Cyberculture and Access in Ghana

29 Oct, 2012

Cyberculture and Access in Ghana

Reginold Royston, Ph.D. candidate in the African Diaspora Program with a Designated Emphasis in New Media

Reginold Royston has been in Accra, Ghana since October 17, 2012. He is doing his dissertation research on Internet access and local cyberculture.

Here are some impressions he has garnered, thus far:

"It exists [Knew that already]."
"It's robust: There's lots of content."
"Access is frustrating."
"Mobile is king. You often get better Internet on your phone than you can through any wireless modem, and it's often easier to tether your laptop into the phone."

As for landlines, as one of the contacts said, "This is just as bad as electricity." ESC, the electric municipal, has been out 5 hours a day for the last week, sometimes 10 hours a stretch. Although this is a bit unusual, last night I could see for miles down a main highway: 'Lights off' everywhere. No electricity has meant little Internet for me.

I've had to jailbreak my iPhone to go mobile, which allows me to have Internet virtually anyway on a pay-as-you go basis. This 'silo' of access is constrained by tool access (you need a decent Internet enabled phone) but more importantly, economic divides. There is a rising middle class in Ghana, but the overwhelming majority makes little more than $1/day. The cheapest denomination of cell phone credit refill is ~$0.50. Using your phone to access the Internet in Ghana is probably the easiest way to get online, but it costs in the moment.

The verdict for me is out whether home-based landline is the most cost effective form of access: tenuous electricity and bandwidth has been a chief complaint among my research contacts here. Even Ghana's famed Internet Cafes, bandwidth creeps along at mind-numbing speeds.

That said, the Social Media interest is phenomenal: Politicians and talk hosts use Google+ Hangouts to bring international conversations over the local airways; nurses and admin workers live double-lives as WordPress celebrities; Some have foregone texting (SMS) completely in favor of instant messenger apps WhatsApp or direct messages via Twitter: These thrive on WiFi and often don't burn up talk-time minutes.

This is day 12 of investigating Internet access and content creation in Accra. I will be in Ghana for 9 more days."

You can follow Reggie for more updates via Twitter: @uncleregis.