Monday, August 17, 2009

African Countries Push for Mobile & Internet Growth In Rural Areas

Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria are among the countries in Africa that say they are making a determined push for rural mobile-phone and Internet connectivity.
After years of failed promises, African countries now seem poised to heavily invest and ensure that in rural areas more people will be able to use mobile and Internet services.
For more than 10 years, mobile-phone and Internet communication in Africa has been concentrated in urban areas. But because the mobile and Internet markets in towns have become saturated, operators in Africa and governments are moving to rural areas, where millions of people are still not connected to mobile and Internet services.
It is also expected that the rural business community will now be able to get market information on mobile phones and sell products online.
The Zambian government has said it has set aside more than US$10 million for cell phone connectivity throughout the country, while the federal government in Nigeria has directed operators to invest in the National Rural Telephone Project. The government is expected to spend more than $150 million on the program.
Zambian Vice President George Kunda said the Zambian government is now determined to facilitate the existence of a mobile network throughout the country.
Kunda said the Zambian government wants to give priority to cell-phone accessibility in rural areas to allow people to communicate everywhere at anytime. The Zambian government has acknowledged for the first time that many people in rural areas are not able to access mobile-phone services that service providers in the country are offering.
"There is need for people in rural areas to start using mobile phones to access other services, such as the Internet, to enable them to obtain vital information as well as get connected to the rest of the world," said Zambian Minister of Communications and Transport Geoffrey Lungwangwa on Aug. 12.
The Rwandan government has also said it has secured information and communication technology (ICT) buses for the ongoing e-Rwanda project that is aimed at taking Internet connectivity to people in rural areas. In a more publicized move to take ICT to people in rural areas, the Rwanda Development Board in charge of ICT (RDB/IT) introduced ICT buses with telecenters.
The Rwandan government said the move is aimed at bridging the digital gap between the rural and urban areas and comes into force as one of the backbones of the ongoing e-Rwanda project that will see Internet taken closer to people in rural areas.
The ICT buses are also meant to provide additional ICT services that include printing, photocopying, scanning and basic ICT training for people in rural areas. The Rwandan government said this is a pilot phase, which will last for a year -- after which the services will spread to all rural areas throughout the country and provide Internet services to rural schools.
As many rural areas in Africa are not connected to the national grid, the ICT buses have generators to power them. Rwanda's vision is to become the ICT hub in the East African region. The ICT bus innovation comes as an addition to the introduction of 30 telecenters around the country.
Three-quarters funded by the World Bank, the e-Rwanda project has also seen the country introduce telemedicine and e-treatment.
Amos Manyarara, bank communications officer for Southern Africa mobile communications, said providing mobile connectivity to rural areas will increase the revenue base for mobile service providers.
"Rural areas have for a long time been neglected by service providers, and the governments have realized more people in rural areas still have no access to mobile-phone and Internet communication," Manyarara said.
The Kenyan government also has announced that it has set aside 16.3 billion shillings (more than US$210 million) for mobile computers, digital villages and a One Million Computers program. Similar to a cybercafé, Kenyan digital villages are small ICT centers in each parliamentary region that are designed to create business hubs and expand economic opportunities in rural areas.
As in Rwanda, the Kenya program is a partnership with the World Bank, and more than 16 ICT centers have already been rolled out. The One Million Computers program will try to distribute 1 million laptops and desktop computers to university students and people in rural areas in Kenya. The program is designed to work with broadband providers, who are expected to reduce the cost of Internet connections.
Like Zambia, Kenya currently has a computer penetration of less than 3 percent. The Kenyan government is expecting that the One Million Computers program will significantly add to the number of people who will own and be able to use a computer to receive and disseminate information through the Internet.

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