Cheaper And Accessible Broadband A Real Possibility

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude to the problem” –Captain Jack Sparrow

By Vince Musewe

Imagine a Zimbabwe where 90% of the population can afford and have access cheaper internet whether urban or rural based? The positive economic and social impact of this is phenomenal and yes it is possible today not tomorrow. All we have to do is to decide to adopt the necessary technology. It exists, is cheaper, more efficient and is available to Zimbabwe.

In my opinion our country Zimbabwe is more than 30 years behind economically, socially and physically and we need to embrace new ways of thinking and new technologies so that we can leap frog ahead. This requires a new paradigm of what is possible and forward thinking leadership both in government and our private sector.

The recent spates on broadband internet data pricing merely reflect to me the conflict between on the one side a parochial government which seeks control through over-regulation, and, on the other side, an underdeveloped and uncompetitive oligopolistic market place which lacks an appetite for audacity and innovation. We must change that.

There is no doubt that economies which have access to affordable and faster broadband internet grow better economically and socially. Societies tend make better life decisions, economically and socially, when they have access to information and new knowledge and the internet no doubt plays a central role in that. Cheaper and accessible broadband is the new oxygen to economic growth and social development and as a country we cannot afford to ignore this reality.

The World Bank statistics have shown that in developing countries, every 10% growth in broadband access results in 1.4% in GDP. Also it is estimated that every 1000 new subscribers of broad band internet access create 86 new jobs. Broad band internet access certainly changes lives and the structure of economies, there must be no doubt about that.

If we are to create a modern economy in Zimbabwe in the future, we have no choice but to move up the value chain, away from being perennial primary producers highly dependent on natural resources towards new value add industries which take advantage of new technologies. Information technology is key. We can certainly leap frog ahead but this needs consistent and informed initiatives and policies around the issues on broadband internet pricing and access as this is the oil to economic activity and social development.

It is fact that Zimbabwe has one the highest rates of mobile phone penetration (90%) in Africa and marrying that with access to cheaper faster internet is a formula for success (current penetration only 45%). The potential social impact of that is truly exciting and possible.

In a recent study published  Research ICT Africa, in September 2016 Zimbabwe was ranked the fourth most expensive in terms of mobile data where a gigabyte costs $30.00 per month after South Sudan $90.86 per month, Mauritania where its costs $33.60 per month, Swaziland were its costs $32.33 per month.

Of course there are many arguments why our pricing is so high (valid or not) but that is not the purpose of my article. The point I want to make here is that there exists out there, cheaper alternatives which could have an unimaginable positive social and economic impact and the sooner we consider these technologies the better.  I think that as a nation, we need to spend more of our time on coming up with new solutions to old problems than over analysing old problems, politics and holding onto old ways of doing things at all costs. This in my view is the root cause of these misunderstandings which for me seem underpinned by hidden vested political interests on the one side, and hidden business interest on the other. This does not augur well for ordinary citizens who deserve a better quality life.

We must now think outside the box of horizontal infrastructure development which is costly and has created barriers to entry including monopolistic behaviours to vertical infrastructure development which is much cheaper, more efficient and creates broad access quickly.

I have recently had some very interesting conversations with investors who have this new technology and are willing to invest in Zimbabwe even with the current economic meltdown. Let me put a caveat here that I am no expert on information technologies but common sense tells me that we could be missing a huge opportunity here.

One of the main excuses which has been used by service providers for high prices is high establishment and maintenance costs and this new technology destroys that argument. There is no need to dig up trenches or erect expensive base stations, wifi connectivity is the way to go at a third of the current costs. A transition to wireless technology is the next big thing. This can allow the both our urban and rural population to have full cheaper faster connectivity in a very short space of time which is unprecedented in Africa.

How can it be done?

Apparently there is new Internet Service Provider (ISP) technology that is currently being offered in the ICT market place including Zimbabwe and we seriously need to look at that. This new technology will cut data costs by up to 50% for subscribers and its connection speeds are far more superior to GSM and Fibre connection while ensuring 99.99% connectivity.

This new technology is the next generation of wireless connectivity and can rapidly expand our internet access in a much less time than the current expensive infrastructure. In addition any mobile or broad band network can run on this platform with significantly lower capital expenditure (two thirds).

The potential social and economic impact of this technology will certainly create new conversations (pun intended)) and a new reality in our country. Many a time we are stuck with past technologies and old ways of doing things and for me that will remain an albatross on creating a new modern inclusive developed economy in Zimbabwe.

We certainly can make Zimbabwe great again!

Vince Musewe is an author and independent economist. You can contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com

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