POTRAZ has disclosed that they have made $120 million from the Universal Service Fund since its inception back in 2009. They have also made an extra $10.6 million from interest on investments, thus the total funds from the USF amount to $130.6 million.
POTRAZ’s Director General, Gift Machengete also made it clear that the collections made before the multi-currency era (2009) were rendered meaningless. Though the figure seems impressive at face value the Director-General made it clear that these funds were actually not enough since the country had huge demands for universal access to communication.
The Universal Service Fund is a pool of funds contributed by all operators licensed by POTRAZ – mobile operators, Internet Access Providers and the fixed line operator- and part of its purpose is to fund the development of telecoms infrastructure in the country. Operators are required to contribute %2 of their annual gross turnover to the fund.
Allocation of funds
Dr Machengete also addressed what the money has been used for. He noted multiple projects that have benefited from the USF though the actual figures invested into these were not specified.
Community Information Centres (CIC)
Money has been allocated to CICs -these are meant to further the knowledge and appreciation of ICT throughout the country. Thus far, over 80 Community Information Centres have been opened whilst more are expected in the coming months.
The Telemedicine project is supposed to link clinics to district hospitals, district hospitals to provincial hospitals and provincial hospitals to referral hospitals. Under this program, health institutions in Manicaland are said to be linked to Parirenyatwa in a pilot project before they roll it out “in the near future as more resources become available.”
Government e-learning programme
The director general noted that the USF has been used to invest in internet in schools, computers and training to educational institutions with a bias towards the underserved areas.
The funds has been used to construct base stations in remote areas. For 2018, POTRAZ said they will develop 250 base stations and it will be interesting to see if they can meet the target they set for themselves.
The issue of use-cases
Investing in things like Telemedicine could be a stroke of genius on the part of POTRAZ because this adds to use cases for the internet in Zimbabwe.
We have talked about the fact that people in Zim don’t use the internet; they just use Whatsapp alone. Maybe the reason why people don’t use the internet is because there are no solutions focused on them as users (or maybe there’s no exposure). Hopefully, solutions like telemedicine will increase demand for internet which ties in well with POTRAZs mandate.
If indeed these projects are rolled out and demand for the internet increases this also incentivises the telcos to develop infrastructure which ends up being a win-win for everyone involved.
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