Are telecoms giving customers bad deal on internet prices?

I recently asked Google, which country offers the most inexpensive (I avoid the word cheapest, on purpose) mobile data? The search engine cited recent research by the UK Based Price comparison site

According to the research findings released in March this year, India offers some of the world’s most inexpensive mobile data packs, with 1GB of data costingan average of US$ 0.26 compared to US$ 6.66 in the UK whichsurprisingly logged among the highest prices.

Even more surprising was the finding that the US had one of the most expensive rates, with an average cost of US$ 12.37 for the same amount of data. The study, which compared mobile data pricing in 230 locations around the world placed the global average cost of 1GB at US$8.53.

India was accompanied in the top five by Kyrgyzstan (US$ 0.27), Kazakstan (US$ 0.49), Ukraine (US$ 0.51) and Rwanda (US$ 0.56) as countries that offer the ‘cheapest’ data packs.

If you stretch the list to top ten, Rwanda is joined by two other sub-Saharan counterparts including–Sudan at US$0.68 and the Democratic Republic of Congo at US$0.88; quite hard to imagine without research.

But on the same continent where some countries are racing with the best at the top, we also have those racing at the bottom with the worst because Africa has four of the six countries with the most expensive Data, they include Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti.

It is great to see that Rwanda is among the countries at the vanguard of easing access to new public goods/services such as internet. Such efforts are indeed helping open more doors of opportunity for budding youth-led e-commerce enterprises.

This is important because for many e-commerce entrepreneurs, the cost of internet has a huge influence on their capacity to sustain an online stall, the same way rental fees determine the commerce of a vegetable vendor in the Kigali central market.

However, since March, the cost of 1GB appears to have since increased significantly in Rwanda, currently costing Rwf1000 which is equivalent to more than one dollar.

Even then, that cost still ranks among the lowest around the world. The problem is, while internet service providers are increasing the price of data, the value for money and user experience appear to be stunted. The durability of 1GB is so short-lived that one wonders how it’s fast spent.

Naturally, 10GB should give a user the same confidence as a driver setting off on a journey with a full fuel-tank as one is able to know exactly how much fuel they’ll have left no matter how fast or slow they drive. But Mobile data bundles don’t give you the same assurance.

In fact, on their marketing communication handouts, the telecom companies openly warn you that they can’t guarantee how long your 10GB will last, if you watch more than a few videos of YouTube.The warning distorts the user experience and is akin to a driver whose fuel gauge is in the red-zone.

The telecom data promotions are indeed cheap, in the literal meaning of the word and they come with suspicious terms and conditions which don’t offer users a decent value proposition.

One may suggest that these promotions and data pricing regimes be subjected to quality assurance tests by RURA in a bid to protect consumers from marketplace exploitation.I remember a now faded joke that MTN has a crocodile (Ingona) that swallows your data upon loading it.

I want internet service providers to give their users the same assurance one gets when they fill up their car fuel-tank. Is that too much to ask?

That way, we can continue to support young Africans who are investing heavily in creating local content for their channels on YouTube and other platforms.

Recently, the YouTube marketing team was in Kigali to reward the young Rwandans behind the new sensation channel Afrimax TV upon hitting the 100,000 subscriber mark in less than six months since its creation. The channel has since added more than 60,000 other subscribers.

There are dozens of other popular YouTube channels run by young Rwandans that are investing in creation of compelling local content such as the Bamenya, Papa Saava and City Maid drama series whose online fanbase is potentially bigger than the viewership of all mainstream TV combined.

While local advertisers are yet to tap into the huge following of these online channels, it is just a matter of time; in the meantime, to support their growth, we need to have a conversation on the cost and quality of internet products being churned out of local service providers.


The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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