A ‘Pay-as-you-Go’ Credit World
Here in Ghana, the 'pay as you go' business model is primarily used for technology services, in contrast to the Western 'monthly subscription' model. This is due to a combination of two main factors:
- Credit Cards: They're simply not used. Besides at Accra Mall (where everything is brutally overpriced), I've only seen one or two places that even accept them. Without the automatic billing feature, it can be difficult for payment to be reliably collected every month.
- Financial Irresponsibility: Many Ghanaians tend to spend money as they receive it. A large amount of the population lives day-by-day, and doesn't have much (if any) money saved. Having commitments to pay a certain amount every month may not be an option.
In a way, the 'pay-as-you-go' feature is great for the economy because it allows the middleman to flourish. The wireless and electricity companies couldn't dispense credit to everyone, so they instead ship credit wholesale to retailers. Thousands of people in Accra make their living by selling credit.
3 main aspects of Ghanaian life are bought in a 'pay-as-you-go' manner:
While upper-class businessmen sometimes have monthly phone subscriptions, I'd estimate that over 90% of the population recharges their cell phone credit as-needed using scratchcards (see below). This credit is easy to find, with several people on every block selling credit. As if that isn't enough, people also weave in-and-out of traffic stopped at red lights to make sales on the go.As far as costs are concerned, one SMS text message costs 4 pesewas ($0.025), while every minute on the phone costs 10 pesewas ($0.06).
One interesting aspect of this business model is that only the person making the calls uses credit; accepting phone calls doesn't use any credit. When I told Ghanaians that in America both ends of conversations use their minutes, they exclaimed, "Wow – you guys are being double-dipped!"
As good as it may sound, the non-subscription model does 'bite back'. Because customers can switch networks freely, cell phone companies have no incentives to give 'deals' on phones. The phones cost full price, which hurts. The cheapest phone is roughly 45 cedis ($30), while keyboard phones cost a minimum of 110 cedis ($75). Samsung Galaxy phones cost a minimum of 850 cedis ($560).
Internet is usually purchased via a wireless USB modem with a SIM card in it. It is far more expensive (and slower) than American internet; lately I've been lucky to get 100 kilobytes per second.
Following are the current prices for Airtel Internet Bundles:
- 20 pesewas ($0.12) per megabyte; pay-as-you-go
- 1 cedi ($0.66) for 25 megabytes
- 5 cedis ($3.25) for 200 megabytes
- 15 cedis ($10) for 750 megabytes
- 60 cedis ($40) for 4 gigabytes
The reason there was no blog post yesterday is because my internet suddenly stopped working in the middle of writing about kélé wélé. It took 3 hours before I finally got the 'Your subscription has expired' message.
This certainly is the most annoying aspect of living in a 'pay-as-you-go' world. Every time the electricity card runs out of credit, the banshee living in the electricity monitor starts to scream – disrupting my sleep for days. It doesn't shut up unless it is unplugged (and you lose all electricity in your house), or credit has been recharged.
One notable exception to the 'pay-as-you-go' business structure is television cable; Ghanaians never pay. Channels are included with the television, and while there's supposedly an annual 'licensing fee', it's not enforced.