The cost of internet bandwidth in Zimbabwe during Covid-19 has created an inequality that will only be improved through policy formulation and enhancement, a MISA Zimbabwe Multi-stakeholder engagement meeting on internet and accessibility in Zimbabwe recently noted.
The meeting, which was held virtually on July 2 2021 was attended by members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information and Communication Technology (ICTs), together with content creators and internet service providers.
Speaking during the meeting, Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on ICTs deputy chairperson and Hurungwe North legislator Ability Gandawa said with the Covid-19 pandemic having increased reliance on the internet, Zimbabwe was facing digital inequality and there is consensus that internet affordability is a challenge in Zimbabwe.
“The covid-19 pandemic has left most citizens without adequate information both in rural and urban areas. Cost of data is high and internet accessibility is a challenge in Zimbabwe, and internet service providers have indicated that the rise in data is due to operation cost which then determines the overall cost.
“The development of a stable internet which will enable all citizens to access it is being held out by government regulations which acknowledges that there is need for improvement on those policies.
“These policies will create demand among citizens and competition from internet service providers,” said Gandawa.
Gandawa said the government through POTRAZ was in the process of constructing base stations in marginalized areas using its own resources so that the service providers will be able to improve network connectivity in rural areas.
Speaking in the same meeting, Community Podium TV Executive Director Nkosikhona Dibiti highlighted the impact internet accessibility and affordability has on content creators and the media, which affects the free flow of news and information.
“Internet access is severely limited in Zimbabwe, exacerbated by a growing economic crisis. Internet penetration, quality and accessibility of connections remain limited in practice, therefore the cost of accessing news becomes a challenge.
“People in the rural areas use WhatsApp as the primary source of news, and sometimes bandwidth is out of reach, affecting them on accessing their sole source of information,” Dibiti said.
Dibiti also said internet accessibility also affects content creators as much as it affects consumers of content because they have to research and fact check before publishing information.
“Limited access of social media information verification tools and language of news makes it difficult for people who then have to make life and death decisions based on information they are inherently skeptical about,” said Dibiti.
The Girls Table Programs Officer Sandra Nokuthula Gama also said women in rural areas find it difficult to access information as there is lack of homegrown solutions to digital inequality.
“Language is a barrier as most digital platforms, websites and programs are in English. There is need for homegrown solution as to accommodate the rural population.
“Society thinks social media platforms are for people with loose morals and some youth are not even allowed to have social media platforms which is a stumbling block in bridging the digital divide,” said Gama.
Following the Covid-19 induced lockdowns that require social distancing, dependence on the internet has grown since the start of the pandemic.