Internet service improving in Zimbabwe, but still ridiculously expensive

Jun 15, 2011

The retarded development of an efficient, affordable internet infrastructure is one of the many ways that Zimbabwe has fallen behind many others during its 'lost decade.' For some years now difficult access, excrutiatingly slow speeds and high costs have been the norm. These have been compounded by indifferent service from ISPs and the country's frequent power cuts.

As the country slowly comes out of international isolation, internet service providers are beginning to make investments in improvements which weren't possible before during the years of acute economic crisis. The government has chipped in with a new fibreoptic cable linking the country to cables in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Mozambique, complementing separate private sector cable connections to the rest of the world. Broadband and wifi acess have improved, with competition between industry players increasing and slowly driving prices down.

The ISP Zimbabwe Online has always been one of the most innovative, even during the tough times. So it is not surprising that it one of the first to introduce a service to make broadband more affordable than it has been.

But 'more affordable' is relative at a cost of US$70 per month for unlimited broadband, US$60/month if you pay ahead for 12 months. And there are conditions to the 'priority' of access after one gigabyte of use.

That this is touted as an amazing offer is an indication of just how internet access continues to be. Africa has the world's highest ICT prices per income level but even then, there are several African countries where unlimited, unconditional broadband is now significantly below US$60/month, and still falling. With its relative 'sophistication,' Zimbabwe in normal times would have been expected to be a leader in this regard, rather than to follow behind countries like Rwanda and Senegal, where all manner of ICT services are widely and increasingly affordably available.

ZOL's modem package has a one-off  cost of US $595, which pushes the price competitiveness of the service compared to some in several other African countries way down.

Zimbabwe may be making slow steps to catch up with the continental leaders in ICT access, but it appears to have a long way to go.


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