Internet updates from Burundi: 2013 to be a pivotal year
Information on Internet progress in Burundi is difficult to come by, especially compared with the rest of East Africa. Historically, difficult social and economic environments have limited the level of ICT development. However, 2013 looks to be a banner year for Internet progress in Burundi.
July 2012’s East Africa Internet Governance Forum heard two presentations from Burundi: one recapping Burundi’s recent national IGF and another from the telecom regulator (ARCT). The two complementary reports provide a rare update on the telecommunications reforms, projects, and initiatives underway in Burundi, a nation with minimal online presence. Both are current as of July 2012. Expect a rush of ICT activity in 2013 as the national fibre network (BBS) goes live in Bujumbura. Perhaps network sharing will follow. Also on tap are efforts to educate Burundians (at all levels of society) of the importance of the Internet.
Report on IGF Burundi
- The construction of a national fibre network started in April 2012. 150km of fiber has already been laid.
- High speed Internet operation could begin at the end of 2012 in Bujumbura and around April 2013 in other major cities.
- $10mm in funding is still needed to cover the estimated US$ 25mm for the network.
- Lack of fair telecom operator competition
- Is Burundi as able as other East African nations to utilize investments given a lower level of education and purchasing power?
- End user bandwidth prices are high relative to Kenya and Tanzania.
- Discussed practical measures to prevent cyber threats (as opposed to only regulatory framework)
- Acknowledged that Burundi is behind other EAC states in terms of ICT development.
- The Government of Burundi has created a National Policy of ICT Development (PNDTIC) 2010-2025.
- Talked about high-level Internet governance (ISOC, ICANN, WSIS)
- A lack of female participation in IGF.BI needs to be addressed.
- There is a need to raise awareness of youth ICT employment opportunities.
Burundi Presentation on the Ongoing Reforms/Projects
History of ICT in Burundi:
- 1997: National ICT policy development was initiated with the creation of a regulator (ARCT), a telecommunications law, the corporatization of ONATEL, and the granting of new mobile licenses.
- 2004: Support from the UNDP and Economic Commission for Africa led to the creation of a National ICT Strategic Plan 2004-2010 (now extended to 2025).
- 2006: Government of Burundi aims to reform the business climate, open the economy to trade, and privatize successful public companies.
- 5 mobile operators and 8 ISPs
- Less than 1% Internet density.
- Most ICT market growth has come via mobile telephony since 2006 (from 6.25% to 22.5%)
- 7 challenges are high tariffs, lack of electricity, bandwidth costs, lack of public knowledge about ICT, scarcity of Internet outside of Bujumbara, few fibre networks, and low per capita income.
- The regulator is starting to push for network sharing, but no official provisions exist despite operators’ acceptance of its benefits. An international tender to create an “infrastructure net” is in the works.
- National fibre network (BBS) MoU signed in 2006 will connect Burundi with international capacity (via Rwanda and Tanzania).
- Internet access will enable new services, new companies, and lower Internet prices for the region.
- The ICT ministry and the regulator have collaborated to make public and private sector leaders aware of the importance of ICT.
- New ICT law, e-governance law, and subsequent regulatory laws
- BBS network to be operational in December 2012
- IXP to be established post-BBS operation
Also worth noting is the launch of mobile banking in Burundi. Mobicash, a mobile banking service, was launched August 14, 2012 by the Commercial Bank of Burundi (BANCOBU). One goal of the initiative is to increase the low 4% banking rate in Burundi.