Of recent, in quite a number of discussions on MobilityNigeria, there has been much agitation for mobile operators to drop the cost of their mobile internet services. here is an excerpt from a publication, CyberSchuulNews, that addresses a critical part of the issue.
Someone had mailed in the following:
Please can you discuss this.
I have always wondered why we pay so much for internet access in this part of the world, and I don’t seem to get full reasons other than cost of maintenance. In your own opinion, why do you think bandwidth is very expensive in Africa, in contrast with developed economies where internet access is free?
CyberSchuulNews is an e-publication produced by long-standing professionals in the Nigerian telecommunications industry, The Executive CyberSchuul. Here is the answer given from an informed perspective:
The free aspect of it we do not know about but we can talk of the affordable.
What we know is that when governments appreciate the need for bandwidth they make critical investments at backbone level thus ultimately making the cost down the line to their people very low and sometimes presented as if it is free. Nothing is free, somebody pays the bill and the cost of bandwidth as a resource is the same all over the world.
If your workers and interns enter your office and they use internet free for one year, chances are that they go about saying internet is free and should be free. They say that because you recognize it should be so and you pay the bills without them knowing. That is how business runs.
Good governments also run in similar manner.
In developing economies, governments generally do not recognise the need for bandwidth the way they appreciate the need for rice and potatoes. It is the duty of active professionals everywhere to bring education and pressure to bear on their governments so that the leaders would understand the need and make the critical investments at appropriate points and levels. But don’t forget that in those countries too the forces of corruption, and hunger, are also a worrying problem for everybody even among the professional class. Even those of our Pro’s in government do not attend very well to the problem, how much less hard core politicians.
Did you know all the dirty games our colleagues plaid in the early days of internet in Nigeria. Did you see what NITEL during the ‘goggled-man’s’ tenure did to stall access of all humanity to the resource? You might not see it because you were not within the firing range.
So Ken, it is how government subsidises critical resources at high end that makes it seem free or otherwise to the user.
On top of all that, add all the other normal problems: energy, corruption and human capacity etc and you begin to see the enormity of the issues involved.
When President Obama put $7.4bilion into Broadband Access, that was what he was doing — stimulating the industry. He was not establishing telecom companies with the money but supporting existing and emerging ones to do business cheap. Ultimately it gets down to the end user for pittance.
In other climes, the President would use the money to establish government companies and set up a race for everybody. At days end, the problem persists.
It is easy for some governments to appreciate the need to subsidise the pilgrimage of people to Jerusalem and Mecca than to see that of broadband internet access. That is the plain truth.
We can harass the operators all we like, but until our government sits up to its responsibilities, we are not likely to enjoy rock-bottom affordable, not to mention, free internet services in Nigeria for a long time.
Truth be told, these operators are already squeezing water out of stone, in that they are making things work in a country where nothing (in terms of infrastructure) works.