Telecoms

There’s now super-fast Internet on Kilimanjaro, but it’s useless to millions of Tanzanians living miles below

August 22, 2022 · 3 min read
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The Internet is a basic human right, and we’re increasingly finding it in the most unusual places.

The news:

  • The Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation has installed Internet service for climbers on Mount Kilimanjaro. The fibre optic cable carries Internet signals at light speed to provide Internet access up to an altitude of 12,205 feet (3,720 metres).
  • Per Tanzania’s ICT minister, Nape Moses Nnauye, the service will get to Uhuru peak, the mountain’s highest peak at 19,000 feet (5,880 metres) by October 2022. The Chinese and Tanzanian governments are funding the project. It’s part of a larger effort to provide widescale ICT infrastructure across the nation.
  • 30,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year, and there are roughly 10 reported deaths. Tanzania’s broadband service helps climbers share their travel experiences on social media. It also helps them access emergency services. If studies that say the Internet aids mountain climbing is anything to go by, then this will come in handy.

Tanzania’s Internet space

Tourism contributes over 10% to Tanzania’s GDP so it makes sense that the government is optimising for one of its biggest attractions. When you look at the big picture, the news is not as exciting for Tanzanians. 

Tanzania has a national broadband infrastructure plan that has had mixed results. There are conflicting numbers all over the Internet. Statista and Datareportal, however, claim that as of 2022, 3 out of 4 Tanzanians do not have access to the Internet.

Internet penetration has been increasing compared to previous years, but few people can afford it. The Average broadband subscription in Tanzania costs $43. However, the World Bank states that 1 out of 4 Tanzanians live on $57 a month. 

Though mobile data is much cheaper at $0.17, these same people would have to use 37% of their daily income to be able to afford 1GB of mobile data. 

Telcos and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) seldom install broadband infrastructure in most underserved areas since most of the residents do not have smartphones. Residents then shy away from smartphones, because they’re just bricks without Internet access. 

Even if companies were to break that Chicken-egg cycle, they’ll still be plagued by Right of Way (RoW) charges which amount to $1 per month for every metre of fibre optic cable. 

Taxes on calls and data reached 35%, making things a tad bit more expensive for the average user, and a little bit more tricky for telcos who either pass the cost to consumers or get clever with their financial reporting.

Going further, it costs between  $2,000 to $6000 to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Based on the World Bank data, Tanzanians with Upper Middle-Class income levels would have to save their entire income for over 11 months in order to afford the minimum amount for the trip. But that’s not the full story. 

The broadband installation comes at a time when global technology giants are showing an increased interest in Africa. Little wonder that China is one of the main backers of the country’s ICT infrastructure plan. 

However, China has a lukewarm history when it comes to ICT infrastructure in Africa. In 2017, a French newspaper, Le Monde, revealed that data went from the AU HQ to Shangai every night for five years between 2012 and 2017. 

US-based Google and Facebook are also building huge subsea cables to connect Africa to the Internet, but these companies have had their fair share of privacy issues. Facebook’s infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal readily comes to mind. 

All things considered, the Tanzanian government is focused on making instant revenue,  rather than an infrastructure play that would lift millions out of poverty and secure long-term windfalls. With high-speed Internet above and little penetration below, Tanzanians might be living by the River Zambezi, and wash their hands with spittle. For now.

Emmanuel

Emmanuel Paul

Author

Writer and Narrator.  Tech, business and policy analysis is my daily bread. Looking to chat? Catch up with me, @eruskkii, on Twitter or send a mail to emmanuel@techpoint.africa

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