UCC at 25: How shall we pay for our more connected life?

David Birungi, Public Relations Manager at Airtel Uganda.
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This year marks 25 years since the reforms that have progressively transformed the communications sector in this country. We join in celebrating the Uganda Communications Commission that has presided over most of these reforms, some bad, most of them transformative.

David Birungi, Public Relations Manager at Airtel Uganda.

In 1989 when Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the web, the NRM/A was still reorganizing the country and the Uganda Posts and Telecommunications (UP&TC) service was still for the privileged few.

That has since changed. We are connected in many ways than before but we need to include in many more people, faster. This connected life of office-on-the-go, Work from home or the farm, blended classrooms and content creation cost money. Money necessary to build the necessary data transmission infrastructure to deliver information and opportunities, in real time, 24/7.

The world wide web, or the transmission control protocol (TCP)or Internet protocol (IP) or internet was originally a resource funded by taxpayers, R&D funds for exclusive and privileged use by the technological, academic and military elites to discreetly communicate as they should. We now have to fund it through cost-reflective pricing. That pricing varies from country to country.

According to the latest Market Report by UCC, there has been a 14% growth in internet connections by a factor of 1.7 to 27Million (March 2023). In the same report it says mobile internet traffic grew 51%. The average cost of a Gigabyte is UGX 2000/-. This cost is supposed to progressively go down. What builds into this cost? The data size, rate of data transfer, the average cost of the infrastructure built to transfer this data come top.

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At the turn of the millennium, Makerere University students, who I was proud to be part of, had no more than 10 internet connections; a dial-up connection at the library, another in the senate building (4th floor), another at CCE’s African Virtual University and the institute of applied statistics and computer studies. Rank Consult was teaching civil servants how to create folders, and open/close text format documents using Ms-Dos.

This set up wouldn’t be complete without a floppy disk. It was a paltry 1.44MBs.

Without getting into the technical build of the internet, it is a network of computers that share information amongst themselves at the request of the internet users. That’s how the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) come in, as couriers of these information requests and services. They replaced the diskettes- the couriers of information of old. Most of these requests are happening using the smartphones, laptops and other consoles. Their unit of measure of a file size remains the Megabyte (MBs) and the speed is measured as the megabit per second (mbps).

The internet users are people who are mobile. It is this mobility and the innovative ISPs that enables us to live a more connected and productive life. It costs money. Money to develop Mobile App, maintain servers and ISPs network. Let’s stay with the ISPs. Internet Service Providers measure the weight of files, the same way traditional couriers measure envelopes. They do it to the last byte, gram if it is an envelope, so that they can accurately deliver on their promise charged per byte or gram.

Traditional couriers will measure the weight of the envelope and make a promise on how fast the package will arrive at the destination. ISPs will also measure the file size because it is this size that determines the investments, they must make to able to courier the internet traffic.

Some internet traffic is required really fast, and ISPs, globally, have developed the capability to deliver very fast speeds and charge for it instead of file sizes.

What about Cloud Services?

Sir Tim Bernes had to write a sticky note with the words “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER DOWN!”. Servers do not power down. When they do, we do not notice the changeover from one to another. Cloud services are built to securely enable our mobile lifestyles. Our mobile smartphones constantly check-in with the servers the same way our parents opened their post office boxes to check for new letters.

The most common cloud service in our digital lives is the Google based phonebook. If you save a phone number in your google phone book, it immediately becomes available to your next device.

Streaming services, educational hubs content, online collaboration services, most gaming services depend on the good functionality of cloud services couriered by ISPs.

In order to progressively reduce the cost of our connected lives in business services, smart homes, car tracking or movies on-the-go, there are a few suggestions. We can connect as many people to the internet and reduce the average cost. We shall continue to engage the Uganda communications commission to lead engagements on all viable affirmative action on this.

We shall continue to educate everyone on the useful and affordable ways to utilize our connected lives. Let’s start with the measurement to the last byte.

Viva to another 25 years!

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