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A bumpy road to Kenya’s 2030 broadband vision

broadband

All sectors of Kenya’s economy could be using technology to boost business in the next few years, thanks to the country’s broadband strategy for 2030.

The ambitious plan by the Kenyan government to enhance connectivity for the country is driven by Vision 2030, which places ICT as one of the important pillars to drive the economy of the country.

There are several aspects that shape the Kenyan document and pundits hope that if followed through, then the East African country could enjoy connectivity only experienced in developed nations.

“It is good that someone is planning ahead,” John Kieti, the lead at mobile incubation hub, MLab commented.

“That we are planning ahead through the strategy ensures we are not caught off guard and hence global trends are more likely to play in our favour.”

“Access to decent data connectivity at affordable rates will in the next few years be a key contributor to the national economy similar to road networks,” he added.

The National Broadband Strategy even has a specific vision for its outcome between 2013 and 2017.

“Broadband connectivity that is always--‐on and that delivers a minimum of 5 Mbps to homes and businesses for high speed access to voice, data, video and applications for development,” says the strategy’s creators.

Meanwhile, for the urban areas, the optimum broadband speeds could be pegged at 40 Mbps.

In the years following that, the broadband strategy envisions speeds of 300 Mbps for urban areas between 2018 to 2022; 1024 Mbps between 2023 to 2027 and ultimately broadband speeds of 2048 Mbps from 2018 to 2030.

Already, broadband companies such as Jamii Telecom, with their product Faiba, promise its clients up to 100Mbps.

With these speeds, the strategy also envisions that it could achieve 100% penetration in key sectors such as schools and health facilities by 2030. Household penetration has been forecast to be 35% in the same year.

Achieving this for Kenya, though, is not going be an easy ride for all the stakeholders. Internet prices in Kenya are high, despite the fact that demand is strong in urban areas.

“Access to broadband in Kenya for all citizens has the potential to generate enormous social economic benefits,” the strategy paper has said in part.

“Some of the benefits that accrue from national access to broadband include economic growth, job creation, growth of investment opportunities, access to online government services, improved education and training services, improved national safety and security services among others.”

But the challenges are staring the government in the face. Nearly 90% of Kenyans do not have access to broadband services, and few Kenyans have enough ICT skills.

According to the latest Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) report, over 16 million of Kenyans have access to the internet with over 9.5 million having online access via mobile connections.

Meanwhile, broadband connections to the internet only account for just over 1,178,077 subscriptions.

But MLab’s Kieti also sees other challenges that could halt this plan.

The issues of government procurement and open doors for corruption could hamper the implementation of this plan.

“The biggest challenge to actualising the nice and ambitious expectations of this strategy is not that of funding or technical capacity,” Kieti said.

“It is probably corruption and selfishness among individuals or corporates entrusted as custodians of various aspects of execution. To the extent that a framework for demanding accountability is not a part of the NBS Medium Term Plan, then the public or institutional players might just be duped in the usual bad ways in the name of execution.”

The broadband strategy also looks at five areas where it will focus on making its vision a reality. These include: infrastructure, connectivity and devices; content applications and innovations; capacity building and awareness; policy, legal and regulatory environment; and financing and investment.

With many ICT incubation centres springing up in Nairobi, there is a need to ensure innovations to spur on economic growth.

“The promise of a knowledge based society facilitated by affordable and appropriate hardware, software and content infrastructure carries potential for Kenya to create a distinctive national competitive advantage. However the key is in having an efficient execution that surpasses the intended objectives by default since evolution of innovations and technology will not slow down to be in step with aspirations of static strategy documents,” Kieti said.

“Remember other nations are not sleeping on this, they too are being able to or at least being assisted to develop national broadband strategies. Kenya needs to seize the opportunity and stay ahead of the competition as there are many benefits of maintaining the lead,” Kieti concluded.

The challenge now lies with the government on ensuring the short term and long term objectives of the strategy are kept to realize the intended vision.

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