Free public Wi-Fi initiative rolled out, Kazako says e-service delivery critical to growth

The Malawi government on Friday rolled out the first-ever public Wi-Fi in its efforts to bring digital services closer to the people.

“Today, your government has embarked on an ambitious digital initiative that will provide free internet connectivity to selected public places to facilitate easy communication among people of Malawi,” said Information Minister Gospel Kazako when he presided over the official roll-out of the initiative at Blantyre Secondary School on Friday, October 8, 2021.

Some of high-profile officials at the ceremony included Director of Information, Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, Blantyre Secondary School Headmistress, Ms. Gwauya, Blantyre City Mayor, Councillor Wild Ndipo, CEO, Public Private Partnership Commission (PPPC), Patrick Kabambe, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) Deputy Director for Technical Standards, Edward Kauka, Chief Marketing Officer for TNM, Frank Magombo, Programme Manager for Digital Malawi Project, Chimwemwe Matemba, and Director of Distance and e-Learning, Dr. Joshua Valeta, among others.

Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako officially launches Free Wi-Fi Zones Initiative at Balntyre Secondary school-(c) Abel Ikiloni, Mana (2)

Kazako said the administration of President Lazarus Chakwera has emphasized that a ‘new Malawi’ can only be achieved through embracing new technologies and propagating delivery of e-services to the people. He said such delivery of e-services and adoption of new technologies is dependent on first and foremost addressing key basic issues such as internet connectivity, proper ICT Infrastructure and digital skills.

“It is on this basis that issues of access to affordable internet has been a recurring topic of discussion since I began discharging my ministerial duties and I will keep on pushing for that case until the objective is attained.

“I am therefore so excited today to appreciate how far the Ministry of Information together with the Public Private Partnership Commission are rolling out the Public Free WI-FI initiative that Malawi Government’s Digital Malawi Project is implementing through the Commission,” he said, adding that as technology advances, it is therefore critical that appropriate safety nets are provided to take everyone onboard as Malawi inches towards digital evolution.

Information Minister, being briefed by BSS official at BSS libray-(c) Abel Ikiloni, Mana

Through the initiative, Malawi’s two international airports, Kamuzu and Chileka, will be provided the free Wi-Fi so that they are on the same level with those around the world.

The minister said connecting hospitals and schools to free Wi-Fi under this initiative must be done with quickly as health officials can interact with other professionals and experts in different countries and seek guidance and knowledge on critical medical areas without going there physically and even transfer of medical records from one hospital to another in times of referrals can be done online.

“It is also high time that we connect our schools and libraries to reliable internet and this has an obvious result of allowing learners to access vast information. The world is more open and connected now, and there must be no resistance to the adoption of ICT for whatever reason. ICT is now a necessity and not an option at every level,” he said.

Sustaining public Wi-Fi initiative

However, Kazako cautioned that Malawians must immediately begin to think and brainstorm how to make this initiative sustainable.

BSS students during the launch of Free WI-FI Zones Initiative at Blantyre secondary school in Blantyre-(c) Abel Ikiloni, Mana

“The key question that we must be asking ourselves is how ready are we as a country to sustain this initiative after the World Bank financing towards this initiative comes to an end? The other critical issue to consider is the usage part of the service. What mechanisms should we put in place to ensure that the internet is not abused in the marketplaces, schools and hospitals? We must at this point consider the online security issues as regards to the use of WI-FI in all the selected sites.

“There must (also) be a balanced thinking on how this initiative will affect the SMEs such as Internet Cafes who earn a living through providing similar services at a fee. How do we assist the marginalized and at the same time allow the private businesses to grow? I wanted us to be thinking about some of these questions that are most likely to be asked in many other circles,” said the minister.

He said these issues must be addressed jointly by government and the private Sector.

He commended the Department of e-Government and PPPC for working towards the success of this initiative. The minister said he expected that TNM and Office Mart, who are the service providers under this initiative, will do their job as expected.

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