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

timothy posted about a year ago | from the life-on-the-margins dept.

Communications 57

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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57 comments

yawn (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42616873)

I mean, yaaaawwwwn. Friday's just a day away. Stories are usually better on Friday.

Re:yawn (2, Funny)

alphatel (1450715) | about a year ago | (#42617261)

Watch out or you'll be Caught in the Middle in the Middle.
A similar crisis to when your appetite's pokin' atcha, pokin' atcha.

Re:yawn (1)

Heathren-bert (671356) | about a year ago | (#42619881)

Watch out or you'll be Caught in the Middle in the Middle. A similar crisis to when your appetite's pokin' atcha, pokin' atcha.

That's when you get a Snickers! Not sure if it would work that same when you're in the Middle in the Middle...

America's response. (1, Funny)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#42616933)

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!

Re:America's response. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617045)

That's still nicer than when someone answers the phone. The guy on the recieving end of the "Liberation Hotline" seems to have developed a drinking problem in the last couple years. Something about an air head-spring, then he degrades into a long string of obscenities wtih some random nouns thrown in for good measure.

Re:America's response. (1)

jafiwam (310805) | about a year ago | (#42619511)

That's still nicer than when someone answers the phone. The guy on the recieving end of the "Liberation Hotline" seems to have developed a drinking problem in the last couple years. Something about an air head-spring, then he degrades into a long string of obscenities wtih some random nouns thrown in for good measure.

I think you looked up the number of the "Libation Hotline" not the "Liberation Hotline"

Re:America's response. (1)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | about a year ago | (#42617181)

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

FTFY

Re:America's response. (2, Funny)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#42617299)

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.

Re:America's response. (1)

willpb (1168125) | about a year ago | (#42621169)

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.

Re:America's response. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617675)

There is nothing much for U.S. in Mali. U.S. seems to leave a little war spoils (Gold and Uranium) to France who was a coloniser there previously. When Algeria was attacked it got to close and U.S. started to act. This latest attack shows the vulnerability of oil and gas supply in Africa and that western interests are threatened in more ways than just cheap minerals, gold and uranium.

See how France and other european nations went in all haste to help Mali when they don't do the same for Syria. Even though Syria is still under french "protection". There is simply nothing much to get from Syria, and Golan heights are taken by Israel so there isn't really much of a strategical threat to Israel dominance in the area.

Re:America's response. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617819)

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 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. Then you wonder why the natives get all uppity and throw IEDs rather than rose petals at you.

Posted AC because I don't have an account here.

Re:America's response. (1)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | about a year ago | (#42618027)

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.

Re:America's response. (1)

willpb (1168125) | about a year ago | (#42621217)

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.

Re:America's response. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42626721)

"American"... you keep using that word, but I don't think it means what you think it means (Actually the correct term is gringo)

Re:America's response. (2)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#42618291)

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.

Re:America's response. (1)

mjwx (966435) | about a year ago | (#42621887)

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.

Re:America's response. (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#42625369)

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

Re:America's response. (1)

i (8254) | about a year ago | (#42625927)

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

Re:America's response. (1)

Kreplock (1088483) | about a year ago | (#42647937)

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.

Re:America's response. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42618339)

And the only people that are more stupid and gullible are people like you who are so brainwashed that the USA can only do evil, you couldn't see anything else if it was right in front of your face. But don't let facts get in they way of your sweeping ignorant stereotypes... I mean it isn't like the USA is the only country guilty of the things you stated above. Out of curiosity, which golden "do no harm" country do you hail from? Yeah, didn't think you would answer.

There is no compulsion on Rennard... (0)

jkrise (535370) | about a year ago | (#42616981)

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.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#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?

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (1)

jkrise (535370) | about a year ago | (#42617423)

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 operating in an obviously illegitimate domain.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (0)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about a year ago | (#42619865)

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.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42620479)

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.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42620591)

The more money you make, or have backing you up in a life insurance policy, the more lucrative it becomes to kidnap and ransom you. Then, rinse and repeat until you run out of money or have your life insurance policy revoked because you keep chosing to live and work in such a dangerous environment. Either way, you end up not worth the cost of feeding you, and you are tossed into a ditch and shot dead.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#42620825)

If a company is offering a very high pay or life insurance they have an incentive to pay for protection. Hiring "contractors" is nothing new.

Life insurance for these kinds of fields prices in that risk, it will not be revoked.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about a year ago | (#42617589)

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

Whichever one has the gun aimed at you :/

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (2)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | about a year ago | (#42617627)

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 leads to a bit of a balancing act where they can't completely turn their backs on the people in charge and get kicked out of the country, but they also can't be completely irresponsible to their customer base either for fear of losing customers. But if they think that turning off the network today will enable them to get paid tomorrow, they'll do it.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (1)

Wookact (2804191) | about a year ago | (#42617325)

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?

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42621659)

"The important decisions," Mr. Rennard actually discussed were centered 1st on his obligation to keep the company employees safe. After 12 of 1000 towers were destryed, he pulled all 2000 people out of Mali and then addressed the question of whether to send anyone back to maintain infrastructure.

The moral issues were about life, not service level, and I didn't read anything about contractual obligations overriding health, safety or welfare of those who work in this unstable area. His attention to public perception of Orange was reasonably understated, and his mention of what transpired between the 2 engineers who returned and Orange, before they decided to agree to return was nonexistent. Mr. Rennard's moral conundrum didn't stop him from sending 3 engineers back to check on things, nor did he play it up to be anything more than de rigueur.

Hopefully the people who returned were either personally equipped to protect themselves or accompanied by people with the necessary skill sets. All the fine points regarding this aspect of operations in Mali are left to the imagination. But history shows a concerted effort to provide security when it's necessary. Think of oil operations in Liberia, for example. There are plenty of mercenaries who make a good living out of situations like this. Plenty of well trained soldiers who were trained by the Brits, the Americans, the South Africans, the Argentinians and NATO. And don't forget that communications is an important part of all military operations.

Men with guns are all over... Many of them want to reliable cell service as much or more than the average civilian, and the ones who run governments in developing countries can pay extra for the privilege. I've always wondered if there are people whose phones are ESN's that are prioritized within the network.

Re:There is no compulsion on Rennard... (1)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about a year ago | (#42617625)

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.”

Forced to risk the lived of his employees... (1)

santax (1541065) | about a year ago | (#42617137)

Yeah, a real hero that guy. Snakes in suits... a real good read.

Re:Forced to risk the lived of his employees... (2)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617395)

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

Re:Forced to risk the lived of his employees... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617697)

If I had a choice, I'd feed the "snake" in a suit to the scaly slithery snake. At least I'll feed someone useful.

Re:Forced to risk the lived of his employees... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617905)

I was going to say.

Screw interviewing this guy, I want to read an interview about a tower jockey in EMEA.

TOO DAMM BAD! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617219)

You chose to do business where the regulations are lax and the money is easy when times are good. Did you prepare for the obvious and regular times of turmoil?
No? Well that was stupid wasn't it.

Take the good with the bad. As a mobile operator you had the money to get the fuck out and go somewhere else. But you didn't. You stayed because the money is easy.

Oh you stayed because of your rich culture and long history in the region? Well guess what is also part of that culture and history. Violence and political instability. Did you forget about that? Or just ignored it because it was unpleasant?

How about using some of your money and power to help to change the way your country works? No? Didn't do that either huh..
Wanted all the profit for yourself. Well that was stupid too.

Perhaps you'll learn. But somehow i doubt it given the history of these regions.

Meddle with muddled motives? (0)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about a year ago | (#42617249)

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

Do they really care? (1)

snemiro (1775092) | about a year ago | (#42617547)

I thought companies don't care about anything except profit for their directors... People are just "living assets"....they come and go....

why... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617673)

Why does the middle east and Africa have to be such violent places?? Why can*t they just be peaceful!?

Re:why... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617871)

They have poverty, poverty leads to violence. There's many reasons for this, including colonial-era exploitation that made the parent country immensely wealthy while the natives stayed dirt-poor.

Re:why... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617933)

It's george bush's fault...

So then ... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#42617731)

... 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 ... (3, Informative)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:So then ... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#42618809)

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 as a result, they failed as a viable investor owned company. They are being kept on life support by a private equity group. But still, they have the managing clowns sitting in comfort (more so since they built themselves a new HQ building).

So I'd say that a comfy office on mahogany row is worth quite a few technician's lives even here in the good old USA.

Re:So then ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42619659)

No one in the government of the USA has a 'magic button' to turn off the internet & cell coverage.

Uh, yes they do. Obama signed an executive order giving himself that power last year. It was covered on this very site.

Non-terrestrial repeaters (2)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year ago | (#42617913)

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.

Don't feel too bad for them (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42617971)

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.

Straight out of the Dictator's Handbook (4, Interesting)

water-and-sewer (612923) | about a year ago | (#42617999)

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.

you FAill It!? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42618007)

fear the reaper at least.' Nobody prospects are very look at your soft, his clash with Clear7y become [amazingkreskin.com] this post up. Time wholesome and

forced to risk the lives of employees? (1)

chris.alex.thomas (1718644) | about a year ago | (#42618943)

how so?

if the employees lives are at risk, then you just don't do it, who forces you and what is the force being applied?

does somebody have his wife hostage and will shoot her in the head if he doesn't send in the ground crews? his daughter is tied to a diabolical device which will kill her if he doesn't comply?

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