Welcome to Zambia the real africa y’all, and I mean that literally. If by Africa you mean anything that’s backwards and downright corrupt,yep that’s us in HD.
Today I shall share my experiences as an internet user in a country marred by corruption. I remember back in the day when I had my first phone with access to internet in the early years when mobile internet in Zambia was in its infancy,I considered myself one of the lucky ones when back then my wap browser on my sony walkman w5something opened the google homepage. That was like some good 7-8yrs ago not very sure, I was so excited I always depleted my credit downloading java midp apps and games like mxit,migg33,opera and what not, back then as I was dealing with small apps I would say the speed was favourable. I remember thinking mobile internet was superfast when I would get crappy compressed mp3 audios from wapsites like wapos.ru in a matter of seconds if not a minute. So you can imagine my excitement when both MTN and Airtel(Celtel back then) announced beta testing for their 3g networks, so excited I tried my hand at smartphones, my first been N80. But this was a flawed promise on their part as advertisement by both companies after the beta testing was up, advertised speeds we Zambians could only dream of, however, the reality on the ground was congested networks, constant disconnections or dc as they came to be known in the IM rooms of mig33. Installing a 5mb sis file(installer for symbian phones) of a game say Asphalt 2 consumed about 30mbs of data, how you may ask, well mobile browsers back then didn’t have download resume so imagine downloading a file to the point of 98% and disconnection a Zambian internet trademarked skill kicked in,it would mean you would attempt to redownload the disrupted download from scratch(and yes this means you would pay for 30mbs worth of data on a 5mb download). Personally I felt the congestion was a deliberate ploy by these guys to make you spend more, otherwise why else wouldn’t they work on their flawed network? Did I mention they kept increasing price for access to such a crappy thing? However at this point mobile internet speeds where light years ahead of what traditional ISPs like Microlink could provide outside the use of VSat. As traditional ISPs lost more clients to mobile networks who were now taking over desktop internet provisions via Huawei mobile dongles, traditional ISPs were forced to up their game.
Microlink and Coppernet introduced Zambia’s first true broadband speeds, though these again were marred by bad network and service provision, it was not as bad as mobile internet(who’s proprietors had grown arrogant due to their large customer base and with no functional regulatory body). Along came iConnect a vodacom sister company we thought alas a savior has come to rescue us from this nightmare we call Zambian Internet which implied high prices,bad customer service, bad reception and also very expensive hardware you could not recycle once you switched to another ISP. iconnect came with promises like its friends, did it deliver? No and yes, speeds were slightly higher than the rest but so was its downtimes, if there was a service that was more often down than up it was iconnect, personally the name “iconnect” started to look like a typo for disconnect. And yes these guys were more arrogant than the mobile networks, I remember having to pack my very expensive outdoor hardware due to their impossed $100 indoor 4g modems with speeds of edge not 3g yet carrying the label 4g. Zamtel our para-statetal ISP I didn’t mention till now because they were in the stone ages while their friends innovated their terrible services upped their game by introducing Zambia’s first publicly available fiber network. Speeds were impressive, atleast from what I observed from a friend using the service, so knowing my work required me to have a stable home connection I opted to part ways with iConnect and go with Zamtel. It been Zamtel I had to apply for the service under the brand adsl, I applied in 2013 January,my application only got confirmed in July 2014, paid for everything when I was allowed to pay and that was August, as I write this in September, am still waiting for Zamtel’s stone age service people to realise they have a bitter client here still waiting to be connected (considering they promised to connect me a week after I made payments). Made several trips to their offices asking if someone can activation my connection, and now the employees say I lack patience because apparently 3weeks of waiting to be connected after you paid for a service down there at Zamtel isn’t a long time. Oh and no refunds, so I have to stick it out and wait till the deem me worthy to be connected to a service I paid for ions ago. Microlink is my next stop after I ditch Zamtel, hopefully they are better now, but unlike the rest, eventhough service was bad I would say it was the most stable. Did I mention MTN and Airtel will charge you $11 monthly on advertised blackberry service for email, but once you pay, it takes Airtel to download a 6mb email attachment 4hrs and MTN 8hrs. So if I use the blackberry service for work, what time do I respond to my boss on the attachment he just sent me if it takes me that long to download it? We have a wannabe regulatory body called ZICTA that’s supposedly meant to police these ISPs so as they provide a better service to client, but other than ask for sim registration, they are idle to the cries of the Zambian internet client.
I have made an inside joke for all those internet service provider frustrated geeks like me out there: “China,Russia and Turkey block users access to internet via firewalls, to silence them on their free talk on political matters, if those users where in Zambia, the government wouldn’t even need to spend large amounts of money and effort putting up firewalls, the users would all be frustrated to death by the horrible internet.”
Good day and thanks for reading my very long angry letter.