Senior Business Reporter
Zimbabwe should move towards universal internet access, as the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of internet for modern daily life, Information and Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Jenfan Muswere has said.
During the height of the pandemic and attendant lockdowns, ICTs emerged as the only way for economic activity to continue across the globe, but additionally most social activities shifted to digital platforms.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has made us realise that for the betterment of the generality of Zimbabweans, broadband connectivity is no longer a luxury, but a right.
“Furthermore, it is my considered view that the ICT sector forms one of the major pillars in stimulating economic growth and development towards achievement of Vision 2030,” said Minister Muswere.
“Without a robust ICT sector, it follows that the dream of an all-inclusive and economically vibrant nation remains a pipe dream.”
He said this while addressing a Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) strategic workshop in Mutare yesterday.
And to the extent of the growing significance of ICTs in daily life, the ICT minister said it was critical that the telecommunications sector regulator play its part in improving Zimbabwe’s digital capabilities, especially with regards to ensuring universal access.
“Given the rapid changes that are now a permanent feature in the technological space, regulating the ICT sector has become a menacing challenge to all involved.
“The world of big data, internet of things and artificial intelligence, among other emerging technologies, flows so fast that, if regulatory practices are not constantly reviewed, instead of creating an enabling environment, the regulator can become the bottleneck.
“Rapid changes in technology equally affect policy makers,” he said.
“It is the duty of Potraz, working together with the ministry and other stakeholders in the ICT sector, to ensure ubiquitous access to ICTs. Everyone, everywhere must have access to affordable ICTs.
“This includes disadvantaged groups, such as people with disabilities, women, youths and those residing in underserved localities.
“Without access to ICTs, people cannot actively participate in the socio-economic development agenda of the country. Access to ICTs is therefore not a luxury and a preserve for the elite.
“At the same time, Potraz ought to vigorously steer the sector in the direction of emerging technologies.
“We need to catch up with technology, in particular 5G, for which we need a road map and strategy or else we remain digital laggards.”
There are a number of areas that the authority has been working on in recent years to drive the universal access agenda, namely: the expansion of network coverage to underserved areas; the National Broadband Plan; access to ICTs by people with disabilities and special needs, and the e-learning initiative.
Other areas include, the e-health; smart agriculture; smart cities and e-government programmes.
Despite operating in a challenging environment, the authority made progress in some of these areas.
“The authority also made good progress on the converged licensing framework, the national broadband plan, the value added services framework and the TTMS regulations. We also contributed significantly to the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill,” said Potraz director general Dr Gift Machengete.
“Some projects were also successfully executed such as the roll-out of CICs and the launch of the same facilities as a way of encouraging their use in order to combat Covid-19 and in order to promote digital literacy — of course,” he added.
“Another major success in terms of projects is the successful signing of the Telecommunications Traffic Monitoring System (TTMS) contract with GVG, and the roll out of the project is expected in earnest after the project commencement meeting was held a few weeks ago.”
All these initiatives and others fall under Potraz’s current five-year Strategic Plan (2019-2023). Potraz acting board chairperson Ms Doreen Sibanda said the regulator’s five-year strategy should now dovetail with the recently launched economic blueprint — National Development Strategy 1.
“We are aware that Government has just launched the National Development Strategy 1 and that our parent ministry recently crafted its strategic plan for the period 2021-2025. It is for the forgoing that this strategy review workshop could not have come at a better time,” she said.