom providers. Last report I saw, we, the 5th poorest country, have THE most expensive (for what you get) telecom/internet service in the world.

  • by water-and-sewer (612923) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:27PM (#42617999) Homepage

    I spent a lot of time researching autocratic leaders (call them Dictators, or just "Dicks" if you like) when writing the Dictator's Handbook (http://www.dictatorshandbook.net/ [dictatorshandbook.net]) and the research shows that despite promises to the contrary about the benefits of privatization, clever dictators can still have their way with privately-run services like cellphone companies. It's normal - almost expected - in much of the world for calls to be monitored, intercepted, dropped, and blocked. Everyone knows the SMS outage stories (Belarus, Russia, Egypt, to name just a few) but it goes way beyond that. Most of the commercial gadget conveniences that have made life easier have benefitted autocrats as well, who have new ways to track, monitor, and basically hassle its people. Chapters 4 and 11 of the Handbook cover it in depth. Now we get to smart phones, facebook accounts, linkedin profiles, and all the happy social media stuff: it's all a treasure trove for autocrats. The research dug up anecdotes about Iranians dragged in for questioning and presented with copies of their own email, cellphone call record, and worse.

    If you want to weaken dictators, I don't think Twitter is the way to go. Shortwave radio was just as effective, if not more, and it was a hell of a lot harder to block. Cellphone operators are absolutely in a tough spot: required to meet quality-of-service rules while simultaneously kissing the Dictator's Ass. It's not an enviable place to be in, I can assure you.

  • The better question is; how hard is it to operate in Middle Earth?

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

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