AUGUST-SEPTEMBER -2013



BROADBAND: A GAME CHANGER OR A NECESSITY?

by Gabriel Etonga.
Human beings have an insatiable need for information and over the years people have gone out of their way to come up with new means of relaying it. Whereas the information relaying techniques continue to grow in complexity consumers are mainly interested in obtaining information in the simplest possible way. In order to achieve simplicity it is necessary to take a plunge into the depths of complexity. Kenya is no exception and the government has a clearly defined broadband policy. This is in cognizance of the fact that most Kenyans do not have access to basic internet services. This is not as a result of the unwillingness of the market to change with the tide but as a result of the underdevelopment of basic communication infrastructure especially in rural areas. The market is always willing to adapt to the best technologies and nothing bears this out more than the fact that individuals who felt that payphones could suit all their communication needs less than a decade ago now feel that the mobile phone in its basic form is inadequate. Broadband simply put refers to a means of transmitting information of varied bandwidth characteristics simultaneously over the same transmission media. This provides for the robust transmission of voice and data signals simultaneously. Perhaps the most recent, and probably the transmission media that is expected to shake the Kenyan market, is the optical fiber..

A few illustrations may explain the emergence of the optical fiber as a favorable transmission technique. In communication, the frequency spectrum that is available for use is a crucial resource. Simply put, the frequency spectrum is the superhighway over which the vehicles (information) are carried. Just as a wide road can support more vehicles, the optical fiber, which has a greater bandwidth than other transmission media can be used to transmit a wider range of information. As a case in point a single optical fiber can support well over 90,000 television channels.

The internet has come with a number of opportunities and challenges alike. Whereas it has offered enormous revenue generating opportunities for internet service providers it has also left those without access to such services way off the pack. That begs the question whether more can be done to ensure that everyone has access to affordable internet services even when it does not make business sense.

Just like electricity, broadband services are a necessity in our times. In the information age knowledge is power. These days the next business opportunity is a click of a button away. Global stories reverberate instantly over the World Wide Web.

With erratic internet connectivity in most parts of the country save for major towns, Kenya has still managed to position itself as a business process outsourcing hub. This has opened new opportunities not only for adventurous job seekers but also for those keen to add an extra penny in their pockets. At the moment Kenya is in the same breath with other trailblazers in the field of business process outsourcing such as India. It does not take rocket science to figure out the great strides the country would take towards this front if internet connectivity is improved countrywide.

The government's plan seeks to have all primary and secondary schools connected to the internet by 2017. Government services such as licensing and passport issuance will soon be automated. This would go a long way in sealing corruption loopholes while at the same time reducing the time taken in seeking these services.

There is no doubt that there is great demand for improved internet services in Kenya. Kenya with well over 2.4 million tweets in 2011 ranked second only to South Africa in Africa with slightly over 5 million tweets during the same year. It is worth noting that Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, did slightly over 1.6 million tweets during the same year several hundred thousands shy of the tweets by Kenyans. These figures go a long way in illustrating the great demand for internet services amongst Kenyans To be fully developed, the supporting infrastructure envisioned under Kenya's national broadband plan is expected to cost well over 250 billion Kenya shillings. The government along with internet service providers is expected to invest in developing the necessary support infrastructure. Once fully implemented the project is expected to cut internet costs while at the same time offering reliable internet services.

The big question is whether such an investment will have a noticeable impact in the lives of Kenyans. Access to fast and reliable internet services will expose internet users to more information. If well managed, this information will sow the seeds needed to transform Kenya to a knowledge based economy.

Everything must be done to ensure that this plan remains on track. In order to ensure that the end users enjoy affordable broadband services, meaningful partnerships need to be struck between internet service providers. A few years ago the mobile phone epitomized the great bounds that technology could transcend and low speed internet services were acceptable. However, going into the future reliable internet services will not only be a game changer for Kenya but will also be a necessity.

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