By: Julius BIZIMUNGU
KIGALI: The Internet has increasingly become part of everyday life. Most companies will be grounded if Internet connection breaks down for just one day.
This makes access to the Internet a ‘must’ for the modern person to carry out their business operations smoothly. Those involved in buying and selling of different goods, mobile services, TV and radio services, health and security also largely depend on internet.
The Internet also connects us to all sectors of the economy and to the rest of the world. With the advent of 4G network last year, Rwandans were assured of the fastest Internet. However, the cost of connectivity is increasingly causing concern among a cross section of businesses and individuals.
Fiacre Mushimire, an apps developer and founder of Holdings, a startup that deals in software development and consultancy work, says broadband rates started going up sometime last year.
Mushimire’s firm runs TEGA, a cashless payment portal that allows people to buy bus tickets using mobile money, whose activities revolve around Internet connectivity. He is worried that the increase will affect many start-ups as well as small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs).
He says most people who use their services are mobile Internet users, noting that if prices go up, transactions on the platform (TEGA) automatically reduce.
HelloWord Internet Café’s Aimable Mugiraneza says the firm was forced to change service providers after the one they were using previously increased Internet prices.
“We used to spend over Rwf250,000 per month, but since we switched to ISPA, we spend less than Rwf150,000 a month,” he notes.
He says high prices significantly affect Internet café operators. “High prices affect our activities because customers then cannot afford our services, which hurts business,” he adds.
Théoneste Shema, who operates Kiseminti-based MGC Internet Café, says price increases are working against efforts geared at universal access to the Internet.
He says 4G network is costly, claiming that there is minimal difference compared 3G network. “I used 4G, but I had to change to 3G after realising there’s no big difference between the two.”
He says increased Internet prices limit business operations, especially for ICT-based enterprises, adding that the increase has affected business-customer relations.
Internet tariffs differ, depending on the operator. MTN Rwanda mobile data tariff per MB is to Rwf55, that of Airtel costs Rwf51 per MB and Tigo charges Rwf50 per MB.
Indrajeet Singh, the Airtel Rwanda marketing director, says issues like tax are the major factors behind the increment.
“Last year we increased the price of data per MB by Rwf1, from Rwf50/MB to Rwf51/MB on the pay as you go plan. This was as a result of the 2 per cent increase in excise duty on airtime. The price has, however, been constant since then and we don’t plan to increase as we want to remain an affordable Internet service provider in the country,” he says.
Most customers of online websites in Rwanda use mobile Internet. For instance, 70 per cent of Igihe.com customers are mobile subscribers, according to their statistics.
According to Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) March reports, the total number of Internet users is 3.14 million, while mobile Internet subscribers are 3.12 million. Apart from Tigo, MTN and Airtel, other Internet service providers include Liquid Telecom, ISPA, BSC and AXIOM Networks.
According to the RURA reports, one MB was at Rwf30 in June 2013, but had risen to current price of Rwf55 in the fourth quarter of last year. Airtel was selling an MB at Rwf20 in June, 2013; Rwf40 in the first and second quarters of 2014, then Rwf50 and finally at Rwf51 presently.
Tigo is the only operator which kept their mobile Internet prices constant.
Patrick Nyirishema, the RURA director general, says the slight change of mobile Internet prices should be cause for alarm.
“There has been small changes in Internet prices, however the service providers are using the right pricing model. This means that the prices are rising gradually as expected. Even compared to others in the region, Rwanda’s Internet rates are affordable,” he says.
He urges businesses, especially start-ups to understand that RURA ensures that there interests are catered for when handling such cases.
Rwanda strives to become an ICT-driven economy with services sector at the centre of the country’s push for technology-led growth. This, therefore, requires Internet charges to be affordable to businesses and the ordinary Rwandan.