East Africa: Empowering Telecom Service Providers in Rural Areas


Tanzania is a vast country, endowed with numerous sights that can easily take your breath away. One person put it in a very simple way, that for one to really understand the size of Tanzania, it simply means that you can easily take Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and put them together, and you still remain with some space which can accommodate half of Burundi.

With such size, it means that the government of Tanzania, unlike its neighbors, has a lot to do in terms of infrastructure, and this means ensuring that people, even in the remote places can have easy communication. A relatively large country located in East Africa, Tanzania has a total area of 945,087 square kilometers (364,900 square miles), rendering it slightly larger than twice the size of California State.

The area of Tanzania includes the islands of Mafia, Pemba, and Unguja; the latter two form a semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar that is part of an official union with the republic of Tanzania. With this massive size, ensuring that most of their citizens have access to mobile communication is an uphill task which requires special attention and dedication.

It is on this background that the government saw the need to get a reliable organ that could ease communication access to the most remote parts of the country, and that is when in 2006 the universal Communications Service Access Fund came into being.

UCSAF was given a mandate by the government to come up with a program where telecommunication companies can be awarded the tender to ensure that remote parts of the country have access to mobile communication.

Opening of the tenders was announced, and several telecommunication companies in the country grabbed the opportunity to make sure that they wrap up the awarding of the tender which was announced by UCSAF.

A number of telecoms service providers in Tanzania were invited to present their tenders, whereby several communication companies won a contract under UCSAF, designed to help improve access to services in rural parts of the country.

In the wake of the tender announced in October 2012, the winners of the contract included Vodacom Tanzania, Tanzania Telecommunication Company (TTCL), Tigo Tanzania and Airtel Tanzania. Engineer Peter Ulanga, the UCSAF Chief Executive Officer and Fund Manager say that they discovered after a thorough survey that there were 290 wards where there was no communication at all.

He says that UCSAF works to improve accessibility and participation in the provision of communication services, with a view of promoting social economic development of rural and urban underserved areas.

He says that UCSAF invited sealed bids from eligible and qualified bidders for the provision of basic voice call services in underserved areas in the country. The initiative resulted from a study which found that more than 2,000 villages across Tanzania lacked access to (wireless) telecoms services because it was not profitable for domestic network operators to invest there.

Recently, UCSAF officials and several board members embarked on an official tour of Lindi and Mtwara Regions to visit some of the communication towers installed from the funds. During the tour, the UCSAF CEO said that the aim of the fund is to ensure that communication is reliable in all the highlighted areas, that is why they decided to separate the project in phases.

“The first phase in 2012 involved 152 wards out of 290, and these were areas which had absolutely no communication at all. In the tendering process we managed to get bidders for only 52 wards in the first phase, and we signed a contract in 2013,” he says.

He says that out of these, communication towers are already completed in 51 wards with one ward still pending due to a conflict involving a five kilometer road where the tower is located, but was quick to add that the conflict has already been solved and the winning bidder, Airtel is already working at the site.

Mr Ulanga says that it is with the success experience of the first project that they decided to embark on the next phase of the project, where tenders were announced for 116 wards, where 77 got tenders, and out of that TTCL got 33 and Vodacom 36 and Tigo got four and Airtel got four.

“In Phase 1A of the project which was funded by the World Bank through the Communication for All basket fund, it involved a total of 168 wards with more than 968 villages and more than 1,322,753 residents who had no communication at all,” he says.

He says that up to now 15 wards out of the 77 have already been connected to communication networks, which is about 19 percent of all the wards in the project. “All the communication towers managed by TTCL in all the 33 wards are complete in the civil works,” he adds.

On his part, Engineer Rumishael Temba, the Mtwara TTCL Regional Manager says that with the assistance of UCSAF they are now in a position to reach interior villages where there was a communication barrier, adding that this puts them in a position to compete with other service providers.

The reliability of communication due to the intervention of UCSAF has enabled us gain more customers in Mtwara Region, where a good number of banking companies use our network, and with the emergence of Dangote cement company into the region, they had to choose a reliable network, that is why they selected TTCL,” he says.


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