The deadline for proposals from firms wishing to access a new, multi-million dollar technology grant program for Muslim countries from the Obama administration arrives at the end of November. Firms in the Middle East and Africa can take advantage of awards between US$25m and $150m to help accelerate the uptake of technologies in the media, telecoms and IT sectors, among others.
Despite an unsurprisingly broad spectrum of opinion online about the motivation of the administration in offering the funding, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will select a number of firms it believes can optimize access to and use of technology in the regions. The offer of funding, which is contingent on responses to a questionnaire accompanying the call for proposals and a final selection round, ties in with Obama's belief that technology holds the potential to improve lives and offer an accelerated route to prosperity. He first mentioned the fund in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo during June this year, and now the next step is the selection of firms that can gain funding to the tune of between 33% and 50% of their total market capitalization.
It seems likely that ISPs and public network operators will be high on the list of beneficiaries, since one of the main thrusts of the funding is to broaden the availability of the public Internet. While this is a laudable initiative, I suspect there will be a lot of questions out there in the market about whether OPIC is really offering enough funding to be successful. There's no doubt that $150m is a substantial award and could make a very big difference to a healthcare firm offering remote diagnosis and monitoring technologies, as seems likely in countries where centers of medical care and populations are geographically dispersed. But, how far does it go to fund the build out of DSL, fiber, 3G or WiFi networks?
After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.