One can only understand the meaning of the connectivity divide through experiencing it. Nothing as annoying as just simply waiting for something in order to find out that you have been waiting for nothing. But last week I was lucky. I tried to send an email in a hot and steamy Internet cafe in Kampala. This was a new experience for me. After first having tried my hotmail-account, which simply didn’t work, I gave my student-mail a shot. Minutes went by, but again without success. I got frustrated. The heat didn’t help. As a last resort I tried gmail.. and after another 10 minutes of trying and crying my email finally got sent. That was my first and last email that day.
The manager told me that the connection used to be fast in this Internet cafe. However, since a month the connection slowed down again. The ISP (internet service provider) based in the UK advised to check the computers, the cache system, the network and possible viruses within the computer. After two weeks of checking on everything the connection was still slow. Then, the ISP admitted they had some problems; the manager thinks that they already knew this, but that they just didn’ t want to admit it. Moreover, this wasn’t the first time, but this time the ISP would send a new modem for free that would suit the updated network.. The manager thinks that ‘they just don’t care because it’s Africa’. ‘If there had been a problem in the UK, the ISP itself immediately would have called the internet café to make excuses and solve the problem..’
He explained that the speed of the connection is also directly related to Europe’s usage. When Europe wakes up and start going online they immediately experience this in a decrease of speed. Between 1.00am and 10.00am they have the best connection; actually you can only get a proper connection when you visit the Internet café between 07.00am and 10.00am or late at night. There are clients that spend their Friday nights until the early morning on the Web, for only then they can achieve a lot online.
That is, if the weather is not bothering the VSAT signal. If it is storming in the UK, what is unfortunately not a rare thing…the connections are instable and will cause frustrations both in Uganda leaving people with empty hands, as in the UK destroying umbrella’s.
In Kampala there is an awareness (at least among the cafe owners and managers), of a western society ‘that goes first’. The digital divide is therefore especially experienced by the locals who are not solely consumers, but also producers of IT, and thus are aware of the causes. The manager shows me the cables that are already installed by the ISP which is going to deliver the broadband connection in July. He hopes that will solve such frustrations.
The rumour is that the ISP’ s will ask high prices on the African continent, but the café owners are determined to stay strong in the negotiations about the price. Let’s hope they can..!