This month is going to be dedicated to wrapping up my Peace Corps life. Sadly, I have underused this blog even though I found it useful in processing and voicing my experiences. With that in mind I will be blogging much more frequently as a way to keep me busy and to try to bring closure.
Ryan has been doing a couple of posts of things he will not be missing about South Africa here and here. I am inspired to do the same even though I suspect many of our opinions will be similar. I plan on also alternating the list with those parts of South Africa that I will miss so it doesn't seem like I hated ever aspect of life here. It should be a healthy exercise and a decent way to reflect on my past two years.
First up on the list of things I am glad to be leaving behind: the Internet. What I mean by that is the quality and quantity of the Internet I can get at my site. Initially I had planned to talk about something completely different but after failing to upload one picture for about 2 hours I figured I might as well rant about the sorry state of things while the irritation is still fresh. My preface is that having any sort of Internet access has been a great deal of help for bleasure (i.e. business and pleasure). Furthermore, I am only describing what it is like in my corner of South Africa, larger towns or cities will have better options I am sure. I am aware that things could have been worse for me but that doesn't mean I have to be entirely satisfied. I am almost completely sure that I don't have to be satisfied with anything ever because I am an American and that's what makes us great. And now onto the complaining!
Complaint number one is that it is expensive. Here is a quick price break down from Vodacom which is the best telecom company for my area:
I would like to point out that I made a table of information...in my free time...for a personal blog. Sometimes I really surprise myself but really this is a very efficient way to get across the point.
|Data (mb) ||Price (Rand) ||Price (USD)* ||mb/Rand ||mb/USD |
|8 ||9.25 ||1.37 ||0.86 ||5.85 |
|30 ||28 ||4.14 ||1.07 ||7.25 |
|110 ||88 ||13.00 ||1.25 ||8.46 |
|175 ||119 ||17.58 ||1.47 ||9.95 |
|300 ||139 ||20.54 ||2.16 ||14.61 |
|600 ||189 ||27.93 ||3.17 ||21.48 |
|1200 ||289 ||42.71 ||4.15 ||28.10 |
|2300 ||389 ||57.48 ||5.91 ||40.01 |
|3000 ||520 ||76.84 ||5.77 ||39.04 |
|5000 ||989 ||146.15 ||5.06 ||34.21 |
|10000 ||1989 ||293.92 ||5.03 ||34.02 |
|20000 ||3899 ||576.16 ||5.13 ||34.71 |
For comparison I did some extremely light research into how much I would pay for the cheapest broadband service in my hometown. Using this website I searched for only Internet packages and from a quick glance it seems like a standard price is between 20$-30$ per month for 12mbps(d)/2mbps(u). It used to be the case that these prices were for an uncapped Internet connection which would have made the comparison between the Internet prices even more ludicrous. Now however, most Internet service providers have a data cap, meaning if you go over that amount of data you will pay more money. For Comcast, which offers their services for 20$-30$, the data cap is set at 250 gb per month. Using these figures (250 gb per month and 30$ per month), I would be getting 8333 mb/USD. This is two orders of magnitude larger than the most economical option provided by Vodacom (2300 mb for 57.48$) 40.01 mb/USD. I would also be getting two orders of magnitude more data in the US deal (250 gb vs. 2.3 gb).
The second complaint is that the service moves at a snail's pace. The way I get my Internet service is by tethering my phone to my computer and unfortunately the cell towers in rural South Africa have not gotten around to being upgraded to the fastest wireless broadband. The fastest I am able to get at my site is ~25 kbps (kb per second). Again for comparison, the cheap broadband service I mentioned above in the US offers 12 mbps. Assuming you are able to consistently get a quarter of that speed (3 mbps) that is still 2 orders of magnitude faster than what I can get here in my village.
Lastly, the expensive and slow service I get is unreliable. The speed and the ability to use the service at all varies from hour-to-hour, day-to-day. Which brings me to the reason why I started writing this in the first place. I tried to upload a 1 mb picture repeatedly but failed because the connection would drop out. This means that I ended up wasting couple of expensive mb's restarting the process and ultimately getting nothing out of it.
I think this is unfortunate not only because it affects me negatively but also because I know it's potential and want to see its use in the rural village I live in and others like mine. It is hard enough to get people to use a computer and describe to them the benefits of the Internet without also adding on these barriers. I really believe that bringing a fast, cheap and stable Internet service to a place like this would do incredible things. Some of the immediate benefits would be that people would be able to keep their anti-virus programs up to date and functioning properly. This alone would save many hours of work and frustration. Second, it would sidestep the problem of having a lack of certain resources in remote locations. Not only would reference material be available but also lessons on just about any topic you would ever want to know more about can be viewed at any time from some of the best teachers in the world for free! I really don't have to tell you why the Internet is a good thing though do I?
For all I know Vodacom and other telecoms are upgrading the local cell towers right now, although I doubt it. Without any hard proof, I believe that they would only gain more customers and more profits by offering a decent Internet service to more and more people. This next month will be my last of having to deal with it and I am happy about that but I wish that it comes to the people that will be living here for the foreseeable future and the sooner the better. Having more of a South African presence on Youtube can only add to both Youtube's and South Africa's excellence.