It’s nearly 11 p.m. and the internet cafe in Accra, Ghana is surging with energy. University students, business professionals and groups of friends crowd around computers, eyes glued to the monitors. The calming hum of over 20 machines is broken by the odd burst of laughter and whispering voices.
Beauty Badger, a first year marketing student in Accra, is getting ready to leave, after spending six hours plugged in. “I am here at least four times a week, but when I have a big project I’m here everyday. I wish I could live [here] sometimes.”
For students like Badger or working professionals that need to get online but can’t afford internet at home, web cafes are their only option. The average cost to have access provided to ones home is $60 a month; this is in a country where the average income is $260 per month. Access in cafes is roughly 75 cents per hour.
Badger believes she’s fortunate she can afford to browse because it’s a privilege many still cannot afford in Ghana.
According to Internet World Statistics, in June 2000 there were 30,000 internet users in Ghana. By 2010 that number increased to nearly 1.3 million. Ghanaians are keen to get connected but growth in the market is slowing because the high price of broadband.
In comparison to rural areas, larger cities like Accra are littered with places to plug in, but there is still a demand for more. “Even if price isn’t a problem, sometimes finding a place to go is, the seats will all be full. We need more cafes in the city,” says Badger.
Desmond Boateng, director of finance at the Ministry of Communications, believes the Ministry is responsible for building the infrastructure necessary to increase internet access. In order to do this, he says the government must work with private telecommunications companies, such as Vodafone, the country’s central internet provider.
But Vodafone’s monopoly on the market is a hindrance. The company provides internet for cafes and homes, but provides a slower service to cafes then it does to private users, discouraging more from opening up.
The frustration is not lost on Olivet Samuel Mensah, who runs an internet cafe in Accra. She’s been open for five years ago and has never been satisfied with Vodafone’s service. “The network goes down six times in a day and it’s very slow. You call them and they say ‘they’re working on it,’ she says. “It is not good for business and it’s frustrating.”
Despite legislation to prevent this monopoly, Vodaphone continues to control access.
In 2004, the telecommunications policy was introduced in order to ensure equality among providers in Ghana, but the broadband market remains unregulated, allowing Vodafone to swallow the market by determining the price of network usage, according to Research ICT Africa.
Many Ghanaians are eager to get connected, but until a provider comes along prepared to fight the Goliath that is Vodafone, they will have to hold on.