Online Africa Weekly Top 10: free Internet services in Zambia, Uber in Lagos, ICT prevents spread of Ebola, and more
A few themes from the past two weeks of news headlines are worth discussing in greater detail.
Internet.org partners to bring free web services to Zambia.
Airtel Zambia subscribers will soon have the option to use a variety of apps for free thanks (indirectly) to Facebook. Data charges will be voided for users of the Internet.org app which in turn, offers Wikipedia, Facebook, Google Search, WRAPP (Women’s Rights App), MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), and AccuWeather. The partnership aims to bring more people online with the hope they discover valuable services that would otherwise go unnoticed. Critics are concerned the free access to Facebook is a long-term plan from the company to attract more users who will eventually contribute to ad revenue.
Multiple SIMs no longer needed in southern Somalia.
Three telecoms companies in Somalia (Hormuud, NationLink, and Somtel) have agreed to share services. That is, a customer on one network will be able to call a customer on a participating network without having to switch SIM cards. In theory, such an agreement will save customers the hassle of carrying around multiple SIMs, but in practice, the rates of connecting to a different network aren’t clear. Reports suggest that inter-network calls cost anywhere from 2x-5x the normal rate. Moreover, Hormuud could benefit more than other operators since it has the largest market share in the region. Still, inter-connectivity is a step forward in improving quality of service and potentially, in lowering end-user costs.
Another example how mobiles are helping agriculture.
Much global attention has been given to Kenya’s iCow or M-Farm. However, there are plenty of other apps helping farmers in other nations. In Senegal, Daral, a collaboration between Microsoft 4Afrika, Coders4Africa, and a few other developers, gathers livestock data. Not only does such data prevent theft, it also allows farmers to manage the livestock’s health. If an animal is stolen, the owner can have police send an SMS alert to the region.
Uber is available in Lagos.
After launching last year in South Africa, Uber is now available in Nigeria. Early reviews are promising. Yes, the service generally will cost more than a traditional taxi, but it is lauded for its convenience and transparency.
Jumia expands to three more countries.
It’s hard to miss news about Africa’s e-commerce darling Jumia this year. The company, set-up by VC firm Rocket Internet, now has operations in Uganda, Ghana, and Cameroon, among 5 other African markets. Many of the nations have a low level of Internet savviness (and ability for online payments) but that isn’t stopping the company from offering thousands of products for sale.
ICT is helping raise awareness of Ebola in West Africa.
In Nigeria, various agencies and groups are using social media to help prevent the disease from spreading within the country. So far, cases in Nigeria have been extremely rare and isolated. Sierra Leone, with hundreds of reported cases, is doing less to spread information about the disease using SMS and social media. However, that could change any day.
Draft cybercrime laws attract fear.
Legislation that protects online users in Africa is usually lacking. When draft laws appear online, they often take national security too far at the expense of users’ rights to privacy. Such could be the case in Tunisia, where a new cybercrime draft law has been deemed too vague. Odds are the current draft will not be enacted without major changes, however. Still, the fear of online censorship remains, especially given Tunisia’s past.
Congo-Brazzaville will soon have a digital governance agency.
The ICT industry in the country has been neglected for years and needs policy updates. A new agency will monitor and control ICT projects. In fact, Congo-Brazzaville has reportedly just adopted a new information communication technology policy.
Niger will soon have greater 3G competition.
Orange launched 3G service in Niger a year or so ago, with 67 sites as of 2013. Relatively few mobile customers use the service; costs are still prohibitive. Airtel now has a license to offer 3G service in Niger – a move that should help to reduce data costs as operators lower prices to attract customers.
Government-imposed telecom taxes are upwards of 50%.
In many cases, African mobile operators pay 30-50% of their revenues to the government. One consulting group even puts the average taxation amount at 30% (and a high of 53% in Zambia). Where the money goes varies but one thing is certain: steep taxes at such a high level tend to trickle down to the consumers. Taxation of incoming calls does not need to reach 10-20%.