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East Africa being a community of developing countries, has been blessed with the appearance of three submarine cables* at the East African coast. Coming from satellite Internet which is known to have a minimum round trip time of 500ms to optic fibre Internet which reduces the round trip time to even less than 10ms, every thing in Internet speeds and Internet bandwidth has increased at the coast and in the inlands of the East African community. More Internet can be accessed on the move (mobile Internet), more people are becoming abreast with the Internet and the different terminologies, more Internet service providers, more content is being developed and more innovations are coming up in the world of Internet. If all that is not enough, many countries have developed Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) which help in reducing the time to access local content and also develop the capacity of local content creation. The case here in Uganda is the Uganda Internet Exchange Point (UIXP). When Uganda only had satellite ISPs (Internet Service Providers), Internet was expensive, slow, and limited the access to some websites like torrent sites. Although with the increasing number of ISPs, most of these limitations have been done with, but a new innovation has been noticed. Those days, Internet was sold in the whole, meaning you paid for a service and it did not matter how you used the service. These days, even after paying for the service, there is a limit to how much of the data you can download and upload in a particular period of time. This phenomenal is referred to as data capping or data bundling in Internet terminologies.
How has Internet Bundling affected Internet usage?
With the advent of social networks and the entire web 2.0, a lot of content is available, more people are living life on the Internet and more people are joining the Internet. As more demand for the Internet grows, the supply seems to be constrained which leaves people demanding for more. Those who cannot afford the bundles are left to access Internet in corporate offices, Internet cafes and friends computers where possible. This leaves this type of population with out service. Some people still believe that once they have paid some money to the ISPs, they should be let to use the Internet freely with out boundaries. They further assert that, it is because of these boundaries that innovations and some initiatives are limited as some content will require more bundles than other content, which brings in the topic of net neutrality. There are questions like, who uses the unused bundles at the end of the month? Why should ISPs buy unlimited Internet and resell limited Internet? This school of thought therefore confirms that if Internet bundling is stopped, East Africa will even realise deeper Internet penetration.
From the other side of the corridor, is a group of people who believe that it is because of these bundles and these limitations that we can even enjoy the speeds we are talking about. Although there is more capacity available at the coast due to the optical fibres, the ISPs are let trunk space which is a resource. This resource will be unusable by a good part of society if not well managed. If we allow a group of people to clog and monopolise it with some 'capacity-eating' content, other people will not be able to use it yet they have paid for the service. This introduces a topic of fair user policy. It is upon this argument that ISPs limit on how much someone can download and upload even after paying for a monthly subscription. People in finance also believe if it was not for data capping, Internet wouldn't be a good business to invest in. Because of this bundling business, ISPs can be able to sell more and more bundles and accumulate some profits. Some one has once told me that if it was not for data bundling, it would be hard for people with low income to even afford that small Internet. When Internet is bundled, every one is allowed to buy a portion depending on what he wants and what he can afford. Since we are a majority of low income earners, the only way we can access Internet is by buying small affordable bundles.
Each side of the corridor has more points to put across as regards this topic but these are the fundamental basics. It is upon these basics that I would wish to engage you (my reader). Do you think bundling of Internet has hampered the speed and depth of Internet penetration in developing nations? Would the situation be better without bundling?
Your Opinion is much appreciated.
*Seacom, TEAMs and EASSy