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Sierra Leone News: Internet connectivity questioned by Vice Chancellor

The Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, Foday Sahr, yesterday 12 September 2018, ordered the immediate disconnection of all illegal connections from the co-router that is providing free internet services to some universities and schools in the Western Area. During an unannounced visit to Fourah Bay College’s internet facility hosted at the Kennedy Building, it was discovered that there were lots of mast hosting connectivity for the Eco-wan project that provides free internet for students and other institutions outside the campus. According to the Head of Information Communication and Technology at FBC, Tamba Francis Morsay, at the top of the Kennedy building there is a mast that provides service for Orange mobile and Internet service providers including Iptel, CD Investment, Diakem, Tiwai Memory Masters, United Bank of Africa, Mitch Com and the Eco-wan FBC internet. He disclosed due to the geographic location of FBC, the Kennedy building serves as an advantage from which other institutions can access internet links, adding that Tiwai Memory Masters won the international bid to host and provide the internet facility through the Eco-wan project as they have been providing VPN services using the building before the arrival of the World Bank project. According to him the co-router should provide space for the connection of FBC, COMAHS, IPAM, Prince of Wales School, Freetown Secondary School for Girls and additionally for Albert Academy and Saint Joseph Convent Schools. He said he cannot explain the additional connections that were discovered on the co-router. He said Tiwai Memory Masters should explain because they are operating the system. “All I now is that the bandwidth to FBC covers the other beneficiaries of the Eco-wan project,” he said, disclosing that a bandwidth of 4 STM1 equivalent to 620 Megabytes is allocated to FBC, which he is monitoring on a daily basis to ensure the beneficiaries get the best services. According to the Acting Vice Chancellor, the purpose of the visit was to check on the facilities installed on top of the Kennedy building and to ensure the Internet facilities are available for the students and are not tampered with. He disclosed that the IT specialist at FBC needs to explain about the variousconnections that were found attached to the co-router meant for the free internet service, adding that they are investigating the matter and anyone caught will face the full penalty of the law in relation to illegal connections. According to the Chief Technology Officer, Victor Sesay, who is on a special assignment to the University of Sierra Leone from the Ministry of Tertiary and Higher Education, said they are to check on the telecommunication companies hosting their equipment on top of the building to know about the internet facilities provided by the government of Sierra Leone through the Eco-wan project. He disclosed that Eco-wan is providing an STM4, which is equivalent to 260-megabyte bandwidth to each college under the University of Sierra Leone, but upon visits at the hub rooms on the 8th floor of the Kennedy building, at the co-router room that is supposed to feed FBC and IPAM they discovered many other connections terminating to other switches not related to FBC or IPAM. “Among those connections we have seen one connecting to Airport, NP-East, MRU, Office. 95, Tiwai Memory Masters, Hot Four, NP-International among others that have nothing to do with any of the learning institutions,” he said, disclosing that he saw another link to Prince of Wales and FSSG but did not tamper with them as they are part of the project. According to him, students cannot have enough bandwidth to perform their academic work using the Internet, explaining that it is like the students are battling with these other institutions over the bandwidth, which is why they have taken them off the system. The Director at Tiwai Memory Masters, Mohamed Turay, disclosed they have been working on a project that was sponsored by World Bank on Internet Exchange Point (IExP) before switching into the VPN business using the Kennedy building for over 10 years. Virtual Private Network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. He said they started doing VPN business with banks and parastatals before securing the project from World Bank to connect 10 colleges and 10 schools with Internet services in collaboration with Sierra Leone Cable (SALCAB) that is doing the distribution to a certain point from where they (Tiwai) distribute to the various beneficiaries. According to him because of the fiber optic connection at FBC they agreed that feed should come from there to the other places. FBC saw the need that they have to expand as they have a project known as ‘Sphere’ that requires high bandwidth, explaining that the terrain of FBC does not warrant wireless radios or good internet connectivity. The Tiwai Director maintained it was as a result of that they decided to run a fiber optic cable from the top of Kennedy building to Sphere at the University building, Engineering department, Administrative building and also to another port supplying the Library and other locations. “Despite engaging in all this work we still maintain our VPN customers and not internet,” he emphasized, explaining that they provide VPN services for Union Trust Bank, FN Bank for interconnection with their various branches across the country. He maintained that the cables that were seen connected to the router at the Kennedy building have nothing to do with internet but VPN connections linking their various customers, urging the Vice Chancellor or any other person that intend to investigate to visit the various points to ascertain the facts. He furthered that they did the VPN connection between the Central Bank and various commercials banks, disclosing that the banks operate their Internet connectivity privately. “Tiwai is not an Internet service provider but VPN provider,” he maintained, challenging anyone to come up with evidence against them of selling internet as they hold no license to run an internet service provider, disclosing that accessing internet at the various classes at FBC is not part of the scope of the project. He disclosed that the scope of the project states for Internet to be provided at hot spots, explaining that FBC has distributed what was given to them widely and that they spent more than thrice what was catered for FBC just to ensure there is Internet for the students. It is no secret that most students from FBC are using Internet service outside their campus due to overloading of the network at campus.

AMK/12/9/18

By Alhaji Manika Kamara

Thursday September 13, 2018.

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