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Opinion: It is time to treat the internet as a utility

Jun 11, 2021
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By Loren Bosch

The Internet has transformed many aspects of our lives today and continues to disrupt our normal way of doing things. It has made the world “smaller” and enhanced access to things like information and new opportunities.

The Internet has become such a fundamental part of our lives and it, therefore, becomes hard to imagine our lives before it or even the fact that there might be companies in the world today that do not use an element of digitisation in any part of their business processes.  Kenya has one of the most progressive ICT sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa that has enabled growth while creating new opportunities for consumers and businesses alike.

Indeed, according to the World Bank, Kenya’s ICT sector has been growing at an average of 10.8 percent annually since 2016, becoming a significant source of economic development and job creation with spill over effects in almost every other sector of the economy.

However, the big question is, how do we ensure that Kenya is ready for the new world ahead? Kenya’s progress has been made possible by a vibrant culture of innovative entrepreneurs already creating and leveraging various emerging technologies to bring new opportunities, all thanks to a robust ICT sector. And whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated various transformations, Kenya and the rest of the world were already preparing for scenarios such as the future of work or the future of learning among other sector-specific predictions.

Therefore, since capacity is a non-issue, the next issue to address then becomes; how best to utilise abundant infrastructure to ensure maximum efficiency. The answer to that is not a simple one, but one that is actually philosophical. Is it time for businesses to start consuming the Internet like a utility rather than a commodity? This is because, for most businesses, the internet has become a tool for survival in the contemporary world we find ourselves in today.

 Simply, the internet is a necessity, like power and water, and therefore needs to be treated as such. To support this fact, an American 2020 Consumer Reports survey found that four out of five (80 percent) consumers believe broadband service is as important as water and electricity.

Whereas many might dismiss this position by saying it ignores the huge private investment in innovation that has made the Internet so powerful, maybe we need to demystify what is envisioned in making the internet a utility.

The best way to break this down is to imagine a world where your internet service delivers exactly the amount of bandwidth your business needs, based on your fluctuating requirements during a given month and not on throughput-based limits of affordability constraints. This would revolutionise consumption and business efficiency significantly by not only reducing wastage but ensuring transparency and effectiveness in the way the internet is used in a business environment.

The World Bank estimates that a 10-percentage-point improvement in broadband penetration increases Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 1.3%. Therefore, the question about the importance of connectivity in business goes out of the window. Businesses then need to change their commercial models of consumption. For example, by moving away from paying for 10 megabits per second monthly to a model that allows flexibility in that speeds or cost is determined by the business itself in the form of utilisation.

This mind-shift from the throughput model to a utilisation one should take the model of specialisation or “hyperspecialisation” as it is commonly referred to today. This means that as businesses become more efficient and profitable in the goods and services they produce, they shouldn’t need to worry about simple snacks in the office for example. In the same way, they do not worry about producing the electricity that runs their laptops or lighting or running water and its complex supply chain.

This is the same way businesses should view the internet. The Internet is a utility meant to support business operations. In Kenya today even with the progress made to make the internet accessible, many businesses still find themselves in circular arguments with their suppliers over throughputs such as costs or speeds thereby wasting time that could have been otherwise used more productively in the core business. It is therefore apt for the businesses in the country to shift mindset and move to service providers who break these complexities in the internet consumption. It is a sure way to ensure utilization takes precedence. That way Kenya will continue being the Silicon Savannah as well as Sub-Sahara’s leading business hub.  

Loren Bosch is the Chief Operating Officer at Echo Kenya.

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