Kenya has a long way to go on broadband internet services

Wednesday November 29 2017

By JOHN WALUBENGO
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As 2017 winds down, it is important to note that it ends with President Kenyatta’s first term. Several important ICT documents were developed to guide the ICT landscape in the 2013-2017 period.

Two such documents stand out — the 2013-2017 National ICT Master Plan and the 2013-2017 National Broadband Strategy. We will focus on the National Broadband Strategy (NBS) given that it is considered as a key component of Vison 2030.

The vision of the NBS is to transform Kenya into a knowledge-based society by leveraging a high-quality national broadband network. In simpler terms, the Broadband Strategy aims to deliver a nationwide, high-speed internet network as a critical foundation of a digital economy.

But the physical broadband network on its own will never deliver the intended digital economy. There are soft issues around policy, legislation, regulation, content, capacity building and others that need to happen in tandem with rolling out broadband networks.

EXPLICIT TARGETS

The NBS had explicit targets for each of these key parameters and we take a look at how we performed.

First and foremost, on the question of a high-quality internet network, we had set an average speed target of 40Mbps and 5Mbps for urban and rural settings, respectively.

Unfortunately, the regulator is yet to start measuring this parameter and so we have had to rely on third-party quality reports that currently estimate our national average speeds at 12Mbps.

Whereas this speed has been celebrated as one of the best in Africa, it does not say much about user experience; in other words, its one thing to have big highways (capacity) but quite another if they are full of potholes.

Kenyan internet users are used to potholes in the form of power blackouts, internet downtimes, congestion and high costs of connectivity, among others, that leave a lot to be desired.

In terms of policy, legal and regulatory frameworks, we continue to await the publication of the revised 2006 ICT policy. Additionally, the Data Protection Bill and Cybersecurity Bill remain pending, yet they are critical pillars in building a digital economy.

BLACKLISTING RISK

Considering the speed with which we used the “tyranny of numbers” to amend the Elections Act last month, one wonders why we cannot afford similar attention to these two critical bills and get them out of the way as fast as possible.

The recent revision of the European Union Data Protection Directive into a Data Protection Regulation going by the name General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is likely to catch the country off guard on matters of data protection.

This European regulation has far-reaching implications, one of which would be to declare non-compliance on countries found not to be up to international standards when it comes to data protection practices and legislation.

Non-compliant countries will be blacklisted as from May 2018, when the regulation takes effect. In essence, such countries will not be entrusted to trade with Europe. This is because modern trade happens within digital information exchanges that require certain levels of data protection.

If we do not want to enact the data protection bill for our own personal safety, we should at least pass it for our own economic survival, since we risk losing out on the export markets to Europe.

BOOSTING DIGITAL SKILLS

In terms of capacity building, the Broadband Strategy envisioned a digitally literate populace — over and above the school-going population. This means that each constituency was meant to have a digital community centre where the average Wanjiku would learn about and use digital services.

The Huduma Centres come close to this target, but they are too few and restricted to purely government-driven services. Wanjiku has therefore little or no opportunity to use the centre for updating her digital skills.

Finally, with regard to local content development and innovation, the Broadband Strategy envisioned having one incubation centre per constituency. Further, it expected that the digitisation efforts at national government level would be emulated at the county level.

STUCK IN MANUAL

Essentially, county governments were expected to digitise their operations in agriculture, trade, health and other departments. This means that what happens at the national government portal should have been customised to serve the local, county-level issues.

Very few counties have made this digital leap, with many seemingly stuck in their traditional, manual way of processing their transactions. So as the first phase of the National Broadband Strategy comes to a close, we must acknowledge that we definitely have a long way to go.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu