Internet use grows in Tanzania despite of government policy

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afrol.com, 5 February - Tanzania has experienced a very rapid growth in cybercafes. It is unclear whether demand is mainly local or from tourists but the country's local internet user base is growing. Government policy has been slow to encourage further investment. However the Government has an ambitious scheme to promote greater connectivity. Pantaleon Shoki reports on developments.

A recent survey by Tanzania's Business Times shows that thousands of people flock into internet cafes in Dar Es Salaam everyday to surf the net and read their e-mail. Increasingly many people in Dar Es Salaam are communicating through the internet. As a result of the growing demand for these services, many internet cafes have been opened. There are more than 20 cafes in Dar Es Salaam's central business district alone. Zanzibar has at least five.

Retail internet charges in most cafes in Dar Es Salaam recently dropped from roughly US$1.25 to US $ 0.625, that is equivalent to Tshs. 1000.00 and 500.00 respectively per hour, but it is reported that this is still enough to meet the operating costs and also make a little profit. Some cafes also offer rent subscription services whereby members have unlimited surfing upon payment of a monthly fee of Tshs. 30,000.00 equivalent to US $ 37.50 and surfing at will. 

The bulk of clients in most cafes are young people, business people, office workers, students and academics. E-mail services are the most popular at internet cafes, followed by general website surfing. While a number of people go to make telephone calls abroad which is cheap via the net, others go to the cafes on e-business missions but the proportion in this category is relatively small.

According to a report by a UK MP (see end of article), the ISPs calculate that there are 7,000 - 10,000 Tanzanians with ISP accounts and a further 50-100,000 on e-mail.

The number of people transacting serious e-commerce, e-business, e-health, e-law is still very low. It is almost insignificant when one looks at the current literacy figures or the number of university graduates, most of whom do not own e-mail accounts, let alone visit different websites for non-academic purposes.

Existing ISPs
With the growth of internet cafes over the last two years, Tanzania's internet use is growing fast. Currently, full internet access is provided by Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Cats-Net Limited, Wilken Afsat Tanzania Ltd, Africa Online, Intrafrica, Raha.Com and recently the Jambonet (under Intelicom (T) Ltd).

The University of Dar Es Salaam also has an international data licence. But this is only for a closed user-group comprising the University community and, as such, is not liable to the hefty licence fees charged to commercial users. It is however precluded from re-sale to the general public.

Recently Jambonet has been launched with the objective of reaching those areas which are not currently served by the present Internet services in order to make sure that more Tanzanians exploit the benefits offered by the internet. The current concentration of internet services is found in Dar Es Salaam, Arusha and Mwanza. There is some radio-based email transmission in some rural parts of the country and most of this is religious institutions such as the dioceses.

Tanzanian web sites

There are not a large number of Tanzanian web sites yet and three reported sites in swahili. One site identified in the UNESCO top 50 African sites is www.newafrica.com. According to Roselyne Nderingo, Managing Director, it is getting a complete overhaul. www.newafrica.com is managed and produced out of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It says it has 90 staff members who are now turning the site from containing thousands of .htm pages to an entirely database driven site. It is using in-house developed publication software and a new directory database as the backbone to the new site, all based on SQL.

What will you find? Several thousands pages of travel information on: national parks, diving, hiking, bird watching, beaches and more with almost 300 maps, thousands of hotels, and more than 30,000 businesses. Other information include, agriculture, business, economics, investments, mining and the industry sector. It also claims to have East Africa's largest online art gallery, a language dictionary and an online Swahili page. 

Goverenment policy is a barrier to growth
Existing telecommunication policies and the state telco monopoly are undermining the development of the internet in Tanzania. This difficulty was highlighted in a recent public policy dialogue on ICT. Professor Beda Mutagahywa of the University of Dar Es Salaam urged policy-makers in Tanzania to create policy principles for convergent services that mix technology (unregulated and highly competitive) and content. KPMG's IT Director said at the same event that Tanzania lacked a policy backed by a appropriate legal and regulatory environment to stimulate investment in ICT development. These obstacles to Tanzania benefiting from ICT opportunities obstructs Tanzanians from fostering regional co-operation to harmonise regulation, increase competition, and rationalise usage of scarce bandwidth to the better good. Reliable power and technologies are hampering IT development, making costs of opening cyber cafes very high.

Many commercial ICT initiatives are simply not viable in Tanzania at present due to a number of familiar factors: outdated institutional frameworks, poor transport infrastructures, ineffective national payments system, inadequate postal services, lack of street names for home delivery and absence of credit infrastructure.

The Government has an eThinkTank (http://www.ethink.tz.com) which was launched by David Sawe in the President's Office and Simbo Ntiro from KPMG. Also according to Derek Wyatt's report there is an ambitious project to offer greater online access using the spare capacity of the military's communications system.

Changes for the better in the ICT can only be achieved if the Government works wholeheartedly with the private sector. Companies dealing with computers have forecast a boom in Tanzania's Information Technology (IT) sector in the country in the coming few years due to the rapid changes caused by the transition from a socialist to market ecenomy. Datel, Wilken Afsat, SITA and Simbanet are companies providing data communication services in the country. 

By Pantaleon N Shoki, Victoria Research Bureau Ltd, (Consultancy Services), Mobile: 255-0741-611-607. 

Source: This article is reproduced with special permission from Balancing Act

© Balancing Act. This text may not be reproduced without the authorization from Balancing Act. 

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