At 9:30 am Tuesday I hopped in a USAID vehicle for a quick ride to
the airport. Formalities took no time, very polite and efficient,
those Ethiopians. The Kenya Airways flight was quite superb, and I
arrived on schedule in Nairobi, where again the formalities,
including an airport visa, took only a few minutes. My ICRAF driver
informed me that everyone in government and the opposition was
"talking" and that all strikes were on hold until the results of the
talks are known -- good news!
After an hour of conversation about my Ethiopian experiences with
Michael Hailu of ICRAF, I proceeded to the Pan Afric Hotel for a
drink and supper. What a pleasant place! Beautiful view of
downtown Nairobi, a cool breeze, can't be beat! As I was finishing
my dinner of Greek salad and fish 'n chips with draft beer, I was
joined by two Nairobi consultants for informal conversation about the
local networking scene in Kenya.
When you think about it, in a technical sense, Kenya is really at
the forefront of Internetworking. Local dialups that I attempted in
Nairobi were, depending on the company used, fast and effective,
every bit as good as what I typically see in the USA, and better
than almost anywhere in Africa.
Not only technically, but in terms of market development, things
seemed quite good in Kenya. There are *choices* in Kenya. At
every street corner is a pole, at the top of which are rectangles and
arrows with the names of streets, plus a sign advertising the merits
of either AfricaOnline, Swift Global, or FormNet -- ARCC doesn't
advertise, I guess. Perhaps Shem is too busy providing good service;
I heard nothing but praise in Kenya about ARCC service, while I
heard quite a few complaints about some of the others.
So at one level, all is well. If you don't like FormNet, switch
to ARCC. If ARCC prices are too high, government has yet to shut
down ThornTree. The only concern I could unearth about Internet
development in Kenya has to do with access. And since access is what
I work on for a living, it is of concern to me.
It would be nice to know, at a practical level, how the present state
of affairs affects access in Kenya. As I was talking with the Kenyan
consultants, we eventually got around to the issue of the regulatory
environment. Internet firms in Kenya pay something like $8000 to
$14,000 a month, so I'm told, for their leased lines to the Internet,
via KPTC or whatever it's called now, even though according to
discussions we've had in this forum the KPTC ought to be able to
provide those lines for under $2000. Retail prices range from
something like $60 to more than $100 a month for basic Web access,
depending on level of usage.
So economically speaking, what does demand look like in Kenya?
That question is the technical way of asking this: How many more
people would have access if the price of leased lines to Internet
firms were to drop from $8000 a month to $2000 a month for the same
service? Given the intensely competitive nature of the Kenyan
market, I've no doubt that costs would be passed immediately to
consumers, and that many more firms would enter the market. If
indeed that were to happen, how many small NGOs and schools and
hospitals and individuals who cannot afford $60 a month would
be willing to pay $20 a month?
If we could characterize the demand curve in Kenya, we'd have a
reasonably acceptable measure of the cost of regulation in Kenya. If
you spend 8 years in graduate school, you learn nifty methods for
measuring such things. If some grad student somewhere has the
funding and would like to do the field work, I'd certainly be happy
to help out with advice and contacts on how to get the work done.
Studies like that can then be used to influence policy.
Jeff @ Gaborone
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Arlington, VA 22209 USA
Tel 1-703-235-5415 Fax 1-703-235-3805