World Bank offers Sh52bn to boost Kenya’s plan to create free Wi-Fi hotspots

The World Bank Group will spend Sh52 billion ($390 million) on Kenya’s plan to set up 25,000 free WIFI hotspots in a bid to bring down the cost of internet by 60 percent.

The project, known as the Kenya Digital Economy Acceleration Project, seeks to step up access to high-speed internet, shift government to digital system and boost quality of education.

Kenya is also banking on the Wi-Fi hotspots to boost job creation by providing affordable internet services to innovators, youth and entrepreneurs.

The World Bank is expected to raise additional Sh13.3 billion ($100 million) from the private sector for development of the broadband.

Remote corners of the country are often marginalized by network providers mainly because they don’t offer value for money. People in these regions are thus compelled to accesses the internet on their mobile phones using 3G or 4G data bundles. However, the high cost of data limits how much poor people can access the internet. For instance, the average cost of a megabyte was Sh4.59, which is way beyond what many people can afford.

The free WIFI hotspots are, therefore, expected to democratize the internet by allowing people from all corners of the country to get connected.

Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, noted that expanding access to digital technologies and services “is a cross-cutting pathway to accelerate economic growth and job creation, improve service delivery and build resilience.”

The free WIFI project is also aimed at consolidating Kenya as a tech hub in Africa. American tech behemoths such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google have made Kenya as their gateway to East Africa and Africa at large. However, Kenya has fierce rivals in this space in the name of Nigeria and South Africa, two countries with the top two biggest economies in Africa.

The project also has other components comprising rehabilitation of 2,500km of damaged/old fibre network, the launch of village digital hubs and studios in all of Kenya’s 1,450 wards, building of a regional integration connectivity network and manufacturing of cheap smart devices.

It is estimated that 52 percent of the 63.3 million mobile phones in Kenya are feature phones. This locks out more than half of the subscribers from accessing mobile internet.

Safaricom in 2020 launched a programme in partnership with Google that allows its customers to pay for 4G-enabled phones in instalments, as it seeks to increase smartphone usage on its network.

The customers pay as little as Sh20 a day over a nine-month period, with the ultimate aim of switching about four million 2G and 3G phones to 4G.

The free Wi-Fi hotspots will be installed in business centres, rural areas and other public spaces, according to the Kenya National Digital Masterplan 2022-2032.

The government has already piloted the project in Nairobi’s  City Market and Wakulima Market.

“We are taking the Internet to the people. From here, we will be launching similar programmes in other trade centres so that we can facilitate e-commerce,” ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo said in November.

A survey by the Communications Authority of Kenya showed that 3G broadband subscriptions for the year ending June 2022 hit 11.7 million with 73.1 million gigabytes of data volume consumed while 4G subscriptions stood at 17.6 million with 208.1 gigabytes of data volume consumed.

Mr Owalo in February disclosed talks with the World Bank to partially fund the rollout of the proposed 100,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable.


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