The information and communications technology (ICT) sector can generate about $13 million (about K11 billion) more revenue annually by providing mobile broadband signal to the uncovered two million Malawians, an industry study has established.
The draft Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) ICT Market Access Gap Study shows that out of 433 traditional authorities (T/As) in the country, 223 have insufficient broadband coverage and are not covered by either 3G or 4G network.
Broadband—the transmission of wide bandwidth data over a high speed Internet connection— is signal that combines 3G and 4G at fair signal levels.
Reads the study findings in part: “The untapped demand for 223 T/As with insufficient broadband coverage is more than $1 million [about K820 million] per month and $13 million [about K11 billion] per year.
“Providing mobile broadband coverage for the uncovered two million Malawians will cost ICT sector revenues, economic growth
and government taxes.”
The study finds that operators have targeted most commercially-viable areas. As a result, major cities such as Lilongwe and Blantyre and Zomba have nearly 100 percent coverage while in Chitipa, Rumphi and Mzimba, broadband coverage was 27 percent, 67 percent and 74 percent in that order.
To expand access to connectivity to previously under-served people, Macra operationalised the Universal Service Fund (USF) in 2019.
The USF’s contribution by operators is the primary source of funds. Macra collects 3.5 percent levy of gross revenue from telecommunication licencees of which one percent is for the USF. Broadcasters and courier service providers pay a 1.5 percent levy.
In an interview on Monday, Macra head of USF Emily Lungu observed that consumers living in 223 T/As are not able to access Internet at broadband speeds as there is no service provision.
“The objective of the fund is to ensure that such gaps are addressed so that universal service fund projects shall be targeted in such underserved areas,” she said.
ICT Association of Malawi president Bram Fudzulani said on Monday that while mobile broadband is limiting Internet usage, high cost of smartphone devices is another challenge.
He said while the Malawi Digital Economy Strategy eyes to increase broadband coverage to 80 percent of the population by 2026, the cost of accessing smartphone device is prohibitive to an ordinary Malawian.
“We need to revise taxes and fees levied on smartphone devices for an ordinary Malawian to afford,” said Fudzulani.
Macra is currently banking on its five-year Universal Service Strategic Plan (2021-2026) to connect 720 000 Malawians to the Internet via mobile broadband and also allow 1 152 institutions to have uncapped Wi-Fi for a period of five years, with 855 institutions having access to electricity for the first time via USF-funded solar kits.
Figures show that Internet penetration in Malawi remains low, with only 13.8 percent of Malawians or 2.4 million having access to it. n