Covid-19 widens Zimbabwe’s digital divide

By Bernard Mpofu

The outbreak of Covid-19 has widened the digital divide between Zimbabwe’s urban and rural population at a time the use of data services is on the increase. 

According to figures obtained from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), data usage went up by 37 percent last year as people were confined to their homes.

The advent of national lockdowns to slowdown the spread of Covid-19 saw urban consumers of telecommunications services resorting to e-learning services and telecommuting.

POTRAZ’s annual postal and telecommunications sector performance report for 2020 says service providers were hard hit by the lockdowns despite an improvement in revenues. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic negatively affected various sectors, posing economic hardship for consumers, businesses and communities across the globe,” the authority said in the report.

“The telecommunications sector was not an exception. 

“Like most essential sectors, the industry found itself on the frontline, using all of its capacity to deliver connectivity to homes, businesses and governments, to keep nations afloat as the pandemic raged on.” 

POTRAZ said the gap between Zimbabwe’s urban and rural areas in accessing digital services became more apparent during the lockdowns.

“Notably, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the extent of exclusion and deepened pre-existing inequalities in access to digital services,” reads the report.

“The broadband gap between the urban and rural areas is more evident and is an obstacle towards the implementation of programs such as e-learning at national level.”

Meanwhile, total mobile and fixed voice traffic declined by 0.9 percent to record 6,095,683,710 minutes in 2020 from 6,150,783,671 minutes recorded in 2019. 

International incoming voice traffic declined by 20.6 percent to record 136.7 million minutes from 172.4 million minutes recorded in 2019. 

International outgoing traffic also declined by 59.3% to record 25.7 million minutes from 63.1 million minutes recorded in 2019.

 “On the other hand, the sector recorded a surge in internet and data usage due to the increased adoption of e-learning and telecommuting,” the report said.

“A total of 48,781 TB of mobile internet and data were consumed in 2020. 

“This represents a growth in usage by 36.5% from 35,733 TB recorded in 2019. 

“Used international incoming bandwidth capacity also increased by 36.6% to record 159,665 in 2020 from 116,927 recorded in 2019.”

POTRAZ said 2020 was characterised by growing revenues, amidst rising operating costs across all sub-sectors, owing to the inflationary economic environment. 

Annual sector revenue for 2020 was $38.8 billion up from $4.5 billion recorded in 2019, representing an annual variance of 751.7 percent and an inflation adjusted growth rate of 89.9 percent

 “Covid-19 will not go away so soon, but its spread will decrease owing to ongoing vaccinations across the globe and at national level,” POTRAZ added.

“Resultantly, we are likely to witness a surge in demand for communication services, in particular data and courier volumes as consumers adapt to the new normal of life.”

Zimbabwe has rolled out a nationwide vaccination programme to slowdown the spread of the coronavirus. 

It aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population against Covid-19 or 10 million people to achieve herd immunity.

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