Google in Africa: More Maps content, subsidized bandwidth

Google is opening its first office in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Kenya. Jonathan Thompson of Humanlink flags a really interesting tidbit in an interview by AllAfrica with Google’s new site lead, Joseph Mucheru:

Q: So what’s Google want to do?

Initially there will be three big things. Firstly, we want to optimise the use of Google applications in the region. We already have a lot of customers in the region but further development of the market is hindered by the absence of an international cable offering cheap bandwidth. Google understands that this is an impediment and is willing to go to the extent of buying international bandwidth [so] that locals don’t have to pay the current considerable premium they are.

The second thing they want to develop is their Maps product to make sure it has local information that is searchable and useful.

The third thing is using Google advertising in ways that can help monetize local content. Lots of people have done local content but most times it’s flopped. We hope to show that there’s a way of doing advertising that can support content. If we can do this, it will generate jobs and work.

The info about Google Maps is welcome but not unexpected. The bit about subsidizing access to the web (and thus Google) in Africa is a fascinating idea, and not one I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere. Writes Jonathan:

These developments has serious implications for aid workers who are based in the region. Kenya has long been the hub for South Sudan, Somalia and to some extent Uganda and Ethiopia. Let’s hope they cover South Sudan first. Not sure how they’ll handle the bandwidth issue. With the Google Earth Pro Grants program and increased capacity we’re looking at some substantive changes for the aid community.