I came across this good read yesterday about the closure of Senegalese internet cafes. For those reading this blog right now, it might be a tough go as it’s in French, but Google Translate can be a good friend if you want to look it over and get a tasty overview of the internet situation in Senegal currently.
Basically, it comes down to the fact that the monopoly is a huge problem in Senegal. Sonatel (who apparently offer the iPhone) is the current government-owned monopoly on the main internet connection to the outside world. Naturally, since they have no competition, they don’t really care about offering competitive prices. No matter if it’s Orange, Tigo, or relative newcomer, Expresso, it doesn’t matter that they offer data plans as they all have to buy bandwidth from the Sonatel connection and costs work out to generally the same. This is a common problem throughout most of Africa unfortunately.
In Senegal, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that internet usage took off and people got in to getting online. This in turn made for more internet cafes. More internet cafes made for more competition. The prices for users dropped from about $3 USD an hour to $0.65 per hour. This of course made for even more people getting on the internet, but only once those price points were reached.
These prices it turned out, were not tenable for business. Despite a massive demand, internet cafes have been closing left and right simply because they can’t afford to pay the connection fees and offer service at the prices people are able to afford. Naturally, the connection fees didn’t drop with more usage, which has been the inverse of this situation in the US, Europe, and Asia, with a number of Asian countries making out the best on price vs. speed (Japan is spoiled rotten with 100Mbs per second at $25 USD.)
Tossed in to this is also the case that a growing number of people have been able to connect at home through the growing ADSL network, especially in towns such as Dakar. It’s all been downhill for those on ground trying to provide cafe connections for the masses.
While the circumstances are a bit different, one does have to wonder how much life an internet cafe has left anywhere in the world? Outside of tourists locations, they seem to be drying up everywhere to some degree as more and more of us travel with laptops or at the very least, wifi/highspeed data enabled phones that can do simple browsing anywhere we go. And this is a trend you see in Africa as well. Like I found in Cape Coast, Ghana, there are a number of growing cafes that have ceased to be the typical cafe of the past. They offer more of a place to plug in and work for the day, aka, the coworking space.
Obviously when your outbound connections are controlled by one entity, any change in the market is treacherous as the free market is anything but. Even still, I’m not sure that only connection costs are to blame for less internet cafes in a country like Senegal. User habits as to how people get online are changing the world over and I ask if the public internet access point soon be a relic? As I watch people wondering the streets, checking Facebook on the iPhones, I say yes, although it’s a yes I don’t necessarily like as the 21st coffeehouse was something I was enjoying.