Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Local ISPs in quandary as international web-hosting companies run riot

Botswana’s web-hosting companies may be up against very stiff competition as cheap and highly efficient companies based abroad quietly warm their way into the local market.

For two years now, a Gaborone company called Metamorphosis Technologies has been using a number of web-hosting companies, some based in the United States.

“I have a couple of Internet Service Providers [ISPs] for different applications, but my primary one is Bluehost,” says Sega Matale, the company’s managing director.

As he attests, Bluehost is a highly efficient First-World operation with an in-house on-site staff at its offices in the state of Utah who work around the clock. In the event a user has a problem, five different companies work together to solve it.

“Most ISPs abroad always have a techie online 24 hours a day specifically to attend customers. They do so by chatting and where applicable, one can make a Skype call,” he says.

For the service he gets, Matale pays 75 percent less than it would were it using a local service provider.

He never had to wait long to have his service activated after he had made payment.

“Once the payment has been made online, you automatically get your username and password as a web admin via email instantly,” he says.

Matale attributes the efficiency of foreign-domiciled service providers to stiff competition in those parts of the world.

“It [the competition] makes each web hosting company have a competitive price as well as more services – like unlimited gigabytes of data,” he says.

However, the superhighway that connects Matale with the advanced ICT world is not always a well-chiselled pothole-free masterpiece of e-road engineering. He found that out the hard way last year when his website got stuck in a rut and the Indian host could not pull him out soon enough to prevent the disaster that followed.

Six months into its contract with this host, Metamorphosis’ website crashed because, as Matale explains, there was no back-up to it and as a result, he lost all his files.

“I couldn’t physically go to the host’s office like I would have been able to do with a local service provider. As a result, the host felt no pressure to speed up the recovery process in the manner they would have had they expected me to barge in through their door any minute. That has been my only bad experience of using a foreign-domiciled host,” he says.

Any time soon, an undersea fibre-optic cable from the west is expected to make an amphibious landing any time soon and would be connected to Botswana’s network. Matale does not think that this development would improve local Internet services well enough for him and others who use foreign-domiciled companies to switch to local hosts. The problem, he says, does not lie with broadband improving but hosts’ prices being too high.

On another note, using foreign hosts goes against the spirit of ‘Buy Botswana’ in every way. While he concedes this point, Matale explains that there is a perfectly legitimate to buy US and India.
He says that SMMEs like his have to decide whether they want to get ripped off by local service providers or get a bargain with superior services at close to a 75 percent discount.

“It’s almost similar to the current motor industry locally. Nowadays a good number of local consumers would rather buy their cars from the United Kingdom, Singapore and Japan than locally,” he says.

He adds that at the end of the day, end-users also benefit because they don’t have to pay high tariffs that they would have otherwise borne had the web-hosting company been a local one.
Phuthego Chere, an Internet protocol engineer, says that the web-hosting business has “no borders” and that on that basis, companies will seek services anywhere in the world where they are confident of getting good service.

While Matale stresses pricing as the chief motivating factor to explain this issue, Chere is adamant that local Internet services are sluggish because Botswana does not have nearly enough people with the right qualifications in web technologies.

Resultantly and all too often, people who are under-qualified to deal with complex web technology problems are the ones who are relied up to do what they are natively incompetent in handling.

A former Botswana Telecommunications Corporation employee, Chere says that presently his old employer has no more than four employees with web technology expertise and that on the whole, very few Batswana have such specialised knowledge. What compounds the problem, he adds, is that no tertiary education institution in the country provides training on web technologies.

“The result is that those who provide the service are incompetent, unable to provide adequate support services and in some cases, the security of websites is breached,” he says, citing as an example to back up the latter assertion, the case of a major organisation whose website has been down for the past two weeks because the highly-specialised expertise needed to solve the problem is not readily available.

Some of what Chere says has been expressed elsewhere. A study conducted on behalf of the Botswana Training Authority two years ago found that while they may be properly certificated, in some instances, ICT graduates are unable to find employment because they don’t possess the specialised training that employers want.

With realisation that there is a huge disconnect between classroom learning and skills requirement in the workplace, there is concerted effort to bridge this gap. In the said study, a BTC respondent suggested that beyond having a working relationship with tertiary education institutions, employers should be actively and meaningfully involved in the development of programmes. The Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower has endorsed that view.

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