Universal ICT access project rolls out next year

The Universal Access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Services Project is expected to roll out next year and will extend to the country’s rural areas.

The development follows the setting up at Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) of Universal Access Fund, which collects money from ICT players for the project’s implementation.

Macra officials announced the rollout of the project on Monday in Salima at the start of the Communications Regulatory Authorities of Southern Africa (Crasa) Universal Access Fund Management Training and Crasa Project Management Committee Meeting being hosted by the telecommunications regulator.

The training is for universal fund managers from Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc)to discuss how to manage universal service fund in the region.

Macra head of universal services Emily Khamula Lungu admitted that ICT access in the country has concentrated in urban areas leaving out rural people with little or no access at all; hence, the need for universal ICT coverage projects.

She said universal access fund in Malawi was established two years ago and so far, Macra has not utilised the funds in terms of projects.

Lungu said Macra has been setting up data instruments and guidelines on how the funds will be used.

She said: “The money for the project is generated from players in the ICT sector. We are working to identify the existing gaps so that when we roll out, we should identify gaps in the country. We have identified a consultant to do the gap analysis and once the study is complete, we will know the areas of intervention.

“It is true that rural areas are lagging in terms of ICT access. You will find that you enjoy seamless 4G Internet access in urban areas, but as you exit the urban areas, access is erratic or not available, so we want to address such gaps.”

Crasa head of electronic services Bridget Linzie said member States have mechanisms to rollout the universal services, including fast Internet services, especially in rural and under-served areas in the region using money from fees collected from operators.

She said that at Sadc level, Crasa has made progress in the implementation of the universal access to ICT services, mostly in the urban areas.

“Governments and regulators are trying to reach out to the rural areas or those hard-to-reach areas to achieve universal access,” she said.

Service providers pay about one percent of their gross earnings to the universal access fund.

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