According to Techjaja and PCTechMag, the Uganda Government plans to roll out free Wi-Fi internet. Apparently, this was announced by the ICT Minister, Frank Tumwebaze while meeting a team of parliamentarians. Kampala city dwellers will tap into the national backbone infrastructure with the auspices of the National Information technology Authority (NITA) starting October 2016.
Dignited chose not to run this story when it broke, with the intention of first digging deeper. We wanted to fully understand the technicalities of rolling out the free Wi-Fi, perhaps get an official statement to that effect. We have come up empty. Neither the ICT Ministry website, nor NITA have any substantial information about this new development. For something as important as free Wi-Fi internet in Kampala, even in its limited scope, information should be readily available. A few tweets and newspaper clippings don’t inspire confidence. Equally ironic is that the entire Ministry of Information has no information on their own announcement.
The prospect of free internet is a glorious daydream Ugandans should immediately flush down the toilet or better yet, toss down a pit latrine. The reason for this is because it’s not happening the way we are imagining it any time soon. Ugandans should realise that internet access in Uganda is expensive for a reason, and no, it’s not because the service providers are greedy and exorbitant. It costs money to lay the cables to connect to the undersea cables off the East African coast.
Questionable fiber backbone quality
An article ran in the New Vision on 9th July 2016 titled Ugandans want cheaper internet. It was revealed that much as the Uganda government has laid the national backbone infrastructure in major towns in Uganda, internet service providers still opted for more expensive options. This cost is passed down to end consumers who are charged twice what consumers in neighbouring Kenya pay for the same internet.
An excerpt from New Vision reads: ” Michael Niyitegeka, an ICT specialist and a board member of ICT association of Uganda said the government’s national backbone infrastructure was installed with low density cables (cannot deliver high capacity internet) and that the telecom companies were compelled to hook their systems to the undersea high density cables in Kenya to provide high speed internet. ”
If indeed, this is true, it means that the promised internet will not be as fast as Ugandans are used to. Uganda has come a long way from the slow internet of yonder years. Even though the speeds right now are not earth-shattering, we no longer have to wait whole minutes for pages to load. Should this free Wi-Fi internet turn out to be infuriatingly slow, it won’t matter that it’s free. Lousy internet is lousy internet.
On the other hand, if it turns out that the internet is good enough, the government will gain the trust of internet
service providers consumers. So this will be a litmus test to prove once and for all whether the service providers made a good decision to opt for private arrangements.
The Time variant
Kampala experiences heavy traffic jam in the mornings and in the evenings due to one reason. the biggest majority of people in Kampala do not reside in the city center. In the words of embattled Kampala Mayor, Erias Lukwago, “Kampala si bizimbe.” Government proclaiming free Wi-Fi in Kampala at such a time when the vast majority of people are back home, out of the city is counter-productive as it is sinister. Why offer free internet from 6 PM to 6 AM when nobody really needs it?
The remaining people in town are clubbing, and that does not go hand in hand with browsing the internet. Another segment of people still in Kampala will no doubt be a few unscrupulous enterprising individuals downloading bootlegged movies and series which they will in turn sell to customers in the light of day. If at all downloads are not capped, the initiative will serve no purpose whatsoever to the average internet consumer.
Lastly, the internet will be accessed at specific hotspots, according to the scanty information we have. That being so, compounded with the unfortunate time frame, will create an entirely new opportunity for thieves. People staying longer in Kampala with their internet devices will find themselves targeted, trailed and robbed. The cover of darkness provides the best cover for the hungry unemployed prowling the streets to find a means of survival.
Many cities across the world provide free internet access to their inhabitants but not like this. If the government wants to truly connect people to the internet, shouldn’t it be in the safety of their homes. Providing supposedly slow internet at such an ungodly hour and expecting the project to be successful is a fool’s errand. Unless the government’s plan is to connect us to a local intranet separate from the internet like a certain Cloud Engineer we talked to intimated.
The more plausible approach would be to address the issue of why
internet service providers have ditched the national backbone in favor of others like SEACOM and EASSY. Although expensive, these provide a fast internet connection which is something a developing country like Uganda needs to fast track development.
Correction 22/08/16:Uganda’s national fiber backbone is an internet service provider and not in the same category like the undersea cable companies.
Featured Image: http://www.lightninginternetservice.com/