The story of Internet in Rwanda - One step forward, 2 steps backward

Recently I took on myself to research why internet is still expensive in Rwanda, why Rwandans in their majority have very limited access to internet, why internet domain names are still expensive and difficult to acquire, why RINEX is not connected to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs), why RICTA has turned into a shadow of itself. I found some answers very embarrassing and maybe a bit shameful.
Despite the fibre optic cables, affordable Internet is still a long way.
Despite the fibre optic cables, affordable Internet is still a long way.

Recently I took on myself to research why internet is still expensive in Rwanda, why Rwandans in their majority have very limited access to internet, why internet domain names are still expensive and difficult to acquire, why RINEX is not connected to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs), why RICTA has turned into a shadow of itself. I found some answers very embarrassing and maybe a bit shameful.

RINEX is Rwanda Internet Exchange Point. It is located in one of the Government high rises belonging to RDB.

All ISPs are supposed to be connected to RINEX and to use it as a router of local Internet data packets targeting local servers; data packets targeting foreign servers would go through ISPs’ international gateways; local data packets targeting local servers would go through RINEX.

This local routing is supposed to be cheap and very fast. Until now it is neither cheap nor fast as some of the ISPs either are not connected to it (e.g. TIGO) or their connection is not working (e.g. ISPA, New Artel).

The following ISPs are connected and their connection is working: MTN, Rwandatel, AllTech, and the National Backbone.

However, even for those ISPs that are connected, the pricing for internet using only the national loop costs the same as the international internet, very high prices that only few Rwandans can afford.

The low cost for international bandwidth promised by connection to the submarine cables like SEACOM, TEAMS and EASSY is still a distant dream even though the fiber optics is crisscrossing the country and we are being told that our internet nirvana will happen any time now.
Domain names frequently used in Rwanda are based on top domains .com, .co.uk, .org, .co.rw, .rw.

Their prices range from $35 for .com to several hundred dollars per year for .rw, the last time I checked. Hosting your internet domain will cost you from $300 per year to several hundred dollars depending on the services you need from your hosting Company.

This probably explains why most people in Rwanda do not have their own internet servers and continue using hotmail, yahoo, gmail and msn for their e-mails and other internet services.

Our country top domain name .rw was high-jacked by a Swiss National of Congolese origin and efforts to repatriate it have been fruitless until now.

Having control of .rw top domain name would allow us to distribute domain names for a nominal charge, e.g. $3 per year; acquiring these domain names would be quick and easy; hosting companies would compete for helping you acquire these domain names and for hosting your internet servers.

RICTA, Rwanda ICT Association is an association that groups all ICT public and private stakeholders: telecom operators, Computer software providers, IT hardware providers, all ICT-related services providers.

RICTA started with great promise: it elected a board and a management team; it defined its mission and its objectives and hired some volunteer technicians, a secretary and a technical coordinator.

RICTA set out to repatriate .rw and to manage RINEX.  Its small technical team had the knowledge to host .rw and to manage RINEX.

Unfortunately finding the required funding for running RICTA in a professional way has been a major difficulty from the beginning. The lack of funding has not allowed RICTA to have a full time CEO and paid management and technical teams.

This weakness has led RURA regulators to question RICTA organizational structure and whether RICTA is capable of managing .rw and/or RINEX.

The 12-month standoff between RURA and RICTA is responsible for not being able to repatriate .rw even though ICANN, the organization responsible for all domain names, is ready to give out our .rw for hosting and managing. This is the most embarrassing bit!

Full Internet  access for the Rwandan masses will not be possible until: a shared access cost $1 a month (RWF 600) in a communal telecenter on the hill (a room in a primary or secondary School, or a local administration); Kinyarwanda computing installed on the machines in the telecenters (initially Kinyarwanda browser – Firefox/Kinyarwanda – and OpenOffice/Kinyarwanda on windows, later complete Linux/Kinyarwanda systems, all available today); each telecenter to have a .rw domain name and one machine as its own servers; plenty of Kinyarwanda content initially on Government systems and on major company web sites; availability of localized phones to Kinyarwanda as phones are becoming internet appliances, not just Blackberry but even cheap phones will acquire soon Blackberry-like functions.

RURA Universal Access Fund should find here its ultimate purpose and RDB/IT with partners should find here their calling.

What can we do in order to fulfill the promise, do two steps forward and none backward? We need to tell RURA and RICTA to get their act together.

RICTA needs to find long term funding or step aside. RURA needs to take a stand and make a decision: is RICTA fit to administer .rw or RINEX? If not then RURA should select an academic institution that has the required funding and let them manage both .rw and RINEX to the great benefit of all Rwandans.

If we leave things the way they are, we may host .africa before we host and manage .rw.

The author is an ICT expert in Rwanda.

Please, send any feedback to

antoinebigirimana@yahoo.com

 

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