prices in Cameroon have fallen more than 90 percent since the beginning of the
year. But some want them even lower. Cyber
cafes dot the streets of Yaounde. Across the country, they are still among the
best spots to get a cheap connection to the Worldwide Web. But because of
falling prices, many people can afford to set up connections in their homes and
offices. The use of mobile phones to access the Internet has also shot up.
Ringo, a new Internetservice provider, estimates that prices have dropped about 90 percent since the start of the year.
The mobile telephone giant Orange Cameroun has introduced a monthly Internet flat rate of about $21, the lowest in the country. Others charge about $50 monthly, down from hundreds of dollars a few years ago. Subscription costs have also fallen by over 50%. The drop in prices is mainly the result of more competitors offering Internet service.
Two years ago, four providers dominated the market, serving mostly corporate customers. Now 25 offer wireless, including the major mobile telephone companies.
New and cheaper technology from China is also helping to push down prices. Cameroon's state-run provider CAMTEL and private provider Ringo both use modems and other technologies made in China.
Journalist Ernest Kanjo relies heavily on the Internet to do his work. Recently he launched an on-line magazine to promote Cameroon's young but vibrant film industry. He welcomes the new Internet rates.
"To do the kind of work I do, you have to spend long hours online," he says. "That means either having the Internet at home or at the office. Since prices started going down, I have been able to set up a connection at home that permits me to work more conveniently. You cannot do a good job from the cyber café because of the noise and other distractions."
Not low enough
But for many others, the cost of accessing the Internet is still too high. Despite the drop in prices, Cameroon has some of the highest rates, compared to other countries with similar economic profiles, like Senegal.
However, many still prefer cyber cafes because they're cheaper, even if it's less convenient to surf in a public place.
Gloria Tata is an unemployed nurse who says she would use the internet more often if prices were lower.
"It is still costly for some of us. The Internet is still more expensive than, say, electricity and water, which are themselves a burden to us," Tata says. "Personally, I would like to make more use of the Internet, but when you have to be careful about your expenses, it is difficult. For now I limit myself to sending and receiving mail. But it could be a valuable tool for research."
Tata is not alone. The high price is not the only problem stopping people from taking full advantage of the Internet in Cameroon. Many, including journalist Kanjo, complain about the poor quality delivered by most providers.
"Even the most reliable service providers suffer frequent drops in connectivity speeds and sometimes total blackouts," says Kanjo. "It takes ages to download or upload large images or video. These are things that need to be looked into."
The Internet was introduced in Cameroon in the mid-1990s. By 2007, the International Telecommunications Union estimated that only 370,000 people, about two percent of Cameroon's population, used the Internet. There were only 200 broadband subscribers. Today, that number is rising. Early this year, Internet service provider Ringo said it had registered 5,000 subscribers after only six months of operation. The company says its goal is to build a world class network within a few years.
But many, like Tata, believe that for that goal to be reached, price will have to go down even lower.