Rural Wireless Network Success in Tanzania

Digital Content

The first evaluation of a pilot in Tanzania to provide affordable Internet access to rural communities through a shared wireless (mesh) community network has been completed, and the results look promising.

Eight months ago, IICD helped the Tanzania Telecentre Network (TTN) in the rural district town of Sengerema to set up a pilot to share a wireless (mesh) community network. The goal of the network is to make Internet available - and affordable - to large numbers of people who live in the rural areas around the telecentre. At the end of April 2009, TTN carried out its first evaluation of the mesh network, in cooperation with the telecentre leaders and technicians from the region. The overall results are positive: the network is functioning well and its customers are satisfied. Nevertheless, there are a couple of remaining hurdles that still have to be overcome.

Sengerema Telecentre, the implementer of the mesh network, conducted a survey among seven of the eight organisations connected, to find out how the internet connection is being used and how satisfied the users are. Six out of seven organisations use the internet on a daily basis. The reasons they gave for using it were to:

* communicate and study

* learn more about appropriate technologies

* access national and international news

* find out about funding and business opportunities.

One organisation reported using the information it found on the internet 'to provide training materials to young entrepreneurs, women and youths in order to improve activities.' The owner of a small enterprise said that he used the internet to 'keep myself aware of what is going on in other parts of the world.'

Most of the favourite websites are Tanzanian:

http://www.out.ac.tz/

http://www.ippmedia.com/

http://www.tnrf.org/

http://www.necta.go.tz/

The majority of the people interviewed were satisfied with the access to the internet and with the monthly costs. However, there were some complaints about the speed, along with interruptions in connectivity which were caused by the frequent power cuts. Since the telecentre does not have a backup generator, the internet connection is interrupted whenever power is gone, which is quite often the case in Sengerema. In spite of this, customers express their satisfaction with the service provided by the telecentre.

This was confirmed when a group of telecentre leaders visited some of the organisations that were connected. As Mr Hamisi of the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) explained to the visitors,“...the ease of accessing the technical person makes it very attractive to get internet through the telecentre. The telecentre is here."

Telecentre leaders also visited the Sengerema District Office. Leonilla Baheka, personal secretary to the District Planning Officer, commented that much information is now sent through email to government offices in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam. In the past, this used to be sent by post.

In addition to the user evaluation, a technical evaluation was also carried out. The most important lessons were as follows:

* A thorough preparation phase is fundamental, including a site survey and timely procurement

* Involve the local community right from the start

* Focus on developing and strengthening the capacity of a local team of wireless experts

* Improve the capacity of the customers (basic ICT skills, internet use, basic troubleshooting and maintenance).

On top of the power cuts, one of the other major challenges is maintaining the Linux server and network. The telecentre technician, Lismas Julius, is getting more familiar with Linux, but he is still learning and will need additional training.

During the evaluation workshop, supported by IICD and telecentre.org, telecentre leaders and the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) started developing a replication strategy by making an overview of the costs, the technical expertise needed and available in and around Tanzania, and national and international funding opportunities. One of the recommendations from the workshop addresses one funding opportunity in particular: TTN should be accorded the highest order of consideration in accessing and benefiting from the Universal Access Fund, as TTN is one of the front runners in implementing the national ICT policy, particularly in rural areas. If the different stakeholders manage to join forces, more Tanzanian communities stand to get connected through wireless in the near future.