Kenya: Digital Villages Project Rolled Out

Computing

Each constituency in Kenya will by the end of the year boast of at least five digital centres complete with computers and Internet connectivity in a government plan to bridge the IT gap.

Safaricom, Telkom Kenya, Zain Kenya and Essar telecoms are required to roll out the digital villages as the government implements part of the Kenya Communication Amendment Act 2009 which stipulates that the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) levies the operators a universal access Fund of one per cent of their total revenue for the project rollout.

Safaricom has already embarked on the project and has put up 500 digital centres across the country. It is using its third generation technology 3G in these centres as it believes it offers faster Internet connectivity.

The operators have in the past been against CCK levying them the fee directly, questioning which projects the government wanted to implement with the money and instead asked the regulator to identify the areas that it felt were not covered adequately so that they can implement the projects by themselves.

Information permanent secretary, Bitange Ndemo said instead of levying the fee this year, the government has asked each operator to roll out five digital villages in all constituencies in the country.

"For the last three years we have been talking about rolling out digital villages in the country but it has not picked up due to delays in financing that we were to get from the World Bank," said Dr Ndemo. "However we have now asked the telecommunication operators to roll them out as a way of meeting the universal access Fund obligation".

Telkom Kenya, which is yet to roll out its 3G networks is said also to be working on a plan to set up the centres using its mobile wireless technology CDMA.

Paul Kukubo, the Chief Executive of the Kenya ICT board that was in charge of coordinating the rolling out of the digital villages or Pasha centres says that the government has already trained 1,000 youths who are supposed to be loaned up to Sh1 million to set up the centres.

But the government is yet to disburse this amount to the youth who were trained, making it impossible to utilise the acquired entrepreneurial expertise. "We intend to disburse the funds through the banks by October to benefit the trained youths," said Kukubo. "Not all those who were trained will benefit as the banks will have to go through their business plans and only give the loans to individuals whose plans looks viable".

The Pasha centres were to be run by private entrepreneurs who obtain training in business and information technology from certified training programme offered freely by the Kenya ICT board, which has contracted 10 training firms to offer the services in the eight provinces.

Due to the expansive geographical nature of Rift valley and Central Kenya, the two provinces each got an extra training firm. The project is in four components, to offer training, bandwidth capacity subsidy, IT support to the centres and provide a revolving fund.

The entrepreneur training has a budget of $2 million, Revolving fund $4 million while IT support and bandwidth support each has a budget of $2 million. Apart from meeting the government obligation the operators are positioning themselves to offer data services in the rural areas while the government intends to use the centres to deliver its services online, e-government.

Kenya Data Network and Popote Wireless teamed up to roll out the project in all 210 constituencies in the country but the initiative will be managed by KDN. Digital centres will be equipped by between 10 to 20 computers, have Internet connections and scanners while the digital Kiosks will have up to 5 computers and located in divisional level. Kenya Data Networks intends to spend $10,000 per site and another $200,000 for control centre that will be based in Nairobi.

The investment by KDN involves installation of transmission dishes and constructing of towers and providing connectivity to the sites.

(Source: Business Daily)