Why is it difficult to have fibre and ADSL connection in all areas?
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) works with copper cable and offers high-speed connectivity, as opposed to older technologies, such as dial up internet that worked through a landline with a modem. Why is it difficult to have fibre and ADSL connection in all areas?
Telkom is busy shutting down its ADSL network. It will be removing its copper cable from the ground and either replacing it with fibre, or offering customers a wireless alternative (LTE).
For fibre, there aren’t enough contractors to meet the current demand. It is one of the few booming industries in South Africa. There is more work than there are workers! Every fibre contractor in South Africa is laying cable as fast as they can. Fibre network operators prioritise neighbourhoods based on a lot of factors, including financial feasibility. Outside of major towns and cities, it gets very expensive to roll out cable to connect so few people.
The digital divide in South Africa is very big as the majority of South Africans live on R41 a day and can’t afford data. Looking for work is expensive and young job-seekers spend an average of R380 a month on data when looking for a job. During the #CoronaVirus this divide will weigh ever heavier. What steps do you think South Africa could take to ensure that all South Africans can enjoy connectivity and #MakeJobSeekingAffordable?
Before lock-down my answer would have included free public Wi-Fi, but the coronavirus outbreak has shown that people need an affordable way to stay informed and connected while under lockdown. Setting aside some of the national budget to make access to job sites and government websites free is one thing that can be done.
However, zero-rating only certain services comes with challenges. This is a difficult problem that countries all over the world are grappling with, including South Africa. One straight-forward solution would be for government to create a kind of social grant for data. Citizens who can’t afford data may receive a set amount every month. What you use that data on is then up to you, whether chatting on WhatsApp, looking for jobs, or watching YouTube videos.
The challenge is, which items on the national budget must receive less money to fund this free data for indigent South Africans?
Perhaps another solution is offering jobs over platforms where cheap data for the service is already available. Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom all have cheap WhatsApp data available. Perhaps an enterprising young entrepreneur wants to build a jobs portal that runs on WhatsApp?
What is zero-rating?
In broad terms, this is when access to a specific service is made free.
When you’re talking about data, zero-rating means that the data used to access a specific site or app does not get subtracted from your bundle. So when Vodacom says it has zero-rated Wikipedia (through its special portal), that means you can access Wikipedia without the data it uses being deducted from your airtime or data bundle.
Currently, each network has established a different data-free platform, but many users are excluded. In a country with 8 million young South Africans not in Education, Employment or Training, how could zero-rating be used to help us succeed and thrive?
Zero-rating comes with interesting philosophical and technical challenges.
Philosophically, when you zero-rate a service, let’s say WhatsApp, you are giving that service an unfair advantage over competitors. Even if you sell a special, cheap data bundle for a specific service, that service is getting an advantage over its competitors. In South Africa we don’t worry about this philosophical problem too much because we have bigger problems, but overseas it is a real concern.
The technical challenge is that policing a zero-rated service on a network is difficult. Remember that free Twitter service that MTN offered? I’m pretty sure the whole #DataMustFall movement gathered steam so fast because MTN shut down its free Twitter offer.
The reason MTN shut it down is because someone figured out how to make all their data look like Twitter. So they could download many gigabytes of movies over the MTN network without paying for the data. I have a lot of respect for people who can pull this off. We did stuff like this a lot when we were in high school and at university and we couldn’t afford data. But unfortunately it has real consequences.
This is obviously not how the service is intended to be used and it can cause a real impact to the performance of the network when a few people start doing this.
That is the challenge that Vodacom and MTN know they are setting themselves up for when they try to zero-rate educational resources and jobs sites.We can zero-rate access to government sites, school and university sites, educational resources, and jobs sites.The cost of this must go to the taxpayer, so that anyone who can’t afford access can benefit, regardless of which network they are using to access the service.
In other words: you shouldn’t have to use only Vodacom or MTN to benefit from zero-rating like this.
In my perfect world, there should also be a platform where educational and instructional videos (YouTube is full of them) can be zero-rated. For many people it is much easier to learn through a video than reading. However, this also raises questions: since we can’t zero-rate all of YouTube, who decides which videos are allowed on this zero-rated video platform? How do you make sure that video creators are paid the same as they would have been for someone watching their video on YouTube? Sometimes there just aren’t easy answers and this is where South African innovation and ingenuity must come into play!
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