When Etisalat’s broadband service, EasyBlaze, was introduced last year, I was one of those who had a first-hand taste. The 3.75G service was truly broadband in use and I had nothing but praise for it. I was not the only one. On all sides, people spoke of the speed and reliability. However, it was priced a bit above data plans from competitors, and many complained because of this. My position was – and still is – that the higher pricing was needed if only to keep and maintain the superior service. My argument was based on trends over the years – dropping prices would mean an influx of subscribers, congestion, and then the consequent deterioration in service quality.
While people screamed blue murder to my face and cursed me behind my back, I was firm in my convictions. The history of mobile internet in Nigeria is replete with the consequences of this trend. There was no way EasyBlaze would turn out different if it followed the same path. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Etisalat eventually played to the gallery and reduced the tariffs on their EasyBlaze plans. This is a year later, and EasyBlaze is no longer blazing. I have had so much trouble from the service in the last several weeks that I am dazed and damaged. 3G internet has now become so unusable that I am permanently on 2G, and even that is so epileptic. I am back to the days of waking up between 12 midnight and 4am to get reasonable browsing speed and stability since lots of users would be asleep then. Etisalat was insane to expect that things would be different with EasyBlaze by pricing the service low.
For weeks now, my Twitter timeline has been awash with subscribers calling Etisalat unprintable names. When I tweeted that I would do an article, the support was overwhelming and vehement. Whatever it is that EasyBlaze represented in the minds of people is in the past. A friend who recently left MTN’s BlackBerry service for Etisalat has been cursing through the new experience and wondering what on earth she made the switch for.
Everywhere I turn, the report is almost unanimous – EasyBlaze has become a pain in the behind to subscribers. Many are already contemplating alternatives. I am one of them. I cannot remain in this abusive relationship. As always, I shall vote with my money, even if it means switching providers every three months.
The True Cost Of Cheap
It sure is sad that I turned out right about any price drop on EasyBlaze. We desperately need one – just ONE – service provider that we can turn to for true and reliable broadband service. If it means slightly higher tariffs, why not? What is the point of paying lower and getting the sort of trashy service that we are having now? Has anyone really thought of the real costs of the piss-poor quality of service that we are getting now? The wasted time. The frustrating moments. The cost of looking for alternatives. The opportunities that pass us by. All because we want cheap.
I know that there are those who will want to blame the NCC for not regulating Quality Of Service, and so place the blame at their feet. I think that this is simplistic. There is very little that any actions of the regulator will achieve when the operating environment is hostile. Service providers are already subject to high operating costs that arise from lack of infrastructure. Public power is largely unreliable. Security of personnel and installations is next to nil. Multiple taxes are levied on all sides. The corrupt system multiplies all the above. What sort of regulations will produce better QoS under the above circumstances? What has been the results of years of punitive measures taken against operators? Nothing.
Price Wars Are Futile
Any industry that attempts to thrive on price wars will ultimately collapse. There is no real competition in the Nigerian market right now. Everyone is a shade of someone else and reproducing copies of what obtains on the next network and trying to stay within certain price boundaries. We are experiencing the results. Differentiation should be based on value delivery, and prices should reflect these differences in value. I presented this in an article, Dear Sirs, Price Isn’t Everything, that I published shortly after the EasyBlaze launch. That article was inspired by the noise of those who claimed that the slightly higher EasyBlaze tariffs then were not competitive. What? How was true broadband speeds and reliability at N1,600 per month (on the 200MB plan then) uncompetitive?
I do not believe that there are not enough subscribers across the length and breadth of the country who are willing to pay the extra margin to make the service sustainable.
Yes; things are hard in the country and even I am reeling from the effects of an already tough economy, but we are paying more overall now because of these epileptic services, and we cannot afford that. Productivity (something that we desperately need to push this country forward at this time) is suffering because of epileptic and sluggish mobile internet. I want to create content and upload them, but on these snail speed internet services? I am willing to pay a little more for a service that is super-fast and that is reliable, so that I can get on with my work.
For now, that service isn’t Etisalat’s EasyBlaze. EasyBlaze has turned out exactly as I said it would. Sad. I shall keep hunting and playing the usual game of musical chairs till such a service comes along.