If you’re reading this then you have internet access. Count yourself amongst the fortunate in Zimbabwe.
The latest figures from POTRAZ say the country’s internet penetration rate stood at 62.3% in Q3 2021.
62.3% may not sound too bad but consider that over 90% of internet usage in the country is via mobile data and yet only 58.8% of households have a smartphone.
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Most of those households with access to the internet are in the urban areas despite the fact that only about a third of Zimbabweans live in urban areas.
This is the so-called digital divide and we need to be proactive if we are to bridge it.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not the solution
Okay, ISPs will always be a part of the solution but we cannot count on them to initiate anything. The reason why rural communities are left behind is that it doesn’t make commercial sense for ISPs to deploy infrastructure in remote and sparsely populated areas.
Telecommunications infrastructure is expensive to acquire and roll out. So ISPs only look to locations that are densely populated by households that can afford to use the internet.
Unfortunately that means sparsely populated rural areas where the average family earns only US$75 per month will not get any service.
Only smaller and nimbler companies/cooperatives can solve such problems which are beneath the larger corporations Or maybe the govt can too.
The govt to the rescue
The government recognises this and, through POTRAZ, are building base stations in those areas that private entities won’t service.
They tax mobile network operators to create a Universal Service Fund (USF). Then use those funds to deploy infrastructure in those places that it makes no commercial sense to build in.
POTRAZ has built community information centers, distributed computers to schools and hospitals etc too.
However, like in everything else, the best way to connect rural dwellers does not involve the government. We only need the govt to move out of the way and private enterprises and communities themselves can solve the aforementioned connectivity problems.
The Internet Society says:
Community networks (CNs) are networks built in a collaborative, bottom-up fashion by groups of individuals who develop and manage new network infrastructure as common goods. CNs are created by communities or organized groups that decide to share a telecommunications service through their own network. Their infrastructure is built, managed, operated, and administered by a community-driven organization or by a community itself by pooling their existing resources and working with partners to start-up and scale their activities.The Internet Society
We do have a community network in Zimbabwe and it has been hailed as a success. It provides internet access to thousands in Murambinda and surrounding areas. The Murambinda Works project (Vision Internet) has been operational for years and it now covers over 108,000 people who would otherwise have been left behind.
The govt has taken notice and is heeding calls to promote community networks. POTRAZ says they want to open community networks in every province and so are inviting all those interested in solving the connectivity problem to apply.
ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMUNITY NETWORKS – PUBLIC NOTICE
The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe intends to roll-out Community Networks in all the provinces of Zimbabwe. The project involves setting up of one community network in each province.
Community networks are local community driven initiatives to build, control and operate a telecommunications network infrastructure to facilitate digital communication.
By this notice, POTRAZ. therefore invites all members who are interested in setting up community networks and require funding from the Authority to submit their proposals not later than the 5th of June 2022.
WHO CAN APPLY AND WHAT IS REQUIRED?
The invitation is open to any Zimbabwean(s) representing their community who are interested in setting up a community network in their province for the benefit of their local community. Below is a list of requirements that should be contained in the proposal to be submitted to POTRAZ:
-Detailed Technical Design
-A comprehensive business model proposal covering sustainability mechanisms post funding.
-Detailed CVs of critical personnel for the project and possible references
-Skills Development Training (skill transfer proposal)
-Detailed plan on the engagement of community
-Lifetime of Project and beyond
-Partnerships if any
Those willing to participate can submit their proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org , not later than 5 June 2022.Proposals received after this date will not be considered.
For any enquiries and clarifications kindly send an email to the above email addressPOTRAZ
There is profit to be made and problems to be solved so spread the word.