When we spoke to the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association (ZISPA) chairman Troy Prinsloo some several weeks ago for the domain registration article, he mentioned that last year Google approached ZISPA with a proposal to have a Google Global Cache (GGC) in Zimbabwe. ZISPA’s response to Google, he said, was ‘no thank you’.
Google cache servers allow YouTube, Maps, Search and content from other Google services to be cached and provided to internet users from local Google servers. In other words when an Internet user in Zimbabwe visits a Google website the content is then stored locally. Now, when another person requests that same content, they get it from the local servers. This results in lower internet response times for ISP customers, international bandwidth savings for the ISPs and more content consumption (translating to more ads served and therefore more revenue) for Google.
So why did ZISPA say no? The answer we’re getting from ZISPA is that we don’t really need GGC.
Asked why they rejected the proposal, Prinsloo told us the following:
Google offered to place a server within our networks to cache YouTube content. We felt that there was not much value in this proposal as ISPs already cache frequently visited sites. The logical place to put such a server would have been ZINX but as it has no Internet connectivity this wouldn’t work.
ZINX refers to Zimbabwe Internet Exchange, a physical networking infrastructure through which local ISPs exchange Internet traffic between their networks. Membership to ZINX is voluntary and the last we heard was that most ISPs are peering through ZINX. Another important thing to note is that the peering is settlement-free, meaning that no ISP pays for traffic exchanged; each ISP gets revenue from its own customers.
We’re explaining this bit on ZINX so we can put into context what one senior executive at an ISP told us when we asked about the rejection of the GGC proposal:
The argument is over international BW (bandwidth). A cache needs good international BW. So who provides? Telone? Liquid? Powertel? Then we the ISPs must pay them. At what rate? What if their BW is too contended? What if I don’t like their price? I get good pricing already.
Also big ISPs would benefit less (since they’d do most downloading) and small ISPs would get a bigger benefit. We already cache a lot on our own.
Google’s Julie Taylor, communications manager for Sub-Saharan Africa wouldn’t comment on the GGC rejection by ZISPA, only saying that “Google is always interested in working with operators to reduce their costs of delivering Google traffic, and to improve performance for their customers. This applies as much in Zimbabwe as across Africa.”
So, there are significant savings on international bandwidth, and significant improvement on Google content load speeds for customers, but ZISPA still feels there’s “not much value in this”. We can’t help think the ‘value’ referred to here just means more profits for the ISPs. It clearly doesn’t refer to value for the customers, or the Zim Internet ecosystem as a whole. And the individual ISPs, the big ones; they feel they’ll end up paying the bulk of the GCC bandwidth costs and that they already do their own caching anyway.
In the meantime, most internet users locally don’t even bother viewing YouTube videos. Viewing heavy content like maps is frustratingly slow. Forget that we have to pay through the nose for international bandwidth that could otherwise be local.
Hey Google, the solution might not lie with ZISPA here. The ISPs don’t control international bandwidth in Zimbabwe. Here, that power lies with what we call Internet Access Providers (IAPs). That’ll be Econet, TelOne and PowerTel. They all have huge international fibre pipes that will handle GGC just fine. Econet needs the demonstration of goodwill and positive PR that’ll likely come from this. The other two are state owned operators and had their international pipes given to them at a very low cost. The three are probably waiting for your proposal as we speak. Give them a call!