Most communication towers in rural areas below standards-CUTS

A new report by the Consumer Unity Trust Society has revealed that all communication towers put up in rural areas do not meet both technical and legal requirements. This is part of the findings contained in the flagship CUTS Consumer Manifesto which contains key consumer demands ahead of the January 20 presidential election.

The report shows that the towers fall short of meeting the 5 kilometre macro-coverage radius requirement as specified in the bidding document. ZICTA launched a project to install 169 mobile telephone base stations in rural areas in the quest to bring connectivity and get rural communities in the cycles of mobile connectivity and improve penetration.

About 13 million dollars will be spent for the entire project. The aim is to boost connectivity to remote communities and each tower is supposed to give consumers in the respective communities’ macro coverage of up to 5 kilometres in radius in line with the terms of reference. The first communities installed with towers include Matanda in Luapula Province and Shakumbira, Malendema and Kaindu in Mumbwa district. The report further revealed that as of October 2014, only two out of four towers had network life. At the Matanda tower, the coverage was 1.65 km as opposed to the prescribed 5 km radius. This entailed that 3.35 km meters was not being serviced.

And CUTS says the report findings raise questions of the capacity of the service provider and how these installations are being monitored by the regulator, ZICTA. CUTS has since recommended that the incoming government should revoke Statutory Instrument 111 that prohibits the entry of another mobile operator in the sector. It says ZICTA should take more action against mobile phone operators who offer a below-par service by activating clauses such as the ‘Naming and Shaming’. ‘More investment in internet and other telecommunication infrastructure is required. This can be achieved by setting aside some money from the Universal Service Fund to go towards building this infrastructure, as has successfully been achieved in Uganda,’ the report stated.

It said more accountability in the way the universal service funds are used by the relevant authorities and that a more radical approach of vetting the services being delivered will be required by ZICTA as public resources are at stake. ‘Probably, ensuring that all the specifications are met before granting a go ahead on the installations of other towers. If already being done, then there has to be more precision attached to it. Further, communities or social groups ought to be engaged in monitoring the performance of the towers and this will promote a right based approach.’ ‘It is a right of every citizen in these communities being services to be engaged in monitoring the construction and actual application of these services. By doing so they are able to impose political and reputational costs on service providers,’ the report concluded.

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