The era or age we are living in is and can only get more digitized. The internet and social media are now indispensable building blocks of all facets of life. Whether it is directly or indirectly, you can no longer write off digital products or services. Look at your banking services, commercial services, mobile services, and so on. Everything is hinged on digital technologies. This comes with great opportunities in that we are more exposed to global platforms. You can now do international transactions, work remotely, study online, and the like. Great as that is, it is increasingly becoming difficult to operate online in Zimbabwe.

Erratic Internet Connectivity

There was a time when there were alternatives in a way. If one service provider was giving you a hard time you could just shift to another one. For example, if NetOne was not doing justice you could shift to Econet. If say, ZOL was not serving your needs you could resort to TelOne. This was great in that you had options that would provide you better service. These days, it does not matter which service provider it is, you will have a hard time with all of them. Discussions on which service provider is best always happen on social media platforms. I have been a part of many of them and one thing is always recurrent. There is never one service provider which gets a convincing number of proponents. As much as there might be proponents, there will tend to be more castigators.

Just how erratic is the internet connectivity you might wonder? Well, it depends on which service provider you are using. As for the mobile network operators (MNOs), it is usually terribly slow speed. At times the speed patterns are predictable i.e. it can be slower say, from morning till after midnight. In some cases the speed can just dwindle out of the blue. At times it is the data connection itself vanishing altogether. I have experienced scenarios where this can happen for over 24 hours. As for other non-MNO internet service providers, just like MNOs, the major issue is speed as well.

There is also a common experience where users complain of mysterious vanishing of data. Especially for the non-MNO internet service providers, I have heard this several times. I have seen cases where users said with their Wi-Fi off overnight, they would wake up to gigabytes of data gone. All these issues are exacerbated by the steep costs of data.

Personally, the erratic internet connectivity has literally been depressing. Imagine waking each day not being sure whether or not internet connectivity will be there. Imagine waking up not sure whether or not the internet speed will allow you to do what you need to do. All that I do I do it online and I heavily depend on consistent internet connectivity. I use NetOne for my internet connectivity but I cannot say they have been the best. I am now a popular name at their Customer Call Centre due to dismal data services most of the time. I have missed out on countless deadlines, meetings, opportunities, and so much more due to poor internet connectivity.

Limited Participation In The Digital Economy

You have seen me talking about mobile app uptake in Zimbabwe. We are still a long way off because of these internet connectivity challenges. It is a struggle to efficiently use mobile apps such as for banks or other common services. Imagine having to mostly rely on USSD menus, in this day and age!!! No wonder why most Zimbabwean mobile apps coming out are not taking off. How can they when internet connectivity is erratic? The success of a mobile app relies on widespread uptake and usage of the app. Due to erratic internet connectivity and steep data costs, that is a steep and slippery slope to conquer.

Even online learning is still struggling to really take off in Zimbabwe. How can it when most students do not have access to reliable internet connectivity? Consider remote working, how can you confidently apply for a remote job say, for an American company? You will have to be interviewed by video conferencing and most of your work will involve that. How will you be able to when to when a 50 kilobyte image on WhatsApp can take ages to send? I usually have online meetings via platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Telegram, and WhatsApp amongst others. I am yet to experience one meeting that can be done smoothly. There are always hiccups e.g. people getting booted out or losing audio or picture and the like. All of this stems from erratic internet connectivity.

I am privy to the vast opportunities out there in the digital economy. There is so much money to be made. Yet our hands are tied because we have deplorable internet services. At times you cannot help but feel that internet speeds are deliberately throttled. When you contact the service providers you are always met with the same bookish responses and no meaningful solutions to your problems. For as long as this remains the case in Zimbabwe, we are still a long way from active participation in the digital economy. What has your experience been like and what do you think should be done?