Let’s start with a few disclaimers and disclosures.
First, the opinions and experiences shared herein are solely the author’s, personally experienced and do not represent the views of any businesses, entities or organisations they are aligned to.
Secondly, the intention of this piece is to spark conversation, create awareness and hopefully impact some form of change in tech policy implementation; considering we have the right framework in place.
Thirdly, while the author may mention or allude to some service providers, the sentiments are not in bad taste and the intention is not to bash, but rather highlight key issues in the ecosystem when it comes to access and connectivity.
For the past week or so I have had a nightmarish experience seeking some form of home WiFi connection. A few facts, my current residence in the capital, Nairobi does not have any home fiber support so the solution required had to be wireless, fast, reliable, resilient and affordable.
With help from close contacts I thus narrowed it down to two options; on the hardware front – a network-neutral portable wireless router and on the enabling network front – a fast, reliable, affordable and preferably unlimited data use service provider.
A leading service provider, let’s call them Mobile Network A has such a bundled offering; router for KES 9,999, network provision bundle to browse at either 3Mbps or 5Mbps. But, once you hit the full speeds threshold (200 GB and 400 GB respectively), the speeds will be throttled to 1 Mbps for the allocated volume.
When I went to this provider’s store at mall A to purchase the offering, I was informed that the key router infrastructure they work with, was currently out of stock. They have an alternative option but I would need to go back home, download an app, test the 4G connection and then come back based on the response to see if that was a feasible option.
Considering I’d been advised that this hardware infrastructure provider had the best router, I went on a witch-hunt, luckily found the router and bought it in store 9,999 KES at Mall B
At Mall C, I went in looking for 1. An E sim and 2. A physical sim for the router on mobile network B. I asked them directly where I should go to get these products, they gave me three locations relatively close to me, two being at mall C. These two locations at mall C did have the sim cards yes, but wait for it, no bundles. Meaning I couldn’t get the sim cards because you need to load the sim card immediately upon purchase.
While at mall C I spotted mobile network C that had a router set up in front of the store but the attendee was OOO when I went in to the store. I left empty-handed.
I then went to mobile network B’s dedicated store because, surely there, they would have bundles right? Wrong. The system apparently had been down for about 3 hours at this point. I went and came back, got the physical sim card, took about 30 mins to set up the e-sim card which eventually ended up not working anyway. Their bundle offerings however are more affordable with monthly bundles ranging from 25 GB for 1000 kes to 210 GB for 6000 Ksh.
In the interim, while my residence area does have some semblance of an internet connection, the signal is so weak it needs to be extended, my quote? 16,000 KES for cabling and labour.
Let’s take a minute and compare these offerings with home fiber options. Most providers will offer free installation, free equipment, some will even bundle your internet connection with free TV and most if not, will give you unlimited connectivity at an affordable cost of anywhere from 1500 KES upwards depending on location, speeds, service provider etc. As far as I know, none will charge you more than 10,000 KES for a home connection.
A few thoughts;
- Access to Opportunities – Internet connectivity is recognised as a basic human right. As I see it, access to the internet is access to socio economic opportunities. According to the Communications Authority’s latest statistics report, during the fourth quarter of the 2020/21 Financial Year, the total number of active Internet/data subscriptions increased to 46.7 million from 43.7 million reported in quarter three of the same year. This was an increase of 12.8 percent when compared to the 40.9 million subscriptions recorded during the same period of the 2019/2020 Financial Year. It is worth noting that mobile data subscriptions continued to constitute over 99 percent of the total data subscriptions.
- Affordability – In this pursuit of a reliable internet connection, the cheapest available option for me was of about 11,000 KES for a router and data bundle of only 25GB. I felt that pinch. How do we expect other Kenyans to come on board and compete on the global scale when the available offerings are this expensive. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, basic needs or access to the internet? It’s a no brainer.
- Universal Access – As you may be aware the Communications Authority in Kenya has a Universal Service Fund that is set up based on licensee contributions and whose intention is to connect the unconnected especially in marginalized areas where the capital expenditure cost for telecom infrastructure providers would not make sense in terms of return on investment. The second implementation phase is currently ongoing. While Nairobi would not be considered a USF location, technically, in this case, am I not unserved?
Our conversations around internet connectivity, affordability, accessibility need to move beyond mere lip service and drafting of excellently worded policy papers from plush Nairobi hotels and/or the comfort of our homes with high-speed internet connections that allow us the privilege of working from home.
Our government needs to get serious about the taxation regime on mobile infrastructure, especially when its people are not connected, excise duty for WiFi, really?
This industry is very capital intensive and all possible incentives need to be put in place to make it easier for their operations to flourish otherwise it simply does not make sense.
The CA rightly acknowledges that the current global COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of digital technologies in enabling consumers to work from home, conduct business, make social connections and study virtually.
The ongoing pandemic has really highlighted the need for resilient telecommunications equipment and that is unarguable.
The telecommunication sub-sector is expected to continue enabling other sectors as envisioned in the Government’s Vision 2030 Development Strategy, the third Medium Term Plan (MTP III) and the Big 4 Agenda that focuses on food and nutrition, security, manufacturing, affordable housing and universal health coverage in order to recover from the negative impacts of COVID 19. How are we creating a level playing field for our people to compete effectively?
When all is said and done, in 2021 the year of digital transformation, It. Should. Not. Be. This. Difficult. To. Get. Connected. To. The. Internet.