Africa might soon have access to cheap internet, thanks to Facebook, however, this is still largely uncertain.
It comes as no surprise that Africa has the youngest populations in the world, with about 60% of the continent below 25. Despite that most under-24 age groups in Africa are tech-loving, less than 50% of Africans have access to the internet. Unsurprisingly, no other continent is this backward.
According to Telegraph, “Africa is the last major region where the internet has yet to arrive…”, and less than 13 percent of Africans use Facebook, a remarkably low figure compared to other continents.
Problem with Africa’s Bandwidth and Submarine Cables
Even though Africa’s internet frequency is inefficient, the continent has the most expensive bandwidth in the world. The telecoms or ISPs are largely responsible for the incessant breakdown of the internet across huge swatches.
Network backbones are made up of optical fibers laid through submarine cables under the sea. However, submarine cables are often broken by seismic events, fishing gear, storms, and even ship’s anchors. While this is true for developed countries as well as developing ones, it is seldom noticed in the developed world because there are several alternatives.
For instance, Europe and North America are connected by 16 submarine cables but developing countries like Africa have fewer cables.
In 2008, two cable breaks resulted in an internet break down across India and the Middle East. Since then, several new cables have been laid but Africa is still backward. As a matter of fact, only one or two cables still connects many coastal African countries.
The Problem of Expensive Bandwidth
African youths are quick to jump at any breach and leak in data from major data providers. This is primarily due to the high cost of data in Africa. The major cause of which is the lack of competition resulting in a monopoly or duopoly.
These monopolistic or duopolistic companies charge high prices. Recently, South Atlantic 3 (SAT-3) was the only cable in South Africa. As a result, Telkom South Africa was reportedly quoting prices higher than using satellites to its competitors for access to the cable. At the time of this monopoly, South African internet service providers were making sixty percent of their revenue from reselling international bandwidth at high prices.
Sadly, irrespective of the high cost of internet in Africa, the continent is still poorly connected. Due to Africa’s few submarine cables, the continent is suffering from poor reliability and weak redundancy on the internet.
Where Facebook Comes In
A few years ago, Facebook tried to solve the price issue by paying telecoms in Africa to provide their services to Africans for free. However, the tech giant realized that this would not solve the problem.
The problem is that such an act could be seen as the monetization of Facebook’s “Free Basics” platform and it would result in a lot of backlashes. Besides, the telecoms can pull out of the arrangement anytime they want.
Africa’s telecoms are benefiting from the sorry state of the submarine cables and if it is left for them to build and own the cables, the problem wouldn’t be solved for a long time. However, Facebook is recently making efforts to build a new cable that would serve the entire continent.
Such an efficient submarine cable will require a minimum of three cable options, one for each coast. The cable should also be able to route around the Cape to ensure reliability. While there is no certainty that Facebook will carry out this project, if the project succeeds, it would tremendously boast internet access in the continent, resulting in cheap internet.