Rwanda plans to connect three million people to the World Wide Web as part of the "Internet for All" project.
The project is a World Economic Forum initiative that aims to connect 25 million new Internet users in Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda by 2019.
This goal will partly be achieved by addressing the challenges of affordability, digital skills gap, lack of local content and limited infrastructure, which are hindering growth in the use of Internet across the region.
“All those challenges are present in Rwanda, but the country has made great progress in infrastructure,” said project head Eric White.
Internet penetration stands at 37 per cent, which translates to around four million users.
Data from the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) released last year shows the geographic coverage of 3G by MTN was at 75 per cent; TIGO 16 per cent; and Airtel at 17 per cent as of June 2016.
Meanwhile, the 4LTE wholesaler Kt Rwanda network recently announced the 4G geographic coverage was at 62 per cent of the population, but there are no recent statistics on 4G users.
Officials said that as part of the Internet for All project, they are now focusing on digital literacy, connectivity and access to devices.
A pilot of “Smart Villages,” which involves ISPs working with service providers and digital literacy trainers to provide Internet connectivity to rural communities was launched in Rwanda recently.
While the new initiative could increase Internet users in rural areas, what remains to be seen is its scalability. “If the project is successful, it will be piloted across the country,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Minister of Youth and ICT at the launch.
A similar initiative known as “digital ambassadors,” which focuses on digital skills, was launched in February. It aims to provide basic digital literacy skills to five million people.
Rwanda Today learned that only 23 per cent of people in Tumba — the pilot smart village — own phones, which reflects the significance of affordability to increase access.
“The cost of smart devices are a bit high, but as competition increases the prices will go down,” said Fabrice Dukuze, secretary-general of Internet Society (ISOC) Rwanda chapter.
According to Mr Dukuze, when more manufacturers and device sellers join the local market the prices will go down.
The connectivity gap represents a $200 million opportunity in Rwanda for device vendors based on a price of $50 per device.
Affordability has also been linked to high data costs that lock out many users in urban and rural areas.
This has also been reflected in a higher phone penetration rate of 79 per cent than Internet penetration, which is at 37 per cent.
In the region, Kenya had the highest penetration rate at 82 per cent while Uganda and Rwanda were at 37 per cent and South Sudan at 16 per cent in 2016.
Source:The East African