Where on earth is Africa’s internet?
For a long time, there was little content hosted in the African continent. Almost all the popular websites were hosted in Data Centers in Europe and North America, making Africa a data desert. Accessing the internet from Africa depended on the state of international cable providers who would route the data from other places and deliver it to user in Africa, often taking a long time. Consequently, the internet was always slow.
This was documented by a number of people. In 2015, David Weekly noticed that Facebook, Apple and Google were being served from Europe. A 2012 study showed that only 0.27% of the world’s top 1 million sites are hosted in Africa. A 2018 study by Afrinic showed that 85% of news websites in Africa are hosted outside the countries where they belong, usually in Europe and the US.
While the situation has been improving, the above statistics are still relevant and a good pointer to what is happening today. Most of the websites accessed from Africa are still hosted in other continents, and this comes with a myriad of challenges. There is high latency which makes the internet ‘slow.’ There is also capital leakage because Africans are paying for those services in other places while the infrastructure remains underdeveloped in Africa. Also, the cost of accessing the internet is high because of paying for the international bandwidth.
This points to the need to solve this problem and bring Africa’s data home. In the report by Afrinic, one of the suggestions put forward is to incentivize investments on data centers and web farms in Africa. This would help get African websites hosted in Africa, or get Africa’s internet home.
Bringing Africa’s Internet Home
Several firms have taken up the challenge and the problem is getting the attention it deserves. The number of data centers in Africa has been increasing, with South Africa leading the pack. The number of Internet Exchange Points in Africa has also increased, making it easier to exchange traffic locally. Several international players have also set foot locally, especially by use of Content Delivery Networks.
The battle is not yet over, and one thing that is still in short supply is affordable data centers in Africa. We need more investment in these, especially ones that take into consideration Africa’s need and unique dynamics. Africa’s internet should be in Africa.