Internet disadvantage

Over the last weeks I have been finishing off a new edition of my book about Durban and have had to do a lot of research on a wide variety of topics.

Most of the information I needed was available on the Internet and, seated at my computer, it was usually only a matter of minutes until I came up with the answers I needed. There were still gaps here and there in the online information, but it got me thinking how much of an impact the Internet has had on my life.

I’d go so far as to say that it was probably a major factor in enabling me to complete the research for my fact-based book quickly, and at times which did not interfere with earning my living. If I’d had to go to a library to check each fact, for example, I’d probably still be busy compiling the first edition.

It’s got so that I can hardly remember what life was like before the Internet, or imagine being without access to it for news and instant answers to any questions I might have. Well, that’s not quite true, because I was offline for 10 days over Christmas and coped quite well, but there is no doubt that I was relieved to get back to my computer and ADSL connection.

The Internet has been extremely important to me but I find it sad that so many people in this country still cannot afford the high costs of access. I often visit myadsl.co.za to keep up to date with developments in the local industry, even though it usually makes depressing reading.

You find article after article railing against the high price of Internet access here, when compared to the rest of the world. We have less ADSL subscribers than Turkey, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Egypt, for heaven’s sake. The thrust of the articles’ argument being that people without Internet access are substantially disadvantaged in this modern world.

The simple reason for the low rates of Internet adoption are the high prices charged by Telkom for access and bandwidth, which has been made possible by their monopoly in our telecommunications market. Yes, there is now a competitor to Telkom, but a look at Neotel’s website (neotel.co.za), will show that there’s not much going on, and not much expected, for consumers, until the end of the year.

Another article reported that South Africa has the third highest fixed-line call costs in the world, after Belgium and Holland. This is based on the findings of a survey which concludes that South African organisations are being disadvantaged in the global marketplace.

As I said, Neotel doesn’t look as though it is going to come to the party very soon but, luckily for us in Durban, there does seem to be glimmer of hope in the form of the SmartCity initiative. This will see us accessing the Internet and making telephone calls using the city’s computer network, instead of Telkom lines. I hear that the municipality is already saving millions a year by routing its internal calls over its own network.

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