10 February 2009

Excruciating costs of Internet in rural Africa

Looking at budgets for operations in rural Africa the costs of Internet bandwidth are major and excruciating. Strangely, it seems one of the least known or understood hurdles for development. It is difficult to stomach that we pay thousands of USD per month for internet connections with 'speeds' that the West considers peanuts. In the West one gets 1 Mb/s connectivity wholesale for less then USD 20 per month. For us in landlocked Africa, such connection costs wholesale between USD 3,000 and USD 4,500. When one has to opt for lesser speeds and shared connections, significantly higher prices are calculated. Basically, we in rural Africa pay thousands of times more for Internet connectivity then one pays in the West.

There are not too many websites that mention this situation. In reviewing pricing of satellite capacity, like-for-like comparisons are almost impossible. When preparing for Macha over six years ago, I spend one year studying pricing and service options before being able to make an informed decision. Cost/benefit ratios are masqueraded in the plethora of price/offerings and quick overviews do not show multiple issues involved. In the mean time the situation on satellite capacity pricing, and availability, has significantly deteriorated. For instance per 1 January 2009 our prices have gone up with at least 10%.

There is some movement in the situation. Major institutions and companies show interest, and sea cables are emerging. There will be a learning curve, and there is lots to learn about the way Africa works, and it remains to be see what will really emerge.

The world must recognize the current role they play in keeping Africa in darkness. Current high prices for access to satellite technology, crucial for Africans to connect to the Internet, are really problematic. Of course, with economic principles, capacity constraints lead to higher prices. But, as also we at Macha Works are showing real and major social benefits, and growing demand for special user groups, breakthrough and more providers provisioning capacity over Africa must emerge, with prices going down instead of current rising of prices.

I will continue to write comments and air views on this issue, as in Free Internet for Africa and various websites.