GOVERNMENT has embarked on an aggressive drive to facilitate the growth of the local digital economy.
The Ministry of Information, Communication, Technology and Courier Service is superintending over bringing connectivity to previously unserved regions, facilitating infrastructure sharing among telecommunication companies and rolling out e-learning in schools.
Recently, ICT Minister Dr Jenfan Muswere pushed through Parliament the Cyber and Data Protection Bill which seeks to ensure that there is a safe and secure technological advancement and utilisation of ICTs in the country.
The Sunday Mail’s Richard Muponde engaged Minister Muswere on these and other developments in the ICT sector.
Q: How far has the Ministry of ICT gone in implementing programmes and policies to facilitate the realisation of goals set out under NDS1 for the attainment of Vision 2030?
A: We have facilitated improved access, sector-wide development and usage of ICTs through network expansion both on the mobile and on fibre deployments.
We have also established Community Information Centres and ICT laboratories in schools that enable the public to access ICTs in remote areas as well as facilitate learning, moreso in this Covid-19 environment.
The recent commissioning of the National Data Centre and the National ICT Assembly Plant by His Excellency, the President, are also key milestones in the development of a digital economy and subsequently an upper middle-income economy by the year 2030.
We are also pursuing various initiatives around smart solutions as outlined in our Smart Zimbabwe 2030 masterplan for smart agriculture, smart cities, smart health, smart learning among others which will enhance our thrust towards achieving the goals of the digital economy as set out in NDS1.
We are also finalising the e-government platforms and the roll out of the NetOne MBB (Mobile Broad Band) phase 3, which will see the deployment of more than 250 base stations including 5G.
Econet and other private sector companies are also involved in various ways.
New players are also being licensed.
Government has therefore created an enabling environment for the sector to succeed.
Q: Are you satisfied with the performance of parastatals under your Ministry?
A: Yes, we have seen a lot of improvement in the performance of the parastatals to the extent that most, if not all of them, have been able to declare profits during the past year or two.
NetOne is operationally profitable, while TelOne is doing well.
However, we need to clear issues around legacy loans which is an issue affecting their balance sheets.
As for Telecel, Government is looking at ways of capacitating it.
For the rest we are developing new business models.
Q: Government regulations compel telcos to share infrastructure. What is the reasoning behind having these regulations?
A: Infrastructure sharing enables industry players to collaborate in a more economic manner in terms of investment, where eventually players will compete on service rather than infrastructure.
Players save costs and more importantly foreign currency as they do not need to deploy infrastructure where others have already established towers.
There have been many instances where you see three towers erected together which is a waste of resources.
We need to use that infrastructure to increase coverage throughout the country.
This, in turn, will remove some justifications for increasing tariffs by operators and in so doing lower the cost of communication for the people.
Q: How far have you gone with implementing this directive?
A: The directive has already started bearing fruits and players are sharing infrastructure.
For example, players have entered into an agreement to share more than 400 towers.
POTRAZ (Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe) is funding the derigging of duplicated towers for relocation to other underserved and remote areas.
Q: How much in terms of foreign currency is likely to be saved if service providers share infrastructure such as base stations?
A: The amount runs into millions of US dollars.
If a single tower is erected per site, this will result in operational savings of more than 66 percent.
We would therefore cut the costs by two thirds and easily save millions of dollars in foreign currency annually.
Q: Will this speed up network coverage in remote areas which currently do not enjoy mobile network services?
A: Definitely yes. Sharing infrastructure will certainly speed up the coverage of the areas that currently do not have network.
This ensures that infrastructure resources are evenly spread out throughout the country, meaning that no one is left behind in the digital economy.
Q: How much ground has been covered in that respect?
A: A lot of ground has been covered by all players in the sector.
In addition, POTRAZ has erected 20 base stations using the Universal Services Fund.
All operators are mandated to deploy active base station equipment on these towers.
This has resulted in rural and marginalised areas getting the much needed coverage.
POTRAZ has also flighted another tender for 100 more base stations.
All players are also expanding on their sites and coverage.
Q: Matabeleland region is beset by poor network coverage. How are you ensuring that the region gets coverage?
A: Efforts are being made to address network coverage in Matabeleland.
NetOne has taken the lead in deploying base stations in Matabeleland South at Chilongwe and more recently at Nachulwe in Binga, Matabeleland North.
Econet also has a fair share of coverage in this area.
Plans are under way to urgently erect more base stations in this region before end of this year.
Q: Parliament has passed the Cyber and Data Protection Bill which is now awaiting Presidential assent. How far does this Bill help address cyber security issues?
A: It is very effective. The Bill is very comprehensive and will complement existing laws while filling the legal vacuum which was in our cyber security laws.
This will ensure the utilisation of technology in a safe and secure way.
This Bill will consolidate cyber-related offences and provide for data protection with due regard to the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution and the public and national interest.
It will establish a Cyber Security Centre and a Data Protection Authority, to provide for their functions, provide for investigation and collection of evidence of cybercrime and unauthorised data collection and breaches and to provide for admissibility of electronic evidence for such offences.
It will create a technology-driven business environment and encourage technological development and the lawful use of technology.
To give an insight, the law is intended to support the use of ICTs in a safe and secure environment, deal with offences in the cyberspace and provide for data protection, more so in this digitally-driven economy.
As Government, our aim is to protect our people by ensuring the lawful use of technology.
The Bill provides for the minimum standards in processing data, handling of personal information as well as definition of cybercrimes such as unlawful acquisition or use of data, child sexual abuse, revenge pornography, hacking etc. together with the respective penalties.
Other considerations in the law include the investigation and collection of evidence of cybercrimes and the obligations and immunity of electronic communications network or access service providers, hosting providers, caching providers and internet service providers.
Q: What is the Government doing to support e-learning?
A: Cabinet under the able leadership of His Excellency President ED Mnangagwa approved the national e-learning strategy which will see the deployment of ICT gadgets, infrastructure and connectivity to 6 600 schools.
In addition to that, 149 Community Information Centres (CIC) dotted across the country already have access to free WiFi.
These centres will continue to provide this free connectivity for the next nine months.
In addition, all schools connected in rural areas will have their connectivity paid for by the Universal Services Fund starting with 400 rural schools.
POTRAZ is also giving free spectrum to players.