Whereas statistics continue to paint Kenya as a digital nation, with over 90 percent of Kenyans having access to Internet services, the reality is that there are discrepancies in what the different income groups are doing with the internet services.
The pricing models are designed to exploit the lower income groups while enhancing value creation for the higher income groups.
Think of the 1GB daily data bundles that averagely go for Sh100. If you bought this daily for 30days, you will end up paying Sh3000 for a limited monthly data volume of 30GB.
Basically with Sh3,000 shillings, the usage is capped or limited to 30GB data volumes when using a mobile internet connection.
Meanwhile, for the more privileged neighbour who can afford the Sh3,000 upfront, he or she will be able to subscribe to any one of the unlimited internet connections on an offer that comes through cable rather than mobile internet.
The less privileged Kenyan who buys daily bundles is also more conscious of the running meter that is counting down the bundles. They dare not watch an educational or entertainment video since this would wipe out his daily limits within five or less minutes.
His richer neighbour has no such concerns and is therefore able to explore, research, learn, watch, play, download, upload and do other things that happen when there is no psychological countdown to your internet experience.
His budget-constrained neighbour, with the capping limitations in mind, remains condemned to reading online content that is less bandwidth-hungry like viewing and ‘liking’ Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp or Facebook feeds.
INTERNET VALUE CHAIN
Essentially, the more privileged members of society become active contributors and beneficiaries of the internet ecosystem while the less privileged are condemned to play at the lower levels of the internet value chain.
To make matters worse, all mobile providers are now offering 'free' social media network access like WhatsApp, Twitter and others. Basically this sends the wrong signals to society. It rewards subscribers for consuming free, foreign social media networks while penalising those who may want to do value adding stuff like researching or learning a skill on the internet. Those in the marketing profession have a name for this kind of scenario. If you are not buying a product, then most probably you are the product being bought.
Free access to social media sites, helps build subscriber numbers for telco operators, but behind the scene, your digital behaviour is most likely being mined and auctioned to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, this is the reality of free market models.
Shareholder value demands that telco operators maximise the subscriber’s contributions to the bottom lines. So they have to look for a price point that extracts maximum value from the customer without bleeding too much of the business internal resources.
The outcome of this is manifested in form of 'affordable' or free Internet services that unfortunately condemn the majority of Kenyans into being consumers rather than productive contributors to the internet ecosystem.
Put differently, Kenyans and in general the developing world simply provide consumer 'eye-balls' that are marketed to the highest bidder as advertisement revenue by the FANGs (Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google) in the North.
It is time policy makers thought seriously about changing this dynamic by creating incentives that ensure that the next FANG comes from Kenya, or at least the global south.
This will not happen unless we find ways to move the majority of our internet users from the free or ‘daily bundle models’ into the more productive ''unlimited internet'' models.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu