THE Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has rolled out over 146 community information centres (CICs) throughout the country courtesy of the Universal Service Fund (USF).
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
Potraz director-general, Gift Machengete, told NewsDay recently that the programme was part of the authority’s strategy to promote universal access to broadband services to boost socio-economic development.
“To date, the fund has been used to roll out over 146 CICs throughout the country. Among those completed, eleven of them have been offering free computer appreciation courses to local communities,” Machengete said.
“The number of people that have received free training in the CICs is over 9 000. This figure excludes schools that have approached us to have their pupils trained in computers over weekends.”
Machengete said they had rolled out 33 CICs in the Matabeleland provinces, 12 in Matabeleland North, 11 in Matabeleland South and 10 in Bulawayo.
“So far we believe the programme is changing the lives of people in that it has increased access to the internet, in particular in remote areas where there is no mobile internet coverage,” he said.
“Thus, it has exposed many people to the internet, with thousands of them benefiting from the free training in computer usage that comes with the programme. This has helped to increase awareness and digital literacy, which are pre-requisites for adoption and use of the internet.”
Machengete said the initiative has demystified the internet and generated a lot of interest and awareness of what the internet could do to change people’s lives.
“The expectation is increased use of the internet, which will help generate more traffic and content, both which are important in attracting more investment and innovation in the provision and consumption of ICT services,” he said.
In terms of service affordability, Machengete said Potraz continues to monitor tariffs charged by operators to ensure affordability for consumers and viability for operators.
“As you may be aware, Potraz recently implemented the long run incremental costing model results, which saw a downward review of tariffs for the benefit of the generality of Zimbabweans,” he said.
Recently, Potraz cut out-of-mobile data charges to five cents per megabyte from 12,5 cents, while the national interconnection rate went down from four cents to two cents per minute.
However, this comes as the Potraz first quarter report for the year found that the mobile penetration rate decreased by 18,1% to 84,6% from 102,7% recorded in the last quarter of 2017.
This decrease followed a 16,8% decrease in active mobile subscriptions.
But the active internet penetration rate increased by 1,3% to 52,1% during the first quarter from 50,8% recorded in the last quarter of 2017 following a 3,6% increase in active internet subscriptions, showing growing interest for internet connectivity.
Meanwhile, the USF is a pool of funds contributed by all Potraz-licensed operators who include mobile operators, internet access providers and the fixed line operator — whose purpose includes funding the development of telecoms infrastructure in the country.
Operators are required to contribute 2% of their annual gross turnover to the fund that was launched in 2009.
Machengete said the underlying concept of universal service was to ensure postal and telecommunications services were accessible and available to all communities, including those living with disabilities, in underserved and uneconomic areas at affordable prices.