Universal access to all a possibility – ZICTA
FOR rural dwellers, owning a mobile phone and effectively utilising it for its intended purposes might have seemed like a far-fetched dream years ago. However, the situation has changed for the better because what could have been considered a luxury then, is now a necessity.
Although, not many in the rural areas can testify to accessing Information Communication and Technology (ICT) services as much as those in the urban areas, it is undisputed that those who do have unlimited access to ICT services and facilities than they did several years ago.
Mobile network connectivity has become a necessity in rural areas and it has proved that mobile phones can indeed enhance development. It offers several mobile internet services ranging from social, education, health and finance.
For the farming community, all it takes is a simple text message to the Zambia National Farmers Union in Lusaka to find out the floor price of any crop including maize.
This has enhanced their lives as they do not have to travel to Lusaka to find out the price of various farming products as the recommended prices can easily be availed to them through a text message.
And apart from saving time and transport cost on the part of the farmer, it reduces also chances of them being duped or taken advantage of by briefcase ‘businessmen’.
The Zambia Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), as a regulator agrees that although strides have been made in ensuring universal access of ICTs to all regardless of location, a lot more remains to be done.
This is because ICTs are considered as vital tools and enablers in education, health, e-commerce among other social and economic activities. And in ensuring unlimited access to universal access, ZICTA has been availing various ICTs services and products to the Zambian community.
Under the Act of 2009 section 70, ZICTA has been mandated to promote widespread of ICTs services across the country.
Through Universal access and Universal services, the communication’s authority has been able to implement programmes that assist the institution in meeting its mandate for the intended target.
According to ZICTA, Universal service is the provision of ICTs at household level such as land lines while Universal access is the provision of service publicly shared such as internet café, public payphone among others.
However, it is usually common to use the generic term universal access and service as both UA and US are pursued at the same time.
The three factors that the communications authority considers in fulfilling its mandate include Affordability, Availability and Accessibility.
Affordability entails services are affordable to all citizens, Availability is service made available in inhabited parts of the country through publicly shared or personal facilities. Accessibility entails service is made accessible to all citizens irrespective of location, gender, disabilities and other personal characteristics.
In meeting its mandate of ensuring universal access and service, ZICTA has categorized its targets using two common terms; unserved and under-served areas. Unserved areas are areas with no network or service whatsoever. People in these areas are said to not have access to any ICTs services or facilities.
Under-served areas – areas with partial availability of network or services, i.e. the population in the area is not entirely provided with service conveniently.
Some of the areas which are currently unserved or under-served in terms of mobile telephone service according to ZICTA include some populations in the wetlands in Luapula and Western provinces and the Luangwa Valley.
Zambia may not be on the same level with Western countries when it comes to mobile connectivity, Zambia through the authority seems determined to ensure that it intensifies its measures with focus on mobile phone and internet access.
Programmes being implemented
ZICTA has been working in collaboration with Airtel in putting up towers. Currently, over 130 towers have been mounted across the country.
Additionally, ZICTA has also set up Tele-centres in Mongu, Mumbwa, Mazabuka, Kabwe, Mporokoso, Mpika, Mwinilunga, Mpulungu, Serenje and Petauke. Services offered at these Tele-centres include internet, photo copying, fax, payphones, scanning, basic ICT training and other services associated with ICTs.
In the education sector, the communication’s authority is running a programme of putting up computer laboratories in 148 schools and 47 colleges throughout Zambia.
The objectives of the computer laboratories are aimed at ensuring that pupils have a feel and appreciate the importance of ICTs at an early stage in life. The laboratories for both teachers and pupils will also provide an enabling educational environment for pupils to access study materials on the internet.
With regards to universities, ZICTA has been supporting last-mile optic fibre connectivity to higher learning institutions.
ZICTA has assisted the University of Zambia (UNZA) and Copperbelt University (CBU) with last-mile optic fibre connectivity to the Zambia Research and Education Network (ZAMREN) optic fibre backbone which runs between Copperbelt and Lusaka.
ZAMREN is a non-profit association for tertiary level research and education institutions which collectively intend to secure broadband connectivity to each other, to the dedicated global research and education resources and to the Internet. It also facilitates the sharing of education resources via this dedicated infrastructure of ZAMREN.
Optic fibre connectivity will make it possible for students and academic staff from both the UNZA and CBU to interact and share educational information.
End-to-end optic fibre connectivity between universities will revolutionalise distance learning in that one may attend lectures from another university without physically being in that university through video conferencing.
ZICTA has plans to also connect Mulungushi University and other colleges in Zambia to the ZAMREN optic fibre backbone.
Advantages of ensuring universal access to education institutions
Like many other sectors that continue to benefit from effective and efficient use of ICT services and products to improve lives, ZICTA is optimistic that connecting learning institutions to the internet will impact greatly on the education sector.
Some of the advantages of implementing such programmes are that it will not only enhance the quality of education and improve the standard of living but will also assist in impacting skills and knowledge.
Use of ICTs and access to the Internet in schools will help bridge the gap between urban and rural schools as both will have access to the same educational resources available on the worldwide web.
Usage of ICTs and the Internet shall enhance administration in the schools as management shall take advantage of technology to generate reports e.g. Human Resource and accounts electronically and be able to transit these to a Ministry’s Headquarters via email.
With the aid of the video conferencing over optical fibre networks, staff will be able to speak to a multitude of pupils or students at the same time without physically being there.
The communications authority also hopes that parents and guardians of school-going children will be able to benefit from these programmes as they will not physically have to travel to their children’s learning institutions to collect the reports. Report cards will be sent to them by email thereby saving time, stationery and money.
Source: Daily Mail