GWERU: For the majority of the world, it is impossible to think of life without internet. Think about life and work during COVID-19 when internet connectivity and digitalization were among the most necessary aspects of daily life.
The internet allows us to stay entertained, informed and most importantly connected. The internet is now a basic necessity like food, clothes, shelter or electricity.
However, not everyone is connected. Many people either pay too much or don’t receive the bandwidth to use the internet effectively. People who can not afford a minimum package of connectivity are the poor of the 21st century.
Internet poverty has therefore extended the digital divide not only in Africa at large but Zimbabwe where internet is unjustifiably expensive.
Majority of citizens and communities that are unable to connect to the internet are economically, politically and socially isolated as they are unable to access information and exercise their right to access information as granted by the constitution.
Zimbabwe’s leading media watchdog, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) recently lamented internet unaffordability and has recommended for government, service providers and other critical stakeholders, to address and to give effect to the constitutional provision that provides for the right to access to information during a virtual meeting streamed live on their Facebook page.
“Parliament should conduct an inquiry with the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), on what is being done to address the crisis of internet affordability in Zimbabwe.
“The pricing of data tariffs in Zimbabwe should be cognisant of the economic realities of the majority of Zimbabweans. Zimbabwean mobile network operators (MNOs), should learn from interventions by MNOs and internet service providers in other jurisdictions such as MTN, Google and Microsoft, that strike a balance between business and (the enjoyment of) human rights. Local authorities, both rural and urban, should equip rural libraries with free internet access,” MISA recommended.
During the debate, Deputy Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Ability Gandawa said that challenge in internet access was mainly due to pricing issues and infrastructural deficiencies.
He further explained that COVID-19 pandemic had a negatively impacted the internet governance framework in Zimbabwe.
“This has limited access to information by rural communities, democratic participation by citizens and access to employment opportunities” said Gandawa.
Sandra Gama, who represented interests of women and girls in rural and marginalized communities, also highlighted that Zimbabwe’s rural communities have been secluded as they have limited access to information.
“Many in the rural communities, lack reliable, affordable internet access and as a result fail to access the benefits of technology and are lagging behind in terms of development”, said Gama.
Adding to contributions, Nkosikhona Dibiti, a journalist and content creator, said that having internet access was critical for fact checking and information verification.
“It is also critical for fact-checking and information verification. It was also highlighted that the internet, particularly through social media platforms, allows content creators to engage directly with the consumers.
“However, due to poor mobile network services and high costs of data, the work of content creators has been negatively affected, more so as providers of information to the public,” Dibiti said.
According to findings provided by Research ICT Africa in a quarterly comparison of 2019 showed that buying 1GB of data in eSwatini cost US$21.39 in the third quarter of 2019, making it the most expensive on the continent followed by Zimbabwe where 1GB cost $20.
Econet which has one of the largest subscribers charges currently data prices stand $2,030 (US $23) 8GB, $3120 (US$36) 15GB, $4350 (US$50) 25GB, $6240 (US$76) 50 GB.
In Africa, Somalia was ranked 7th followed by Sudan at position 13, at having the cheapest internet in the world.
Digital rights activist Koliwe Majama told CommuTalk that Zimbabwe’s internet costs remained expensive due to the reason that data was still bundled.
“Our data is still bundled so you do not get much from a package. For instance, a WhatsApp bundle limits you to what you can share in terms of sharing links you get snippets. It’s the cheapest and used by the majority but is limiting too. Only a few people have adequate information and as well, there is need to have electricity especially in some geographical areas so that they too can have internet and access to information,” Majama said.
“SADC heads of state are neither working towards improving internet infrastructure n towards policy framework that will ensure there is improved internet access so as to ensure enjoyment of digital rights,” Majama also said.
She also underlined the need to community-based players who would ensure internet accessibility at community level for a broader and decentralized reach.
MISA Zimbabwe in 2020 called for a reduction of data prices under the hashtag #DataMustFallZim campaign and appealed to various stakeholders in a bid promote the constitutional right to access to information which is vital to public health that became more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic.