Mango, Data Control Internet Africa, Samara, CompuServe, ESANet,
HealthNet, Stellar -- quite a few options in Zimbabwe. It's a
youthful market, and the only certainty I can think of is that it
will be different in a few months.
Jim Holland of Mango expects to continue to serve the NGO and
broader community with reliable electronic mail service and online
conferences, taking advantage of local Internet carriers as they
become available in order to lower costs still further -- they are
already one of the most economical electronic mail Internet service
providers in Africa: about US$5.50 per month plus a US penny per
kilobyte. And I'm told they generate a surplus sufficient to invest
periodically in new equipment, and to pay staff. I gather that SARDC
provides an implicit subsidy in terms of office space and utilities.
Similarly Rob Borland at the University expects substantial
enhancements of ESANet and Healthnet electronic mail and
conferencing service in the months to come. He observed that the
biggest difference for Zimbabwe has been the greatly improved quality
of basic local telephone line service quality from the Posts and
Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) of Zimbabwe, allowing users to
connect at faster speeds, more reliably, more often. Healthnet users
enjoy free service thanks to a Danish grant (I think -- or maybe it
was Dutch -- apologies for the confusion!)
Meanwhile a number of commercial companies are working to improve
TCP/IP services. The most significant hurdles appear to be access to
international leased lines and access to sufficient local telephone
lines for user dialups. Competition is heated, and prices have
fallen recently, about US$40 for unlimited full-Internet access
(compared to $5.50 for email only from Mango).
My guess is that the ISPs are all operating pretty close to margin
(meaning no one is clearing much of a profit), and so we should
expect competition to focus in the future on service -- a good thing
for consumers, I expect.
For example, Internet Africa offers one free (small) web page with
every user account. CompuServe, which offers a Compuserve "CIM"
account or the option of a "full Internet" PPP account, tells me they
hope soon to offer significantly more space for web pages, and
permit multiple pages within a space allowance, free with every
account, their aim being to enhance local WWW content.
CompuServe offers local dialup for CompuServe's CIM worldwide
subscribers, meaning that if you have a CompuServe account in South
Africa or Canada you can access that account easily (at a higher
rate, however) in Zimbabwe. Similarly, Zimbabwe subscribers can
check their mail from America. A nice feature for world travellers.
Internet Africa has a response, however: It hopes soon to start
Cyber-Cafes, which will permit a visitor to sip an espresso while
logging in to a temporary PPP account and check their POP3 mail
wherever in the world it resides.
Meanwhile, I'm told the PTC hopes to offer "Internet access" by the
end of the year, though there's some confusion as to whether that
means retail or wholesale access. Stay tuned! I'm off to Dar es
Jeff @ Harare