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New study reveals widening digital divide in Kenya

Bitange-Ndemo

Information and Communications PS, Dr Bitange Ndemo says while this phenomenal growth of the ICT sector is envisioned to serve as an engine for economic growth in the 21st century, it may also if not properly managed, create a disparity between those without and those with access to the ICT infrastructure and services.. Photo/FILE

Kenya risks widening the digital divide among its masses unless ICT infrastructure is evenly distributed across the country.

A new ICT access gaps study indicates that despite Kenya’s rapid ICT growth there is danger that some sections of the masses, especially in rural areas, could be left behind.

Speaking on Tuesday during the launch of the study in Nairobi, Ministry of Information and Communication Permanent Secretary, Dr Bitange Ndemo said Kenya must leapfrog from agricultural production based economy to a knowledge –based economy through deployment of basic infrastructure, including electricity, for widespread of ICT services.

“While this phenomenal growth of the ICT sector is envisioned to serve as an engine for economic growth in the 21st century, it may also if not properly managed, create a disparity between those without and those with access to the ICT infrastructure and services,” said Dr Ndemo.

The PS revealed that the laying of National Optic Fibre Infrastructure (NOFBI) has been completed but the project was based on the old administration boundaries system which had not taken into consideration the devolution of resources to county governments.

Dr Ndemo said plans are afoot to ensure expansion of ICT infrastructure to all sectors of the economy through the Universal Access Fund, created via the Kenya Information and Communications Act.

“This fund will not only leverage operation in high cost areas but also support capacity building and innovations in the sector…the constitution (new) provides for devolution of resources and universal access to ICTs shall without doubt demonstrate the government’s commitment to providing services to all Kenyans irrespective of status and geographical location,” explained Dr Ndemo.

Dr Ndemo said nomination to the Universal Service Advisory Council (USAC) is at a advanced stage and the ministry shall gazette the names in the next two weeks thus all licensees should contribute to the fund to enhance its operations.

Prepared by Apoyo Consultoria for CCK, The gaps study provides an operating manual for the fund as well as access gaps model for calculating subsidy levels in areas that require financial support and interventions.

“This creates a sense of transparency and accountability in utilization of public funds and boosts stakeholders’ confidence in decisions made by the regulator.”

The study shall provide the building blocks for the development and implementation of the broadband strategy in the country
To comply with the requirements of the new constitution, said Ndemo, it is important to re-evaluate the routing of NOFBI to ensure that all regions are properly irrigated by this telecommunication life line. At the moment 16 counties headquarters do not have access to optic fibre infrastructure.

“The country also needs to develop a pool of ICT skilled manpower right from primary school to institutions of higher learning. In addition we need to nurture a content development industry that can generate sufficient transaction based ands media based content including e-commerce, e-learning, e-government on the one hand and movies, videos and other documentary programs on the other,” said Ndemo.

Dr Ndemo said the ICT sector has a critical role to play in accelerating the transformation of Kenya into a rapidly industrializing middle income nation by 2030.

Broadband shall provide the much needed interface between the telecommunication and postal/courier industry. As the data infrastructure and services continue to grow, the postal and courier industry shall provide the last mile connectivity by undertaking home delivery of goods transacted through e-commerce.

“I am therefore challenging the regulator and other stakeholders to commence on the development of home address system for the country.

This will ensure that the postal and courier sub-sector remain relevant and part of the bigger information and communication family,” he said.

The PS called on CCK to develop an interconnection framework for postal and courier services in the country to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.

“They will not only reduce the operational cost but also create an elaborate an efficient and effective postal and courier system that will in the long run attract even the Boda Boda riders who we all know can effortlessly navigate through areas with narrow roads and deliver goods to our homesteads.”
Dr Ndemo said the study shall provide the building blocks for the development and implementation of the broadband strategy in the country.

Currently the ICT sector contributes about 2.8 per cent to the GDP and this figure is expected to reach 10 per cent by 2030. This growth will be driven by the rapid uptake and usage of ICT services in the country.

Mobile penetration stands at 65 per cent in 2011 up from 34 per cent in 2007. There are also 10 million internet users today up from 1.7 million in 2007.

Statistics also show that the number of fixed telephone lines has also risen to 380,000 from 260 000 in 2007. Although there were no broadband subscriptions in 2007, in 2011 the subscriptions stand at 85,000.

The number of pot offices has however reduced from 721 in 2007 top 700 in 2010 meaning reliance on letters as a form of communication could be dwindling.
The study reveals usage of Internet stands at below 5 per cent in most counties.