Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Why is our internet still expensive and slow?

Exactly a year ago the Botswana Fibre Network (Bofinet) together with its parent ministry of communications were in the Ngamiland, Okavango and Chobe district to mark the close of key projects that BoFiNet carried down there. The company was also to launch Botswana’ commercial Wi-Fi now known as Botswana Hotspots.

These milestone events, though worthy celebrating were a sad reminder of how slow and expensive the internet is in Botswana, atleast from a consumer’s perspective. To date the situation is still the same. As it stands, Botswana has one of the lowest average internet connection speeds in the world, atleast from a consumer’s perspective. 

For the past few years we been told about how cheap and affordable the internet would soon be but to be frank despite the fact that there is generally high demand for internet in our country, consumers are still treated to very slow but expensive internet connectivity. 

Despite government having spent millions of Pulas to get Botswana 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. The question therefore is why has Botswana fallen behind in internet affordability and speed? Is it because we do not believe that broadband access is no longer a privilege but a right to be enjoyed by all of our citizens? How about our hospitality industry, are we not doing much harm to it with a slow and expensive internet? 

A 2014 study by Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) found that the hospitality industry must be urgently connected to high speed internet. Could one say we have progressed in that regard? The answear is No. Some of hotels in our country to this date do not have Wi-Fi while others charge excessive price to their own customers. 

Like the Minister said in Shakawe in September 2015, in promoting their commercial interests, the private sector should recognize that both the profit motive and socio-economic interests are not mutually exclusive. As such all the ISPs should ensure that they must play a pro-active role in ensuring access to broadband becomes affordable to our people. 

We have been told by those in the know that the national Fibre backbone Infrastructure is not only meant to ensure increased access to broadband in the country, but will leverage our country’s global competitiveness and positioning as a prime destination for Foreign Direct Investment. This will in the process scale up the country’s already pristine attractiveness as a tourist destination of choice both regionally and internationally. So why don’t we give this a priority? 

With all these said and done though, we believe it is high time that the regulator of ICT, being BOCRA is encouraged to closely monitor the industry and ensure that internet becomes affordable to a number of citizens of this country including those in rural areas such Toteng in Ngamiland. Those close to BOCRA should have courage to tell it to push the hospitality facilities to engage competent internet service providers (ISP) perhaps who can even sign service level agreements with clear turnaround times and penalties for non-delivery. This we believe shall help to ensure in getting us where we want to be in terms of connectivity. If poor countries such as Uganda can afford to have hot spot across the country, why should a tiny and diamond rich country like ours fail? 

The World Bank has identified broadband connectivity as a key catalyst for economic growth with every 10 percent increase in connectivity enabling a 1.38 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For a country such as ours which has high unemployment rate and downward revised economic growth projections we should be seen to be prioritising internet connectivity which has potential to advance any plans grow the economy. 

The #Bottomline though is that the telecommunications services including faster and affordable internet remain indispensable if not a prerequisite for improving the socio-economic livelihoods of any poor society. So going forward we should bear in mind that the high cost, lack of access and slow connectivity hampers economic growth and job creation. 

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