New high-speed Internet plan draws mixed reactions in Rwanda

Friday August 2 2013

Internet users in a cyber café. The government plans to roll out high-speed Internet countrywide. Photo/File

Internet users in a cyber café. The government plans to roll out high-speed Internet countrywide. Photo/File 

By Kabona Esiara Rwanda Today

The government plans to change the broadband policy to boost Internet penetration and bring down connectivity costs by deploying high-speed data transfer technology.

The 4G LTE technology, it says, will be rolled out countrywide.

“The primary objective of the policy is to facilitate accessibility of affordable and reliable broadband services throughout the country,” said Didier Nkurikiyimfura, director-general of ICT in the Ministry of Youth and ICT.

The reforms will see the three telecommunications companies in the country — Tigo, Airtel and MTN — and the nine Internet service providers get broadband at wholesale prices.

The new policy will also emphasise on the need for open access to both the national and privately owned ICT infrastructure, including transmission services and dark fibre access.

This, according to the government, is to avoid duplication of investments in the telecom sector.

Push the penetration rate

Analysts say Internet costs could come down by four times when the country deploys 4G LTE mobile technology, which will be rolled out by a consortium formed jointly by government and a South Korean firm.

The target is to push the penetration rate, which stands at 8.5 per cent, to an all-time high.

The consortium will invest more than $140 million in the project. The government invested in 3,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable.

The Minister for Youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana said the joint investment is aimed at driving broadband accessibility to 95 per cent of the population in the next three years.

Besides the affordable broadband Internet, experts say penetration rates will also depend on the prices of handsets and computers.

The policy comes at a time when some stakeholders are jittery about the recent introduction of Common External Tariffs (CET) on telecom equipment in the 2013/14 budget.

Not locked out

That, according to the private sector, could hurt broadband usage as equipment will be expensive.

In a position paper on the 2013/14 budget, the Private Sector Federation notes that a proposed 25 per cent levy will lock out the youth from using telecom equipment.

The private sector lobby demanded that the government publish a list of ICT equipment exempted from CET.

The broadband wholesalers will also be charged when transporting services from retailers to operators and on to the end-users. But operators have not been locked out of this deal because the government is willing to cede some ground to accommodate them.

“The government may sell 50 per cent of its share to the telecom operators,” said a source at the Rwanda Development Board.

When contacted, Tigo Rwanda chief executive Diego Camberos said they have not been told about the new arrangement.

Streamline telecom sector

Sam Nkusi of Liquid Telecoms welcomed the policy, saying it has come to streamline the telecom sector, where competition is compromising service delivery.

Market players say despite the country having enough broadband capacity, it is still costly. MTN, for instance, charges Internet users Rwf30 per megabyte while Tigo subscribers pay Rwf50 per MB.

“We (telecom operators) are at the last mile access, which matters if the broadband is to reach the targeted consumers,” he said.