Using fast Internet in Ghana without a getting into debt - the pre-pay way


According to development agency IICD, Internet connection is often unreliable, too slow and too expensive. An answer to this problem could be a high quality direct satellite connection but for most project partners, the monthly fees for such connections are too high. The Pay-As-You-Go system used in Ghana could be a solution for these problems.

Pay-As-You-Go is an access model to Internet through satellite that’s already very well known all around the world. It can be found in airports, hotels or large shopping malls in western countries. People buy vouchers to log in to the internet for a certain amount of time or they can use a certain amount of data or time. They then type in the vouchers’ code on their laptop or at a PC on the location and get an indication of how long they can stay online until the card runs out. In Africa there is also a lot of experience with this prepaid model. Particularly in the mobile phone industry prepaid cards are sold frequently and in some cases even electrical companies offer the prepaid service.

Benefits of the system compared to a regular internet connection is that there are no contracts or monthly bandwidth obligations. The users can determine how much they use the internet and pay accordingly. This means that there is no chance of getting into debts and being cut-off. If all the vouchers’ value runs out, it simply runs out. Another advantage is that there is a continuous direct high quality connection that you can use with a voucher. This satellite connection is also very fast because it is direct. The Pay-As-You-Go system offers speeds of up to 512 kilobits per second.

IICD currently uses the Pay-As-You-Go system as a pilot in the Community Information Centre (CIC) leveraging programme in Ghana. In this project 230 centres are built across the country where farmers but also other members of the rural community can access the internet. IICD supports ten of the Community Information Centres. The centre in Salaga, a city in the northern region of Ghana is the first of the CICs to use Pay-As-You-Go. Salaga’s Community Information Centre has a satellite dish that receives the signal for the internet connection. This signal is then spread out to six smaller centres of local organisations. The signal can also be received outside of the centres with a laptop. So if a user of a laptop has a voucher, he or she can also log in while sitting outside.

The members of the organisations can buy vouchers at the CIC in Salaga. The CIC buys the vouchers from a internet company and sell them for a slightly higher price. Members of the smaller centres use the vouchers to log in to computers in their own centre or sometimes even on a laptop. With the voucher it is not only possible to surf websites and check and send emails. It is also very popular to use the vouchers for free-of-charge Internet phone programs such as Skype.

There is a wide range of different vouchers available, starting from Internet for just half an hour up to Internet access for a year. The duration time of these cards is based on ‘normal’ data use. So if just emails are sent and websites are visited, the voucher will last as long as it says it will, but if websites are visited where videos have to be streamed or music or movies are downloaded, more megabytes are used and the card will last shorter. To give an idea: a one year voucher costs US$600 and has a data limit of 15,000 MB. With 1 MB one can send about 2 to 3 emails or look at about 10 web pages.

Watching a video on YouTube will use about 2.25 MB per minute. Downloading a music CD though costs about 50 MB and a regular movie will cost at least 700 MB. This also makes clear, that if the CIC internet connection is used for downloading movies daily, then the one-year voucher will not even last one month. The advantage of a system that works with data use is that it ensures that users have a good sense of how much data they are using. Especially in a country with little access, it is crucial that people are aware of the costs of internet and how they use it.

A disadvantage of the Pay-As-You-Go system is that a user can only see how much bandwidth he or she consumes and how many minutes are still on the card when logging in and out. This however counts for little compared to the advantage of not having to pay a monthly fee. Another issue to keep in mind is that it is quite expensive in the beginning to set up the pay-as-you-go system. It requires an expensive satellite, equipment and ICT support. When implemented correctly this does not have to be a problem though. The more locations participate in the system, the cheaper it gets because then also new customers will use the system. With the money that will be made eventually also someone can be hired for continuous ICT support. This saves the costs of constantly hiring external ICT specialists. The lack of capable ICT support locally is another challenge of this system.

IICD has paid for at least a half a year worth of vouchers for the CIC in Salaga. IICD has bought 200 vouchers of 30 minutes and 180 vouchers of 60 minutes and one voucher of a year. The one year voucher was used by the CIC themselves for activities such as giving courses to teachers, providing information to the general public about governmental regulations and to sell farmer market price information. The Community Information Centre in Salaga has already bought a new batch of vouchers. The CIC uses the vouchers for their own Internet purposes as well as sell them against a higher price to the members of the local organisations. Since the centre in Salaga is an IICD pilot, it is closely monitored and could also be a solution to connectivity problems or high costs for some of IICD’s other partners.