Current Internet Prices Not Affordable For Majority of EmaSwati

By Ntokozo Nkambule

The adoption of broadband services remains low in Eswatini. In actual fact, the mobile broadband penetration rate was estimated to be at 35% in 2021.

This is contained in the Digital Economy Diagnostic Study conducted and compiled by the World Bank Group. An in-country kick-off and fact-finding mission was undertaken in February 2020, with a second mission taking place in July 2022 to update and validate the findings.

The Study is part of the Digital Economy for Africa Initiative- an initiative that forms part of the World Bank Group’s for the African Union’s Digital Mooonshot for Africa; which aspires to see every African individual, business, and government to be digitally enabled by 2030.

The Study notes that mobile broadband is the predominant way for emaSwati to access the internet, with 90% of the population covered by mobile broadband networks (3G plus).

“However, the country is characterized by a wide mobile internet usage gap i.e. those who live within range of a broadband network but do not use the internet services. In 2021, it was estimated that the mobile penetration was only 35% when calculated with unique subscribers,’ notes the report.

Despite the high broadband service prices, the World Bank notes that there are positive moves by the government that have yielded positive results.

“The introduction of a second mobile operator introduced some competition to the mobile market for mobile voice, SMS, and data services, thus increasing options for consumers at more competitive prices. The price of 1GB dropped from E230 (USD16) to E150 in 2019.”

The report attributes the lack of usage to a lack of affordability for both fixed and mobile internet services and states that the lack of affordability is due to incomplete market liberalization.

“This lack of affordability is caused in turn due to market liberalization and lack of competition, combined with the lack of access to submarine cables.”

The World Bank study has established that the lack of competition is because the incumbent operator, the Eswatini Postal & Telecommunications Corporation (EPTC) has partial exclusivity in the first mile (international connectivity, although other players have begun to bypass the corporation and procure their own internet capacity) and middle mile (national backbone) of the broadband value chain.

Regarding this challenge, the report recommends the promotion of policies that will facilitate infrastructure sharing with Parastatals such as the Eswatini Electricity Company (EEC) to leverage excess fiber capacity.

According to the World Bank, increased broadband penetration in the country can result in an additional US$ $108 million of GDP and 2.46 productivity gains.

“Broadband has the potential to transform Eswatini’s economy and help the country leapfrog development stages, provided that effective policies are put in place that encourage its use as an essential input by all sectors of the economy.”

Interestingly, the Eswatini Communications Commission Annual Report for the year 2021/22 notes that mobile broadband penetration increased by 96% to reach 119%.

“Mobile broadband connectivity increased by 25% to 1 105 987 in 2020/21 to 1 379 525 in 2021/22. Consequently, mobile broadband penetration increased from 96% in 2020/21 to 119% in 2021/22.”

The Commission attributes the growth in connectivity to the up-take of products and services tailored for work from home and blended learning launched into the market by mobile network operators at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The ESCCOM Annual report further notes that there was an increase in fixed internet connectivity.

“Fixed internet connectivity continues to follow an upward trajectory increasing by 9% from 27 386 to 29 784. The growth is driven by fixed wireless connectivity, wireless internet network technology,” notes ESCCOM.

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