The journey to universal ICT access for all through targeted responses

The universal service fund is one of the major ICT initiatives that excites both the consumer and service providers of communication services.

The Fund sets to finance various projects which will be implemented across the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal sectors of the country to address the access and services gaps currently present in the sectors. One of the major tasks of the Fund is to ensure that consumer of ICT services that live in rural or hard to reach areas can access these services at a lower and affordable cost which will stimulate the overall usage of ICTs in the country.

The management of the fund mandates MACRA to extensively consult the relevant stakeholders and map out projects to address ICT gaps in their respective sectors.

The fund financing is a yearly process, where MACRA together with stakehlders will agree on which projects the fund will finance.

Speaking with MACRA magazine the head of the universal service for MACRA Emily Lungu stated that the very first set of projects which the fund will finance have been commenced with  projects like the rural telephony project which aims to deploy broadband infrastructure in 3 districts (Chitipa, Dedza and Mwanza), Internet in Schools projects targeting 11 schools across the country and the public WI-FI project targeting 13 public institutions including health centers and hospitals will address the gaps in the telecommunication sector.

While the fund will finance gap filling projects in the broadcasting sector the which will increase the radio frequency coverage in hard-to-reach areas. The fund will also subsidize decoders for TV to increase access to local content.

The postal sector will see the fund financing a mail conveyance project where 31 motorcycles will be procured for the Malawi Post Corporation to facilitate the provision of post and courier services in the rural areas.

Lungu also pointed out that to ensure effective response of the ICT gaps in the county, a universal service 5-year strategic plan is being drafted with technical assistance from Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO).

The strategic plan follows the completion of a gap analysis study which was conducted by CTO to identify access and service gaps and target areas across the country and map out interventions to address each of the identified gaps.

This study identified that 2 million Malawians are not covered by either 3G or 4G, with only 44% of Malawians having access to the TV stations and 39% of the populace not having access to postal services.

The drafting of the strategic plan means that the Fund aims to connect over 720,000 Malawians to broadband access and services, 1,300 institutions to WIFI access, 470 institutions to electricity and over 94% of Malawians to TV signal.

The strategic plan also proposes that the Fund should provide grants to community radio stations for the production of local content and to train to journalist to improve the quality of local content in the country.

Stakeholders from the postal, broadcasting and telecommunication sectors expressed stated the importance of the timely responses to ICT gaps as the initiatives will improve their quality of services.

On the other hand, consumers of ICT services expressed excitement on the proposed projects, one consumer stated that she will now be able to communicate with her mother who lives in the village.

The cases where one had to climb a tree to access a network will be a thing of the past, consumers will have access to quality service while service providers will expand their reach.