Potraz to deploy USF funds in remote areas
THE Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) says it will continue to deploy resources from the Universal Service Fund (USF) toward improving telecommunications connectivity in outlying areas normally overlooked by mobile network operators (MNOs) over viability issues.
This comes as most local services are now riding on digital technologies for e-commerce activities like purchasing basic commodities, paying bills, and e-government services.
However, a number of outlying areas, especially those on the country’s border, remain underserved by telecommunication operators, as they do not offer good returns on investment.
To address the imbalance, the Government is making interventions to ensure every community has access to ICT facilities and services by channeling the USF resources to establish the requisite infrastructure.
The USF is a funding facility established by the Government to promote universal access to telecommunications services in the country, especially in underserved areas.
In 2018 Potraz said it had US$120 million in the Universal Service Fund, which was introduced in 2009.
In 2022 alone, Potraz rolled out 1 774 Mobile base stations for rural areas under the 2G category, 923 3G base stations and 217 LTE (long-term evolution) category.
It also managed to establish computer labs at over 1100 schools in isolated areas in 2022 alone.
The USF has been used to fund the installation of base stations in remote areas that include Manama and Jahunda in Gwanda, Hangwa, Maitengwe (Bulilima) Maphisa, and Mayobhodo in Mangwe District.
USF has also been used to lay fibre optic from Rutenga to Chikombedzi as part of initiatives to enhance connectivity across the country. The funds are typically financed through contributions from telecommunications service providers and are used to subsidise the cost of providing services in high-cost or low-revenue areas, as well as to fund initiatives to expand access to telecommunications services.
The move is in line with President Mnangagwa’s development agenda of leaving no place and no one behind.
Positioning ICT services high on the hierarchy of basic needs as it has become a necessity in the everyday running of the business.
In an interview on the sidelines of a consumer and community engagement outreach programme held in Kanyemba last week, Potraz deputy director economics, tariffs and competition, Dr Vengesai Magadzire said his organisation would make sure that isolated areas have universal access to ICT services.
“One of the major challenges faced by the Kanyemba community is the lack of infrastructure to do with telecommunications, which is keeping them away from financial inclusion compared to other parts of the country.
“As Potraz we will direct the Universal Service Fund, to ensure that places like Kanyemba, which are remote and possibly may not attract the same kind of investment and attention from MNOs are connected, as Potraz we seek to promote inclusivity through establishing base stations, and also promoting infrastructure sharing in such areas,” said Dr Magadzire.
He said the USF was meant to ensure that all citizens have access to basic telecommunications services, regardless of their geographic location or economic status.
The Kanyemba community engagement which was held by Potraz in collaboration with RBZ, CCZ, and PRAZ was motivated by the need to reach out and improve connectivity and financial inclusion of the underserved areas in the country.
It also sought to increase consumer awareness on cross-cutting matters.
RBZ principal, oversight, projects, risk management and national payment systems, Mr Douglas Muranda said the central bank was doing all it could to ensure that the underserved communities are financially included.
“As RBZ we support the initiatives that enhance connectivity in areas like Kanyemba as it enhances our commitment towards the financial inclusion drive,” he said.
PRAZ finance and administration director, Nora Tome said the authority had joined the consumer and community engagement outreach in Kanyemba as it moved to cast the procurement net to the isolated communities in the country.
“We as PRAZ intend to widen the procurement net to isolated societies, hence educating them on how they can use our portal to register and provide goods to the Government.
“Fishing cooperatives, arts and crafts from this area have potential,” she said.
ICTs have been identified as a key catalyst in attaining Vision 2030 as they play a pivotal role in enabling socio-economic development which calls for concerted efforts and collaboration in a bid to create an enabling environment for the generality of Zimbabweans.