Rwanda top in Internet access but cost, devices a hindrance

Friday April 22 2016

Models advertising Tecno phones. Rwanda has a very low use of smartphones compared with total mobile phone subscriptions. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Rwanda was recently ranked as the country with the most affordable Internet in least developed countries for the second successive year.

Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4I) – an international industry organisation that promotes an increased broadband access — analysed 52 developing and emerging countries in Africa and Latin America.

This year, the report mentions two factors that lock out citizens from Internet access, namely high cost of smartphones and low income.

These two factors apply to Rwanda as much as they do to other countries in the report.

Even with a total mobile subscriber base of 8,807,170 as of March, few people in Rwanda have smart devices and many others’ incomes do not allow them to afford the Internet.

According to data from Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), only 665,684 had smartphones in the third-quarter of 2015 while Internet penetration was 33 per cent.


The report recommends the reduction of the cost of mobile phones and ICT devices.

“Governments must work to reform tax and patent regimes so that ICT device costs can come down; they will also need to incentivise the private sector to develop high quality, low-cost smartphones.”

While international smartphones traders such as Konka Group and Tecno Mobile have entered the local market to sell relatively cheap smart devices, it is still not easy for an ordinary citizen to own an Internet- enabled device.

For instance, the cheapest smartphone at Tecno Mobile, that is the Tecno Y3 Smart, costs Rwf41,903 — an mount not many ordinary citizens can afford.
With a per capita income at slightly over $700, many Rwandan subscribers would find such devices luxurious.

In March, the government launched an initiative to allow university students to own laptops through loans. Bank of Kigali partnered with MTN and tech companies to implement the project known as “Viziyo”.

The initiative aims to increase the use of smart devices and accelerate broadband penetration.

Students get a laptop on loan valued at Rwf240,000 and a modem with one year Internet connection. Though this initiative is expected to bring more people online, it will require increased participation of many device sellers and banks.

Emmanuel Dusenge, who is in charge of infrastructure at the Ministry of Youth and ICT told Rwanda Today that they are in talks with other banks and phone dealers to take part in Viziyo programme.

“The media should help us sensitise many companies to participate in the initiative,” he said.

Mr Dusenge said negotiations are ongoing with smartphones sellers and telcos to take part in the project but he did not give the timeline for the implementation of the project.

According to country poverty profile report launched last year, in 2014, 9.3 per cent of households had access to Internet while 2.5 per cent had computers.

As smartphones increase Internet penetration in developing nations, price reduction will play a big role in bringing more citizens online.

According to Mr Dusenge, import duties and VAT for ICT have been scrapped in the country even though the prices have stayed the same.

“It is up to you to talk to phone and other ICT device dealers to find out why prices have not gone down,” he said.

The affordability reports mention data package as a hindrance to Internet penetration and access due to low level of income per capita.

The new study proposes 1GB of data priced at 2 per cent or less of average monthly income. Currently, 1.2GB is Rwf800 at Tigo and MTN; while 2.5GB at Airtel cost Rwf800.