Boosting rural internet use

Monday April 30 2018

By Zephania Ubwani @ubwanizg3 news@tz.nationmedia.com

Arusha. More rural dwellers in Tanzania can access the Internet through unutilised television (TV) band spectrum, according to researchers.

Also called “white spaces,” the band spectrum are unused portions of spectrum allocated for TV broadcasting in a geographical setting but not fully utilised.

“These TV spectrum gaps have a potential to provide commercial wireless services such as the Internet other than broadcasting,” said Mr Jabhera Matogoro, an assistant lecturer in informatics from the University of Dodoma (Udom).

He said researchers from the university and other organisations have embarked on piloting the use of TV “white space” technology for community networks in Kondoa District, Dodoma Region, and that it was offering some hope.

The $30,000 (Sh66 million) project is being jointly undertaken and funded by Udom in collaboration with an American non-governmental organisation Internet Society and seeks to assess the potential of idle TV band spectrum to access Internet.

“It is a one year project aiming to connect the unconnected in Kondoa District, targeting mainly women and girls,” Mr Matogoro told The Citizen, noting that they would explore the model under which the technology can be used to fill the gap.

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The main objective, he added, was to deploy a community (Internet) network in rural Tanzania using TV “white space” technology, “which offers advantages in terms of coverage and spectrum utilisation”.

According to statistics from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Internet penetration in Tanzania is only 45 per cent. There were only 23 million Internet users in the country by the end of last year, with 86 per cent of rural dwellers in the country unconnected to the network compared to 44.6 per cent in urban areas. The country also had 40 million voice telephone subscriptions as of December 2017.

“When comparing Internet access in terms of gender, then fewer women than men have access and use of Internet in Tanzania,” said Mr Matogoro.

He said studies have shown that wireless broadband solution was affordable and recommended solution to the developing countries in upping Internet penetration.

“However, this project will investigate and utilise a combination of wired and wireless solutions utilising strength of various technologies,” the academician pointed out.

He further added that Kondoa, like other rural settings in Tanzania, had TV band spectra which were not fully utilised.

A study by World Bank concluded that a 10 percentage point increase in fixed broadband penetration would increase GDP growth by 1.21 per cent in developed economies and 1.38 per cent in developing countries.