Interview With Andy Halsall, CEO of Poa!, an Internet Service Provider That Targets Low-Income Areas in Kenya

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Poa! Internet is an Internet service provider that develops and delivers fast, unlimited, and affordable community Internet to low-income areas in Nairobi, Kenya, with the aim of contributing to local, social and economic growth.

As one of Kenya’s fastest growing ISPs, Poa! Internet currently operates in Kibera and Kawangware in Nairobi, Kenya. Poa! Internet’s network is based on WiFi technology. In this interview, poa! Internet CEO, Andy Halsall speaks of the company’s vision, mission and plans for the future.

What inspired you to launch the service?

Our mission from the outset was to move the country’s lowest income communities online, comprehensively and pervasively. In this, low-income communities are not yet well catered for in the data plans offered by the major ISPS in the country. We saw that as an opportunity to provide really affordable unlimited data packages, beginning with tiny packages for the equivalent of around 9 US cents. We provide the unlimited data to these communities through WiFi technology that is more cost-effective than fibre and 4G.

Our business model has been structured in a completely novel way to open up real Internet access to low-income subscribers, building on hotspots that are located in community centers, including at schools and clinics.

What do you do at poa!?

At poa! Internet, we have now deployed over 130 access points in the Kawangware and Kibera slum areas of Nairobi, covering an area that is home to around 1 million low-income residents, of which over 250,000 are smart phone users.

poa!’s service provides unlimited internet plans to the residents of these areas, offering them access from just Sh10 (around 9 US cents) an hour, instead of the traditional data bundle pricing that charges people by the MB.

We have now moved our entire pricing model to unlimited time bundles, now offering hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly unlimited usage.

Your company has set up Internet points in local schools, clinics and community buildings. Are there plans to expand to other areas besides Kibera and Kawangware?

We are in the process of expanding to other informal settlements and rural areas across the country.

What are some of the challenges you faced before, during and after you started poa!?

As expected, we have had to build the confidence of the communities where we operate. Penetrating a market that is monopolized by a single provider is challenging as people have become used to purchasing without question and with limited choice.

However, as our customers have realized we are here to stay and are offering outstanding value we are now seeing  exponential subscriber growth

What makes poa! different from other Internet service providers?

What makes us different from other providers is that we are the most affordable ISP in the country, with our data bundles ranging from as little as Ksh10 ($0.10) per hour to Ksh1,500 ($14.50) per month for unlimited data.

Our concentration to the low-income communities in the country also makes us unique as compared to the other ISPs, as does our model of community-sited hot-spots. No other ISP has gone down this route of embedded community service and unlimited low-price access.

More than two-thirds of Kenya’s population has Internet access though it is somewhat limited. Do you believe that Kenya will have universal Internet access in the near future?

The International Telecommunication Union estimates that less than 25% of Kenyans have regular Internet access. This is even lower in rural communities which are really poorly served by the current suppliers, so there is quite some way to go before there is universal access.

There is clearly demand as usage has been rising steadily, however, in order to achieve universal access Internet needs to be far cheaper than the offerings from many of the current providers and efforts need to be made to provide service to those that don’t live in the main urban areas.

We believe universal access is definitely achievable and we are committed to making Internet access available and affordable to all.

Internet access is sometimes responsible for helping create employment opportunities. Do you believe that your services will have the same effect?

Since we came into existence in 2016, we have won tens of thousands of subscribers in Kibera and Kawangware. With our low-cost data plans, both large and medium-sized businesses have sprung up as a result of this new and better Internet service. We have also received feedback from our customers that our internet has enabled them to acquire more business.

A case in point is that of Alfred Ouma, who owns a cybercafé known as Zabibu Community Centre located in Olympic Kibera area, who has reported that he now receives a minimum of 50 clients a day, compared to the 10 he used to get when using a modem from another Internet provider. His cyber acts as the access point for the surrounding area.

We have also employed more than 60 sales agents from these communities, providing more jobs again.

What are poa!’s plans for the near or distant future?

We are in the process of launching home-based WiFi connections at affordable costs, and moving to our next expansion by area. In the medium term, our goal is to connect millions of people in the rural and urban areas of Kenya.

 

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