BY VENERANDA LANGA
Members of Parliament yesterday said telecommunication companies (telcos) must give free data access to schools in marginalised areas as part of community development projects.
The issue was raised by the chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology (ICT), Charlton Hwende during a visit by the committee to Nemashakwe Base Station in Masvingo.
The committee was assessing the effectiveness of base stations in servicing the marginalised communities in the remote rural areas of Zimbabwe.
The base station is one of the 20 that the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) constructed through the Universal Services Fund (USF) to service remote areas that had no connectivity.
“Potraz has constructed these base stations and they have also gone around schools donating computers, but the main problem is that most of those schools cannot afford to access data in order to use those computers for education purposes,” Hwende said.
“Since Potraz and government are giving network operators base stations, then the network operators must also ensure that they give schoolchildren in these marginalised communities data for free for purposes of study because Potraz is donating base stations where there is no access to data.”
Potraz projects manager Mavis Maunganidze said while the suggestion by Hwende was a noble idea; it was a policy issue which could be addressed by Parliament itself.
“It is a suggestion that can be discussed with network operators, but I will give you a challenge as Parliament to say that it is a policy issue. If Parliament feels that network operators must give data to the community as part of corporate social responsibility, then a policy to that effect might be needed to compel them to do so,” Maunganidze said.
Hwende said it was imperative for network operators to give back to the community in the same manner that mining companies do.
Nemashakwe Base Station was established in 2017 and it services the Gutu and Bikita boundaries.
It benefits clinics, Silveira Hospital, schools and ordinary citizens within the rural community.
Telecel takes care of the technical issues at the base station.
Telecel engineer Pardon Nyakuengama said the mountainous terrain made it difficult for some areas to receive signal.
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