When Google partnered with 21st Century Technologies to begin providing free Wifi in 6 locations at Lagos in July, the promise was that it would spread the service to 200 places across 5 states by the end of 2019.
It seems they have began making good on that. On Thursday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo commissioned a free Google Wifi spot at Wuse Market, Abuja. Laolu Akande, his media and publicity adviser, described it as a “fallout” from the Vice President’s visit to the Googleplex two weeks before the Google Nigeria event where the Wifi project was unveiled.
It's a very exciting day for me, VP Osinbajo says as he commissions Free Wifi in Wuse market, a fallout of his visit to Silicon Valley, US, where he got Google to promise free wifi for Nigerian markets & other public places including airports. Would be in 200 places by next year
— Laolu Akande (@akandeoj) December 6, 2018
During Osinbajo’s July trip to Silicon Valley, he interacted with Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The VP’s conversation with the tech giants, among other things, touched on establishing Google Artificial Intelligence Centers in tertiary institutions in Nigeria as well as a YouTube Creator space. At the time, Osinbajo pledged that the Nigerian government would partner with Google to increase the number of Nigerians in the firm’s Launchpad Accelerator, and Google I/O Developer Festivals.
Access and Affordability
The launch of the Google station in Abuja will serve to improve access to the internet. More importantly, it is a measure that provides a stop-gap relief to the affordability problem for internet users in Nigeria. Broadband access is more affordable in Nigeria than all of Africa, according to the Inclusive Internet Index of The Economist Intelligence Unit. However, the country’s lags behind three other countries in terms of inclusivity., meaning there are gates that stand as barriers for different kinds of people to be able to use the internet. In any case, data is still costly in Nigeria, gulping as much as 30% of an average household’s income. Nigeria ranks a lowly 18th in the 2018 A4AI Affordability report, notably still scoring low on infrastructure.
Breaking the Chain
It is easy to see why Google’s free Wifi project will play a role in providing greater access to the internet. Wuse Market is one of the top two markets in the Federal Capital Territory by size, volume and value of goods traded daily. The place of fast, available internet in modern commerce does not require elaboration, even as social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp increasingly emerge as mediums of transaction. In the my-customer-may-be-on-your-TL age, you want to be easily online to immediately respond when that customer sends a DM.
More Data… For Google
Google Station’s internet speed is nearly 15 times faster than average 1.5mbps of most service providers in Nigeria. Free, fast internet presents advantages for efficiency and turnover for both vendors and clients. There is a slight concern, however; Google requires that every user input their phone number for every connection at a Google station. It is a measure that is line with the company’s strategic interest in growing its gigantic database of information about every human in the world (do Wuse market traders care about this though?).
Without doubt, the new Wifi spot at Wuse market is an investment that makes Google look good. But there is substantial revenue to be generated: Who better to gather data from and target ads at than those actually within an environment where buying and selling occurs in huge volumes daily?
The Cambridge Analytica scandal heightened concerns about data harvesting and user privacy in the world. Hopefully, policymakers and digital advocacy groups in Nigeria remain watchful of what Google is be able to do with the tons of data it will be collecting about Nigerians using its Wifi services.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform