THE POSTAL and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) says it is working on projects aimed at contributing to economic turnaround by promoting universal access and improving the standards of life of people.
BY STAFF REPORTER
Appearing before the Charlton Hwende-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology (ICT), Potraz director-general Gift Machengete said the telecoms regulator was working towards bridging the digital divide by revamping the rollout of network infrastructure in areas that were not yet covered by both 2G and 3G networks.
“So far, 15 shared passive infrastructure base stations have been erected by the Universal Services Fund countrywide and an additional 250 rural base stations would be required in order to achieve full population coverage,” he said.
Machengete said Potraz was establishing community information centres (CICs) to bridge the digital divide and enhance digital literacy by bringing ICTs closer to communities.
“The concept takes advantage of underutilised or unutilised post office space to deploy computers and internet access for use by members of the communities at concessionary rates. Sixty-one CICs are operational, 14 of which offer training services,” he said.
Machengete said containerised village information centres were an extension of the CIC project, which came about following a realisation that most remote rural areas were far from post offices, hence these were being left behind in the CIC project.
He said the Telemedicine Project was aimed at improving on the delivery and provision of quality, cost-effective, affordable and accessible health services, particularly to remote and marginalised areas through e-health solutions.
“The project links 12 remote clinics, two district hospitals and one general hospital in Manicaland to Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals as the hub. With this interconnectivity, patients at remote rural clinics can receive specialised medical attention from doctors in Harare,” he said.
Machengete said 4 579 computers, 30 servers and 90 printers had been disbursed to 313 schools and libraries under the e-learning project to date.
A total of 513 out of a targeted 1 300 schools have so far been provided with internet connectivity and teleconferencing facilities.
However, Machengete said Potraz has not been spared the liquidity crunch and the cash crisis which has led to a decline in consumer spending.
“The average revenue per user per month (ARPU) for the mobile networks has gone down from an average of $4,97 per month in 2015, $4,50 per month in 2016 and $3,98 per month in 2017,” he said.
He said the long run incremental cost studies, which were conducted in 2013 and 2014 and reviewed in 2017, revealed that Zimbabwean operators were being charged higher prices and higher interest rates for telecommunications infrastructure by international telecommunications vendors.
“This largely attributed to the high country risk perception of Zimbabwe as a credit destination. This negatively impacts on operator profitability,” Machengete said.
He said the re-introduction of duty on mobile handsets had the effect of increasing the costs of mobile phones as compared to other countries.
Machengete said this had affected the smartphone penetration rate, which is as low as 26%.
“The introduction of the 5% excise levy on airtime had the impact of increasing the cost of services. The 5% health levy further put a burden on postal and telecommunications users,” he said.
Hwende said Parliament was willing to work with Potraz to ensure the affordability of services.