By David Muwonge
On one of my work expeditions travelling from Kampala to Arua, I couldn’t help but notice groups of able-bodied youths, swinging hoes and pickaxes, digging trenches along the highways under the scotching sun.
Another group closely followed behind the trench diggers, unwinding and laying fibre optic cable hitherto wound on large wooden spools.
The Government of Uganda has over the years strived to connect all major towns onto the country’s fiber backbone and internet in order to support ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
However, despite the installation of the 17,000-kilometer (10,563 mile) long broadband cable not all citizenry fully enjoys the advantages of new technologies, owing to shortfalls in infrastructure and cost of internet.
The Government of Uganda through the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA-U) in 2012 conducted an e-readiness survey whose findings indicated that average internet costs were $1200 per Megabit per second (Mbps).
This assessment indicated that Internets costs were high and prohibitive, and this kicked NITA-U into action with the agency aiming to make available affordable internet bandwidth for as low as $300 to MDAs on the onset of January 2015 which is $900 less than what was being spent per Mbps.
The bold move not only rubberstamped the authority’s mastery of the evolving field of ICT, but of cost cutting too.
In a bid to bridge this gap, the government in partnership with NITA saved a whooping Shs10 billion in 2013.
Subsequent to its success, telecommunications have over time lowered the price of internet, with the average reportedly going for $200 in the year 2017.
Having amassed good reviews, the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda has embarked on bulk procurement of internet bandwidth, whilst increasing entities subscribing to the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure from 27 in 2014 to 280 to date.
This includes: 223 MDAs, 23 local government offices, 12 municipal councils, 66 Police CCTV cameras, 71 IFMS and IPPS sites (shared public service delivery platforms) and 13 data centers.
Under the data services sector, NBI has marshalled the provision of E-Government services such as; the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) One Stop Center, Electoral Commissions voters register, E-Visa, E-Tax, E-Single Window, Government Communication Interaction Centre (GCIC) and Inspectorate of Government wealth declaration.
These services have helped to reduce bureaucratic tendencies that were once a hallmark of most government ministries, departments and agencies.
The e-visa system has reduced application time for work permits, special pass, and certificate of residence from 1 month to 5 working days.
The office of the Inspector General of Government system has reduced human interactions and improved transparency by enabling online wealth declaration of over 18,000 civil servants.
In addition, NITA-U in collaboration with the Research and Education Network (RENU) has connected seventeen universities and research institutions across the country to the NBI, as Special User Groups.
This has been enhanced by the reduced internet bandwidth price of $100 to the institutions and universities, making online education and research feasible.
Since the commencement of commercialization of Phase I and II of the NBI in the FY2013/14 to date, NITA-U has generated revenue amounting to Shs36,375,148,611 from Bandwidth provisioned to MDAs, and capacity provisioned to private clients connected to the NBI and Data Centre hosting services.
However, according to Emmanuel Muganwa an ICT practitioner, “the cost of internet to MDAs is so high compared to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) costs, who on average sell at $175 dollars per Megabit per second (Mbps) inclusive of taxes.”
In order to answer such price related queries, and so as to be competitive in the market, NITA forecasts more sites under its wings; 330 sites and 1,000 sites, by FY 2017/18 and FY 19/20 respectively.
The advancements are expected to enable the bandwidth internet price to go below the $100 mark per Mbps.
“Government has invested in connectivity and we are trying to make sure that we achieve affordability and therefore inclusion,” said Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of Information, ICT and National Guidance at the launch of Digital Vision.
Benefits of the NBI to the country include: Lowering of Internet bandwidth for government MDAs, thus facilitating economies of scale in provision of ICT services government entities; high speed internet connectivity to the Business Process Outsourcing Centers which in turn creates jobs acting as a buffer against the current unemployment rate averaging at averaged 3.63 percent; increased regional communication due to the creation of alternative transmission routes with neighboring countries, for instance through the border Posts of Mutukula, Busia, Malaba, Elegu, Katuna and Mpondwe, Vurra and Oraba; due to integration of East African/regional backbones, internet costs are slashed; Access to more On-line services (eHealth, eEducation, eTax etc.) from the region and so much more.
According to information obtained from NITA-U;
Phase I: Completed with 168Km of Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) connecting five major towns in central parts of Uganda; Kampala, Mukono, Jinja, Bombo and Entebbe lay. The e-Government network was installed in 27 MDAs.
Phase II: Completed with 1400.734kms of OFC connecting major towns and Districts Headquarters. Government Primary Datacenter established.
Phase III: Completed with 756Km OFC laid to connect 6 major towns in Western part of Uganda • The Network Operations Centre was established. Transmission sites built at 3 major towns; Masaka, Mutukula, Kabale and commercial power provisioned at the sites. Environmental Management System (EMS) installed in 25 Transmission sites across the country.
The writer works at Uganda Media Centre