If you’re in Uganda, chances are you can’t read this Medium post written by my friend and Ugandan developer, Mwaka Ambrose:
Today morning as i was on my way to work, a friend i was traveling with asked me about yesterdays football scores, as you would imagine, he was holding his phone, and I got baffled and asked, you seem to be online, why don’t you give it a google search? and yes you guessed it, he was using a social pack.
These social packs Mwaka is referring to are described by his friend:
“There is something about the bundles” one of my friends attempted to explain. Its cheap and gives you access to WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
Most Ugandans can’t Google to learn that Facebook owns both WhatsApp and Instagram. These social media bundles are about half the price of regular data bundles and are being sold to people who don’t know they’re getting less than half the Internet.
The lack of net neutrality in developing countries is felt immediately by those who, like Mwaka and the team at Ensibuuko, are trying to build technology to educate, entertain, and improve the lives of their friends, families, and communities:
My frustration is, it’s very hard to get any app to succeed when social bundles are still around. No matter how great your idea is. To succeed, you either pivot or build what works with social bundles. It’s the bitter frustrating truth that led me to building my Kanamo app as a facebook bot. I saw some growth there. But who am I kidding, the bot experience is not as nearly nice as the android app.
That last sentence gives me pause when I consider the attitude I and other iOS users have toward Android. But even more importantly, this is having a direct impact on the viability of Ugandan-founded tech startups and the impact they could have on their communities.
I saw the impact of this first hand while traveling throughout Uganda. Microfinancing institutions throughout the country rely on very unreliable electricity and Internet services to manage the finances of their communities. Not to mention the $1k USD we paid at our own office for a 1.5 MBPS connection shared amongst a dozen employees.
The chances that a corporation like Facebook or the Ugandan government will do anything to improve this situation are slim to none.
My hope is that by talking about it here, I can let my friend Mwaka and others know that I am thinking deeply about this problem and hope that together we can find a better solution.