So while everyone is excited by the fact that Spotify will soon flip the button and hopefully change our lives the same way YouTube has, the question has moved on to how we are going to pay for the data to stream music. Internet in Zimbabwe remains hopelessly un-affordable and some of us want internet providers to go the bundle route.
That sounds nice and easy. It’s also very familiar territory. We already have all sorts of mostly social media bundles. We are so used to it we don’t even question it anymore. If you want to use WhatsApp without worrying about other apps gobbling your data you just buy WhatsApp daily, weekly or monthly bundles and you are good to go. The same applies to other social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and uhhh Sasai-if that’s still a thing that is.
It’s all very convenient too. You don’t have to worry about which app is chomping through your data. When you buy Facebook data bundles, only the Facebook app can use them, while other apps will be denied access to the internet. The reality however is that bundles often do more harm than good.
First, they turn internet providers into kingmakers instead of them remaining neutral data conduits. By leveraging bundle power they can confer success on an app or condemn it to doom. Take the WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal horse race that is currently ongoing as WhatsApp seeks to impose its new terms on us. The other apps are already at a disadvantage before it begins. Not only does WhatsApp have the incumbency advantage they also have cheap bundles going on for them.
It will be very hard to convince people to switch to Telegram. It’s not just a simple matter of switching to another app. Those making the switch have to contend with the fact that there are no Telegram or Signal bundles. Sure it’s possible to work around this but here is what it would involve:
- The person has to buy pure data bundles which are usually much more expensive
- They also have to find ways to prevent other apps from using up all these data. General bundles can be used by all apps in addition to the app you want to use. Usually, that means installing some sort of firewall and the exact process would depend on whether a phone is rooted or not.
- Then that person has to somehow convince the bulk of the people in their phonebook to do the same thing.
Sure it’s possible but for that to be successful it will take an inordinately more amount of time than it would if we didn’t have service bundles. If these bundles were not a thing this would have happened:
- Data would likely be cheaper than it is right now. There is less public pressure for data prices to fall because internet providers have managed to divide the public into normal data users and WhatsApp users. The bulk of people happy with just using WhatsApp as POTRAZ data has shown for several years running. They don’t care that for some reason internet providers keep charging the same prices for years on end without the prices ever falling even after they surely would have reached a point when they have recouped equipment costs.
- Secondly, people would have either become adept at the art of finding ways to prevent other apps from using up their data to the point where they would be already familiar with firewalls already or data would be affordable people wouldn’t care. Zimbabweans are resilient people familiar with the science of surviving after all.
Spotify bundles will just be more of the bad thing
Spotify bundles if they are introduced will just be more of the same bad thing. I fear introducing them will just entrench the current status quo which I think is a travesty. Internet providers shouldn’t be effectively deciding what services people use. If Spotify bundles are introduced what will all those Apple fanboys who prefer Apple Music do? What about those who prefer Deezer? They will have an unpalatable choice: Fork out more to buy expensive real internet bundles and listen to their favourite app or choose a service they don’t like.
They will now be steered to Spotify because of these evil bundles. In these situations, the internet provider is acting as the arbiter deciding which services people use and which services fall by the sideway. Do we really want to give some big soulless tech company that much power?
What can go wrong? Violating net-neutrality has a way of hurting the local app and tech ecosystem. I always like to point at an entity like Econet that is not content with just providing internet access and communication services. They also want to be a player on the tech scene. Take for example their social media efforts. They want to push people to use Sasai their inhouse chat app and have made a concoction of bundles in such a way as to lure people into using it.
Thankfully they have limited success on that front but not for lack of trying. This is just one example of what can happen. We have also seen eLearning bundles and some educational and “useful” sites receiving zero-rating in the past. All these things seem like wins in the short term but in the long run, they do more harm than good as someone is effectively deciding what you get to consume. The internet should just be made affordable for the sake of both startups and internet users who get to make their own choice on what they want to consume instead of being herded by bundles towards certain services.
Ironically an expensive internet and these bundles are, I think the very reason why local startups in the media space have failed or at least not taken off to the greater heights they were destined to go. Take for example the many music streaming apps including Buddie Beatz (don’t argue with me on the failing part here, I know an app that is not successful when I see one), that have failed to make traction.
Local creators have to fork out thousands of dollars just so they can upload an episode or music track. They might risk this in pursuit of the diaspora market but local consumers usually cannot afford to buy bundles just so they can watch an episode or a music video. Those with normal internet download the video and send it via WhatsApp which is literary the internet for the majority of the people.
This tends to favour external players like Spotify and Netflix. Not only are they quartered in countries where the founders had access to millions of dollars in seed funding they practically live in internet paradise where Gigabit internet costs less than US$100. The consumers and founders don’t have to worry about the internet cost part of the equation at all and once they are established, they click a button and are now available in Zimbabwe.
What do we do? Do we protect our own local startups that are in the same space? No. We actually make things worse by crafting cheap bundles for this big-tech service putting more arrows in its quiver with which eliminate local competition.
Say no to Spotify bundles
Internet providers should find a way to make the internet affordable. The whole internet, not bits off it. We don’t want cheap Spotify bundles, we want cheap internet bundles. Give us cheap unlimited internet. The habit of violating net neutrality must stop. Data prices must fall.
You should check out:
Where we discussed the issue of a Spotify bundle and concluded that a unified Music Streaming Bundle (covering Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify etc) would probably be the best way to go.