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12 April 2018

Piloting “White Space” to connect the underserved of rural Tanzania

By Nicoletta MetriGuest Author
Beyond the Net Journal

As economies develop in Tanzania, rural residents have growing needs for communication and broadband access. However, mobile operators are reluctant to invest in remote areas due to the elevated infrastructure cost and the high percentage of people that can’t afford the payment of the services.

The Internet Society Tanzania Chapter, supported by Beyond the Net Funding Programme in partnership with The University of Dodoma will target the remote areas of Dodoma Region, where conventional deployments are not available. Together, they will build a pilot project using TV White Space equipment as a community network solution.

White Space Internet is not widely adopted so far, but has the potential to transform the way we use wireless Internet. Being a free form of broadband, it is as a good alternative to provide underserved communities with Internet access that is similar to that of 4G mobile. White Space power stations can be charged with solar panels and broadband can travel up to 10 kilometers through vegetation, buildings and other obstacles.

“It’s amazing how life has changed in Tanzania thanks to the Internet”, explains Jabhera Matogoro, project manager and coordinator of Microsoft Innovation Center at the University of Dodoma. “In terms of learning and access to education, the Internet has taken students to another level. This was not the case a decade ago.”

What drove you to start this initiative?

Tanzania has experienced an exponential increase in the number of voice telephone and Internet users in the last few years. The number of subscribers has increased from 6.3 million users, in 2007, to 39.9 million users, in 2017. The estimated number of Internet users has increased from 5.3, in 2011 to 19.9 million, in 2016. Despite of this, studies have reported that there is still a large Internet gap between rural and urban areas in Tanzania. According to Research ICT Africa statistics, 86% of rural dwellers remain unconnected to the Internet compared to 44.6% in urban areas. Moreover, when the comparison is based on gender, fewer women than men have access to the Internet. This situation led us to build a solution to address the digital divide between rural and urban areas.

What will be the project’s impact?

A population of about 2,287 people will be directly served by this project. Three Educational Institutions are involved. They are located about 160 km from Dodoma with limited access to Internet services. Kondoa Girls High School has a population of 810 students and 46 staff members. Ula Secondary School has 829 students and 26 staff members and Bustani Teacher’s College has 538 students and 38 staff members. The project will finally give students and teachers access to online resources to support their learning. We aim to improve the life of rural communities also to reduce the migration to urban areas.

Could this project be replicated in other regions by other Chapters?

The network will be owned and operated by community-based secondary schools in Dodoma Region. The experience gained from this pilot will be very valuable to fulfill similar needs in other rural areas. All the TV White Space hardware required for the project has already been acquired by the University of Dodoma. We have secured a license for the use of TV spectrum from the local regulator, which not only clears the main obstacle for TVWS projects, but also paves the way for other communities in the rest of the country.

Watch this video to hear from their voices.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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