Zimbabwe targets to increase internet coverage

By Kenias Chivuzhe

THE need to improve mobile data coverage and affordability took centre stage at an Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Consultative Meeting held in Vumba this Monday.

As the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) revolution continues to gather momentum, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) convened a two-day stakeholder conference in Vumba where the issue of ICT access and affordability was high on the agenda.

Telecommunications Operators Association of Zimbabwe (TOAZ) Secretary, Roy Chimanikire underscored the need to increase investments in telecommunication infrastructure.

“If you look at our digital divide, we have largely covered the country from access to basic services, but the challenge now is access to digital services. Only about three percent of rural population have access to 4G capability that has high internet. So, improving the digital divide includes making sure that we cover the country in terms 4G capabilities. There is need for a tax incentives structure to promote investments in rural areas. In terms of pricing I can boldly say we are the cheapest in the region,” he said.

POTRAZ disclosed that there are plans to improve internet coverage while also considering affordability and business viability.

“Issues of affordability and availability concerns have been in the public domain for a longtime hence the hosting of this stakeholder meeting to deal with the issue. We are bringing competition in the sector by bringing mobile virtual operators. There are at least ten who have applied to be licensed under our converged licensing scheme. In terms of sharing infrastructure there was resistance at first but at the moment there are now 161 sites that are being shared,” said Dr Gift Machengete- POTRAZ Director General.

Deputy Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services Dr Dingumuzi Phuthi stressed the need for collaborative efforts to improve internet penetration, particularly in rural areas.

“The mobile penetration rate now stands at 94.4 percent, while the internet penetration rate stands at 63.1 percent, and it is our hope that we will reach 100 percent internet penetration rate before 2030. In achieving the goal of universality, issues of service affordability and business sustainability become critical. Work is also undergoing towards the deployment of a high capacity 120km fibre backbone link connecting Rutenga to Chikombedzi at a targeted cost of 504 million Zimbabwe dollars. The backbone will allow internet service providers to offer better internet speeds to previously under served areas. Various institutions along the route of the fibre backbone will benefit from the initiative,” said Dr Phuthi.

With ICT being viewed as a catalyst for the attainment of Vision 2030, mobile connectivity has become more of a right than need and dovetails with the government’s drive on inclusive development.