Friday, June 18, 2021

We invested heavily….so where is cheap internet?

Over the past few years government made various promises to the business community and by extension to the citizenry of this country. Some were explicit, others implied, but each one ultimately affected the success and failure of companies trading in our shores. One of those promises was or is “fast, reliable and cheap” internet.

The nation was regaled with tales of how government had spent millions of taxpayer’s money to invest in undersea cables such as WACS for international connectivity, the objective being to ensure that Batswana will get to enjoy super fast internet connectivity. But alas, years have gone by and the situation remains the same. Connectivity is still poor and frustratingly erratic. As they say, the difference is the same.

Despite the recent and successful installation of fibre cables across the country by government owned, Botswana Fiber Networks (BoFiNet), Botswana is still experiencing slow internet connectivity and sometimes zero connectivity for weeks on end. The cost of connectivity is still high. Mobile internet users are still buying expensive data packages from mobile phones operators who continue to rip them off. We always hear of wholesale companies such as BoFiNet slashing wholesale prices, but end users, the consumers are yet to benefit from such reductions.

In this brave new world of digital opportunities, our country needs to harness what technology can offer for social and economic upliftment. There is no doubt that many remote communities such as Verda, Khawa, Toteng and Mosu feel marginalised and not part of mainstream Botswana. This is mainly because a majority of dwellers in such areas are aware of the benefits arising from technology and the Internet. Such dwellers are yet to embrace the benefits of broadband internet that government Ministers and officials talk about on a daily basis.  But we are consoled by the recent launch of cables in such areas by BoFiNet. We hope ISPs, local authorities and the business community will make use of them. The take up so far however seems relatively slow. At this time and age there is really no need to remind government that the provision of internet to customers has become an inseparable part of service provision in the hospitality and other industries worldwide. If we are going to have a competitive edge we have to keep our systems functional.

However, there is no doubt that in the current Botswana there is considerable disparity between rural and urban access to information and services ÔÇô a “domestic information divide.”

The majority of urban centres such as Gaborone, Lobatse and Francistown are relatively well supplied with internet access. The picture is significantly different in remote and rural areas, where even access to basic information tools such as radio, telephones and newspapers is problematic. Sunday Standard as a newspaper wants its readers who are in Karakubis or CharlessHill to not just be able to browse through their website but do it cheaply and fast. We believe that any other business operating in this country has the same desire.

Available figures do show that to date, our country has invested heavily in infrastructure and telecommunications and has a high penetration of fibre connectivity running to urban areas. Our country has a sophisticated Government Data Network (GDN) and Police Private Network delivering connectivity to all government departments and agencies via high-speed Internet and satellite links. This is so commendable. But one may ask themselves why it is taking so long to provide reliable, affordable, enterprise speed internet connectivity and cloud solutions, offering cloud connect with high speed internet connectivity to the rest of the country? Even the capital city, Gaborone, does not have even a single free Wi-Fi spot owned by the local authorities yet there are so many recreational parks around. The Bottom-line though is that at the moment, despite access to international bandwidth through the undersea cables of the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EAssy) and West Africa Cable System (WACS) there is still a challenge with last mile connection to end users. Our internet connectivity remains slow and super expensive.

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