South African poet pictureman blogger, Mike Golby responds to Esther's post about broadband in South Africa. Esther is on the President’s International Advisory Council (PIAC) on the Information Society, which recently met in Johannesburg, where she also attended the tenth birthday meeting of its ISP association, ISPA, in Johannesburg. I am sure Esther herself would tell you that the view from the Johannesburg Park Hyatt is different from what the majority of citizens experience. Mike has offered to show her around next time--I hope she takes him up on it. Mike Golby and Esther Dyson--now THAT would be a summit I'd like to see. Talk about some shit getting done!
In his post, Mike explores some of the intricacies of life in South Africa -- beyond availability -- that make broadband Internet use impractical still for most South Africans. Intricacies that are so wound up in the social fabric and culture that the promise of broadband Internet must almost deliver itself ahead of time for that promise to be realized. Eh? Eh.
Mike looks at some of the larger issues:
Lack of affordable service:
"Anything's arguable, but the truth is generally found elsewhere. I shared broadband with my son ten years ago, using a home network. It made it affordable. When he moved out a few years ago, I went back to dial-up and stayed a hole-in-the-wall blogger until about two months ago. Why? Because the Web's a priority for me and prices have come down on ADSL (we're still the most expensive worldwide — a home Internet account is typically 192K and 1GB boosters on a 3GB cap cost $17 — a fair whack for people earning around $1500 monthly — about 10 percent of one's salary)."
Not likely to get cheaper:
"The Second National Operator? Esther says it; "...another giant, state-connected entity." Just like the Democrats. Deference might be accorded competition initially, but once the advertising brouhaha's died down, it'll be back to cartels as usual. Telkom's not dumb. They own the lot and when you're in a position to create your competition in your image (and take a 50 percent share in it), you do so."
"...the Internet/Web (broadband or dial-up) — which offers the most promise — is not a priority. Why? Because we just don't get it — in every sense. Just as Esther quotes Goldstuck articulating the short-sighted marketing policies of the stink-rich few, few southern Africans have access to the Web and fewer use it as they could and should.
"Again Esther says it: '...there are about a million dial-up accounts and about 280,000 broadband accounts, some of them residential.' You probably have more people on the Web in Atlanta, Georgia than we do in the whole of Africa. As for those that do use it..."
And that's just the white folks!!! What about everyone else?
Can't Protect It
"The majority of South Africans...live in tough areas. Where would they keep computers? Seriously, it's a practical problem. The average person, who wouldn't have a clue what to do with a PC, wouldn't keep it longer than a day before being shot for it. School laboratories are being set up by the Shuttleworth Foundation et al, but they're heavily secured and are located in wealthier areas or universities — where the electric fences are.
"A lack of domestic money — the private sector has lots, concentrated in the hands of very few — crime, and other priorities make computing impractical. Wi-fi is not for the poorer areas — cell phone masts are cheaper to replace."