Stakeholders in information and communication technology (ICT) sector in Rwanda yesterday met to chart ways of accelerating the uptake and adoption of broadband.
The Rwanda Internet Governance Forum in Kigali was organised under the theme, “Broadband as a Utility,” and brought together internet society players, including service providers, regulators, and government officials, among others.
Participants said broadband has reached a stage where it is looked at as a utility, given its increasingly unique application in business and employment, civil engagement as well social interaction.
“While broadband may not be a basic need for human survival, its importance as the central communications technology of our age is undisputable. But the truth is that it is becoming an essential public utility,” said Charles Gahungu, the chief technology officer at Korea Rwanda Network KTRN, the only 4G Long Term Evolution infrastructure company in the country.
But JICA chief advisor Atsushi Yamanaka said broadband will be vital for realisation of a knowledge-driven economy only if reliability and affordability are considered.
“To fully turn Rwanda into an information society and moving the country into a digital economy, broadband will play a critical role. It, however, has to be reliable and affordable,” he said.
Broadband network connection is believed to be always on, available at home, at work and on the move, and delivers progressively higher bandwidths capable of supporting innovative and interactive content and services.
But some players said the country is still far from realising this, citing statistics available in the sector.
For instance, Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority (RURA) indicates that there are nearly only five million people connected to internet in the country despite some investments that have been put into broadband infrastructure.
Countrywide, 51.40 per cent is the geographical coverage of 4G network, and 64.30 per cent is the population coverage.
Sylvie Mboyo, one of the broadband consumers, said even though there is a wide broadband coverage, the cost of accessing is it is prohibitive.
“We have already realised the importance of broadband in transforming different sectors of lives, but the reality is that although the coverage is increasing, the cost of accessibility is still very high,” she said, adding that ISPs are not responsive.
KTRN’s Gahungu said companies are losing millions of francs in rolling out broadband infrastructure, including billions spent in repaire of fibre optic damages due to road construction and disasters.
What next for acceleration?
The Minister for ICT, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, admitted that there is so much work that is yet to be done in terms of maximising broadband utilisation.
“We recognise that we are not there. There are investments that have been done in terms of coverage, but usage is still very low,” he said.
Nsengimana expressed frustration and appealed to ISPs, telecoms representatives and other internet sector players to change ways they sell broadband to consumer.
“Adopt a customer centric approach to be relevant in increase ICT uptake and demand for your services,” he told said. “Broadband rollout is a profitable venture if you have the right business models and an understanding of the market.”
Ghislain Nkeramugaba, the chief executive of Rwanda Information and Communication Technology Association, the organisers of the forum, said the idea was to create more awareness and enhance partnerships.
“The forum has been facilitating the creation of solutions and has strengthened partnerships among stakeholders. Broadband is critical and this is why we placed focus on it,” he noted.