Zambia and Tanzania have succeeded in pushing mobile service providers to connect their networks to remote rural areas in order to meet the growing demand for inclusive and effective communications.
Both the Zambian and Tanzanian governments are using universal communications access funds to promote rural development of information and technology services. The funds, levied from operators, are allocated to helping carriers provide telecom services in rural areas.
The Zambian government, through the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the country's telecom sector regulator, has initiated the construction of communication towers in rural areas of the country for mobile Internet and mobile money services.
Huawei Technologies Zambia has been awarded the contract to construct 169 shareable towers, which will be used by the country's three mobile operators -- MTN, Airtel and Zamtel. The operators will be charged fees by ZICTA for using the towers.
"The coming of the communication towers will provide business opportunities for people in rural areas. I urge women and youths to seize those opportunities and engage in business," Zambian Vice President Guy Scott said in a statement.
The towers are being constructed at an estimated cost of US$24 million and are expected to be completed by October this year. The first tower to be constructed has gone live and people are already using it.
Since deregulation of the country's telecom sector in 2004, Zambia has witnessed significant growth in the information and communication sector, with the number of mobile subscribers reaching about nine million out of a population of 14 million people.
Despite the liberalization of the sector, however, access to communication services is mainly confined to residents in urban areas and along the railroad lines, leaving out rural areas.
The Tanzanian government, meanwhile, has signed contracts with mobile service providers with the intention of allowing them to expand their networks to rural areas and over four million people who are currently unconnected. As a way of enticing mobile operators to expand their services to rural areas, the Tanzanian government is subsidizing the building of networks. Among other incentives, the government has waived the cost of importing telecom equipment.
Operators have agreed to expand their networks to rural areas, said Tanzanian Minister of Communication, Science and Technology Makame Mbarawa.
"We have been signing contracts with them. We are giving them subsidy to provide services to rural areas," Mbarawa told Computerworld Zambia.
The moves by Tanzania and Zambia follow unwillingness by operators in the region to expand their services to rural. The operators have claimed that it would take years to recoup their investment in telecom equipment because rural areas are not large sources of income.