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Kenya to license 3 firms to wire Digital Villages

September 18, 2007 • Mobile and Telecoms

The Kenya government will pre-qualify at least three operators to participate in the provision of connectivity to digital villages under the Digital Village Project, to Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) enterprises, to the e-government project and to universities and colleges throughout the country.

This is in addition to the establishment of the region’s first digital city at Athi River town near Nairobi.

The government has already entered into a $1 billion partnership with the United Arab Emirates, according to Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo. Athi River “city,” which is currently home to the Export Processing Zone, will be modelled on the Dubai Internet City.

The deal, struck at the request of the UAE government, has seen the two governments draft a memorandum of understanding that is currently with the Attorney-General. Already, two international firms from the Middle East have expressed interest in undertaking the project, which is expected to improve efficiency in the government and reduce the costs of operations.

Dr Ndemo, who was addressing an ICT workshop for government officials hosted by AccessKenya Group, in Nairobi last week, said the government has also identified four key incentives to the ICT industry under the government’s Vision 2030 to create an enabling environment. Tax incentives will see a reduction of the income tax levied on expatriates and key employees, alongside corporate tax holidays and VAT exemption on locally purchased inputs for the sector.

The government is also speeding up the laying of the national fibre-optic backbone and the undersea fibre-optic cable network.

Bandwidth to public universities will be subsidised while ICT training will be available at the government-owned Kenya College of Communications Technology .

A report on global information technology released recently by the World Economic Forum ranked Kenya 12th in ICT development in Africa, behind Uganda and Tanzania. According to the study, high bandwidth costs and latent delays in voice calls are robbing Kenya of BPO and call centre revenue.

The installation of an undersea fibre optic cable, the East African Marine Cable System (TEAMS) will boost trade in the country and spur economic development.

The cable, which is expected to be ready in 2008, will enable Kenyans to enjoy high speeds and low connection charges. In this year’s budget, $14.9 million) was set aside to speed up the laying of the cable.

On the Digital Village Project, the government will team up with the World Bank. The main objective is to redress the glaring disparities between urban and rural areas and stimulate demand for broadband ahead of the anticipated cheaper fibre optic broadband connectivity.

The government has invited licensed data carrier network operators (DCNOs) to submit proposals to participate in the provision of connectivity under the project.

In order to jump-start the process, the government has designed a programme to train 1,000 digital village managers to manage the centres in the country’s 210 constituencies.

The initiative, known as the Rural Digital Village Marshall Plan, will ensure that by December 2008, each of the telecommunications service providers, including Telkom Kenya, Kenya Data Network, Popote Wireless, Safaricom and Celtel sponsor at least one digital village in all these constituencies.

Entrepreneurs will get credit through the Youth Fund to buy locally assembled computers costing an average of Ksh20,000 ($298) apiece. Each digital centre will have between 10 and 20 computers, while a digital school will have five to 10 computers, while digital kiosks will have one to 5 computers.

The villages will be operated on a public-private partnership basis with the Ministry of Information and Communications and will involve the government, public and private sector organisations, development partners, civil society and individuals who will participate through adopting, supporting or investing in digital schools, kiosks or centres.

The project, which seeks to connect even the most remote villages to the information superhighway by taking ICT facilities to the people, is stipulated in the Millennium Development Goals as one way of increasing economic and social development through the free flow of information to a wider population.

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