Zimbabwe’s information and communication technology (ICT) landscape is undergoing a massive transformation that is bearing fruit. This has been catalyzed by embracing full-scale regulatory reform and infrastructure development drive.
These new steps have been conceived to attract a surge of investment in the ICT sector and exploit the potential of low-cost technologies to provide cheap access to ICTs.The Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe(Potraz) has made it a mandate to ensure that there is nationwide access to ICTs.
Responding to questions during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 2019 Forum in Geneva,Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz)Director General Dr Gift Machengete highlighted how the regulator is consumed with the need to made more areas connected.
“The most affected areas are the marginalized rural communities, which have lagged behind in terms of access and use. To overcome this challenge,Potraz is rolling out various ICT access and use programmes.”
“According to the World Bank,World Development Report 2016, on Digital Dividends indicates that; “even though digital technologies bring benefits to people, businesses, and governments, these benefits are not spreading evenly enough and rapidly enough to allow true global economic growth.” he said.
In a bid promote development of telecommunications services in un-served and under-served areas throughout the country,Potraz has undertaken the Passive Infrastructure project(tower sharing), where twenty (20) Multi Operator Radio Access Network sites have been completed to date.Tower sharing initiatives in the country have seen inadequate activity to date. With increasing competition and growing regulatory pressure, Potraz is challenging all players to embrace the modern way of operating.
The country needs 350 base stations to ensure that all four corners of the country are covered and a partner has since been identified for this project and contract negotiations are underway. The move by Potraz will boost the country’s ICT sector which has witnessed tremendous boom resulting increasingly competitive services as local companies compete for market share in the industry that has been somehow affected by inadequate infrastructure.
“The regulator is also rolling out base stations under a Built Transfer Operate (BTO) model. Here, operators are requested to erect shared towers on behalf of the regulator and then pay reduced annual licence fees in order to recoup their investment. Similarly, the regulator has introduced infrastructure-sharing regulations into the regulatory framework for MNOs to complement this project.” said Dr Machengete.
The application of ICTs in the education sector has been relatively slow and its dangerous given how every learning material is going digital.The internet is another major break through that has resulted in easy access to a huge source of up to date information These are well documented sources in connection with ICTs. These are the areas where ICTs may be considered as store and forward device related to information transfer.To ensure there is more awareness Potraz has undertaken a number of projects that cater for schools.
Dr Machengete also spoke on how the regulator is running an e-learning and schools connectivity programme where to date, it has distributed 4823 computers, 30 servers and 90 printers to 323 rural schools, while a total of 750 schools have been connected.
Rural communities constitute a large group of marginalized communities that are lagging behind in terms of ICT apprehension.The main reasons for this are poor ICT infrastructure in rural areas, poor ICT awareness among agency officials working in rural areas and local language issues.Potraz has set up Community and Containerised Village Information Centres in a bid to create rural access centres and use the medium of ICT to promote community-based ICT initiatives that will promote operational efficiencies delivered through effective and timely availability of information.
“To cater for community members who are out of school, the regulator has set up 145 Community Information Centres and 24 Containerized Village Information Centres. Over 10500 people have been trained at these centres, countrywide, since October last year. To cater for the disabled, the regulator availed customized computer hardware and software to six (6) institutions housing people living with disabilities.”added Dr Machengete.
At the same time, the regulator has been persistently lobbying government to remove or lower excise duty on ICT gadgets especially smartphones. This will improve ICT access and use by the rural communities.
Potraz has supported the National Broadband Plan by embedding Broadband roll-out targets as part of the licence conditions for ISPs.The Plan aims to intensively change the broadband landscape in the country by ensuring that all citizens and businesses have access to high speed broadband no matter where they live or work. This will be dispatched through a combination of State led and private investment and on completion all parts of Zimbabwe will have access to a modern,efficient and reliable broadband network, capable of supporting current and future generations.