Access to the internet has come a long way in Kenya since its adoption in 1993. The first internet users in Kenya were nonprofits, international organizations and multinational companies. In 2000, there were a total of 200,000 users, only 0.7 percent of the general population. A gap in accessibility persisted between these organizations and the remote, urban poor. Today, not only are all government ministries now accessible via the web, but 89.7 percent of the population regularly uses the internet as of June 2019. Better access to data translates to better education and standard of living. Kenya achieved this dramatic increase in accessibility thanks to a number of government and business initiatives. Here are six initiatives that have helped close the internet connectivity gap in Kenya.
6 Ways Kenya is Closing the Internet Connectivity Gap
- The Communications Authority of Kenya: To commercialize the internet, the Kenyan Government created the Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya in 1998. Its charge was to develop licensing for systems and services in communications and telecommunications, electrical engineering, broadcasting, e-commerce, cyber-security, multimedia as well as postal services.
- The Universal Service Fund: In 2009, the CA established the Universal Service Fund, which was designed to propagate access to information and communication technology (ICT) throughout the country. The fund has helped finance ambitious initiatives and innovation ICT through license levies, government appropriations, grants and donations. National projects continue to be enacted to expand services to remote and urban poor.
- Cyber Cafes and English: A challenge in making internet more commercial in Kenya was the lack of technology, electricity and landlines in the hands of average people. With the expansion of internet shops in the past two decades, urban centers have offered more access to technology without directly purchasing access from providers. A significant catalyst for greater usage has also been the English language since English is the official language of Kenya.
- Mobile Network Signals: Data from a CA report covering July to September 2019 shows that mobile phone users are purchasing more than one SIM card in order to gain access to new services and products, thereby increasing overall mobile subscriptions among the population. During that period of time, subscriptions increased 4.1 percent from the previous quarter.
- Fiber Optic Cables: In order to support a more robust data infrastructure and increase internet access in Kenya, companies like Telkom have expanded undersea fiber optic cables, known as “backbones,” that hold together multiple company networks to build capacity and expand regional access. If one line fails, the backbone is able to reroute internet traffic.
- Public Wifi Zones: In 2019, telecommunication companies like Telkom Enterprise, Safaricom and Poa! introduced WiFi zones in urban centers, offering wifi access either free or reduced in cost. In partnership with Nairobi County, the Link Kenya Project was developed by Telkom in Nairobi to help close the internet connectivity gap by providing free wireless internet access to three major urban centers in Nairobi. Project “innovation hubs” include 55-inch LCD displays that show ads in order to pay for support. Telkom aims to bring free public WiFi access to most major cities and towns in Kenya, claiming that portions of the population were unable to purchase subscriptions due to high costs.
Kenya’s agenda to digitize the country and economy were spurred in part by the government’s investment in information technology and communication technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, commercial access to the internet ballooned through government investment, the spread of mobile technology and technological innovations of private companies. Although not yet at 100 percent coverage, these six initiatives to close the internet connectivity gap in Kenya demonstrate how a country can leap into the digital age when government and business work in tandem.
– Caleb Cummings
Photo: Wikimedia Commons