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Kenya's USF to help connect rural population

Kenya's USF to help connect rural population

Kenya's government has leveraged the Universal Service Fund (USF) and ploughed Kshs 1.245bn into national projects. However, there is a need to broaden access to underserved regions, which is representative of 5.6% of the country's total population.

Extending services to sparsely populated areas can be expensive for operators and hence many of these areas are neglected.

According to a recent ICT Access Report by the Communication Authority, there are 2.66 million people or 5.6% of the population in underserved regions covering in the country.

There are 418 sub-locations with less than 50% coverage and 164% sub-locations with no coverage at all.

The government has said that it will have to do more baseline research of its use of the USF to bridge the underserved regions in the country.

At the East Africa Com event, held recently in Nairobi, Nixon Gecheo, a governance and ICT development expert who serves at the USF Council at Communication Authority, said that the different needs of communities in spreading connectivity will force the government to do more research.

"Consultation with local and regional stakeholders on geographical targeting is very important. Experience has taught us that some of these areas are sparsely populated. Putting a mast in an area where the population is pastoral might not work since they move a lot," said Gecheo.

He added that researchers would work with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to accurately quantify population numbers before launching any connectivity project.

The USF Council has divided the underserved regions into slots for the telecom companies to bid for. In the first implementation, less than half of the proposed regions were taken up by telecom companies.

"We have given out slots to be served by the three operators. We had initially intended to close 202 sub-locations which are divided into 105 slots. But we opened bids for 37 slots and issued only 34 slots to the telecoms," he said. Going into its second year of implementation, Gecheo said that they will open bids for the remaining regions.

The USF currently takes in 0.5% of revenue from telecom companies to drive the agenda of bridging connectivity divide.

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