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Affordable internet costs key to attaining Vision 2030 projects

By | March 10th 2012

Paul Nyabicha

Not long ago, as the country struggled to establish internet connectivity with the rest of the world via submarine fibre optic cables, we were regaled with tales of how internet would become cheap once the project was completed. We were told once the three undersea cables landed at the Coast, the hitherto prohibitive cost of downloading content from the Internet would be next to nothing.

While at it, they also said the cost of installing and maintaining internet infrastructure would be so cheap, it would be a shame not to be connected at home. Optimism was rife as aspiring entrepreneurs looked forward to make the most of the expected superfast internet speeds.

But with landing of three undersea cables, namely the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), the East African Marine System (Teams), and African Cable System (Seacom), the cost of internet is anything but affordable. And the speeds are still depressingly slow and internet users have sometimes to fork out extra cash to enjoy any semblance of faster connection.

Most people still do their browsing at cyber cafÈs, and this has nothing to do with the price of PCs and laptops as even those with these gadgets still find the cost of internet prohibitive. And even when Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have lowered their prices, it has been more a marketing gimmick than to pass the benefits of the reduced costs to end-users.

One such self-serving move is when mobile telephony services providers, who double up as ISPs, extended some incentives to their broadband users at the height of cutthroat competition in the voice market. At that time, the firms had cut calling charges by more than half, forcing them to turn to broadband services as an alternative revenue stream.

Either the implementers overstated the benefits that were to accrue from the fibre optic technology or there has been a conspiracy to short-change the expectant public.

South Korea managed to attain the coveted status as the world leader in Internet connectivity and speed mainly due to Government policies that facilitated rapid expansion and use of broadband.

It’s thanks to these policies that many public restaurants also offer Wi-Fi Internet (a mechanism that allows an electronic device to exchange data wirelessly over a computer network). It is not for nothing Korea’s capital, Seoul, is called "the band width capital of the world".

We also seemed destined to replicate this feat until the ships laying the three fibre optic cables docked at the Coast and everybody suddenly became disinterested. Maybe the laid back attitude explains why Kenya and South Korea, whose meteoric rise from a backwater state to an economic giant is always on our lips, are worlds apart. While South Korea translated – and continues to translate – the aspirations of its people into tangible policies and implementable plans, our Government keeps killing our lofty dreams.

With a record of project only implemented halfway, we have every reason to fear that the much talked about Konza City, which is expected to be the region’s ICT capital, may turn out to be a pipe dream.

Previously, most ISPs used to rely on satellite technology, which is more expensive than the now preferable fibre optic technology. It therefore makes no sense that so far there is no marked reduction in internet charges despite almost all ISPs adopting the new technology.

Of course ISPs will always offer their service at prices that give them maximum returns and argue that their charges reflect market conditions to justify the exorbitant rates. It is for this reason the Government must come up with policies, and where possible incentives, to bring the rates down.

Besides, ICT is central to realisation of Vision 2030 and making it affordable will be a good place to start.

Writer is a Sub-Editor at The Standard

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