Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor
GOVERNMENT has approved a $250 million project by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) to set up more than 600 towers and base stations in areas that lack mobile connectivity to improve communication across the country, a Cabinet Minister said yesterday.
Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, said during a tour of TelOne projects in Umzingwane and Gwanda Districts sound communication infrastructure should cover the whole country including rural areas.
“Government a few weeks ago approved a $250 million initiative by the Postal and Telecommucations Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) where they intend to build more than 600 towers and base stations that will be shared by our operators across the whole country,” Minister Mandiwanzira told journalists.
“This project when it takes off should address the challenge in areas where our people are complaining about the challenge of mobile network.
“The Universal Services Fund (USF) has the responsibility to put up mobile phone infrastructure in areas that the players who are watching their pockets do not want to go into. The USF must fund deployment of base stations to areas like Umzingwane and Matabeleland South where there is no reception and many other areas across the country.”
The minister said his office has received overwhelming complaints across the country even in parliament over poor mobile network connectivity. He reported in Umzingwane for instance, poor mobile network made it difficult for police and rescue services to communicate with marooned villagers during Cyclone Dineo.
“We need to move rapidly to deploy base stations and telecoms infrastructure in those areas to allow for mobile communications. We are going to be insisting on NetOne and TelOne and Telecel, which are Government controlled to ensure they are not prioritising investment in urban areas where the believe they can get a return but to go to rural areas because that is where a majority of our population is,” said Minister Mandiwanzira
He criticised mobile network operators for the notion that investing in rural areas was not viable in terms of business areas saying more opportunities, actually lie in rural areas.
“Command Agriculture for example has been a massive success. A lot of our communal farmers are going to sell a tonne of maize to GMB at $390. The consumer on average in urban areas is giving operators about $36 dollars per year. Imagine a rural farmer who has sold maize to GMB, they have more than $700 to $800 that they can spend throughout the year, they have more to spend on mobile communications than the people in urban areas.
“So, we are going to insist that we see more investment in rural areas, particularly in areas where there is no coverage,” said the minister.