January 27, 2010

Some Progress with Internet Availability

One of the greatest frustrations in living and working in this African country is access to internet at decent prices. About a year ago, a new provider came in with a huge campaign for the mass-market. Others have tried before but this company seems to have been quite successful. In fact, in a little over a year, they have signed over 25,000 customers. This may not seem like much but when you consider that there are only 100,000 total fixed telephone lines after 50 years, you can quickly see how 25,000 customers becomes important.

A customer first has to buy the equipment; a book size modem for about $150 or a small USB flash card sized modem for about $20. The smaller modem is definitely cheaper but the reception is not as good. Then customers buy prepaid cards denominated between about $2 and $50. the $50 card gets you unlimited usage for 30 days. The other cards have a per minute cost. For about $10 you can get about 16 hours of usage. This is really not bad at all.

The modems work in the three cities and there are plans to deploy to several other smaller towns within the next few months. The speed is pretty slow but fast enough for basic browsing and email.

The other day, I was passing by some security guards. One should note that security guards here make about $60-80 per month so they are on the very low end of the salary grade. But I overheard one explaining to the others how this modem worked and how he could connect for about 30 minutes at a time and get everything he needed done. That is the most exciting part of this solution. It will allow greater internet penetration to sectors of the population who could simply not afford to have the internet installed at home.

Since internet use is "socialized" one connection will serve several people. In one study I saw, one internet connection served an average of 12 users.

This important price decrease has not extended to the business sector where prices still seem exceedingly high. The provider I mentioned in this post recently extended its offerings to the business market. We asked for a quotation. They sent us a proposal for a one year commitment at $900 a month before tax (almost $1,100 including tax) for a 256k connection! Come on y'all.

So as you can see, there is still some ways to go but I am pleased that we seem to be heading in the right direction.

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