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Zimbabwe govt warned over Starlink dithering

by Staff reporter
10 Mar 2024 at 07:11hrs | Views
EXPERTS have cautioned the Zimbabwean government against impeding technological advancement as that will be akin to trying to stop the wind or hold something with greased hands.

The warning comes at a time when the authorities have made conflicting claims about whether or not Starlink filed an application to operate in Zimbabwe.

Starlink is a satellite internet service provided by aerospace company SpaceX and provides coverage to over 70 countries.

While he was still the ICT minister, current Information minister Jenfan Muswere declared in September 2023 that Zimbabwe was reviewing the American company's application for an operating license.

But recently, Postal & Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe deputy director of economic tariffs and competition Vengesai Magadzire said Starlink had not yet turned in its license application, creating more confusion in the market.

Some government officials have spoken against the network provider, citing security issues. Two businesses have already paid fines for utilising Starlink's internet services in Zimbabwe.

However, economists and information technology analysts who spoke to Standardbusiness said the government ought to keep up with modern times and welcome technological innovation.

"They cannot stop technology advancement," Jacob Mutisi, chairperson of Zimbabwe Information and Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers, said.

"Soon, we will have a global sim or global connectivity that will make mobile networks obsolete.

"Just like how we are able to make calls on messenger or WhatsApp, soon X will be able to provide free worldwide calls with just internet connectivity.

"Our foreign currency will be heading abroad every time a transaction is executed."

United Kingdom-based development economist and technology expert Chenayimoyo Mutambasere said Zimbabwe is lagging behind in the way of digital adoption in both rural and urban economies.

"There is an urgent need to create infrastructures that ensure digital adoption is efficient and equitable," Mutambasere said, adding that the government will not be able to stop technological advancement because the digital age is very much borderless.

"It's unfortunate the government is not actively looking to work with the industry to create solutions.

"In order for Zimbabwe to be key players in regional and global markets this is a necessity and most businesses will bite the bullet and adopt this technology.

"In South Africa where Starlink isn't licensed, it is still widely accessible."

She added: "We are in the age of knowledge-based economies.

"Countries like Zimbabwe really ought to work with market leaders to create home-grown solutions rather than saying no and hoping the market concedes.

"Faster connectivity is a necessity as the digital age is upon us."

While acknowledging that the government has regulatory control over licensing new technologies, economist Stevenson Dhlamini said it may be challenging to entirely stop the progress of innovative technologies like Starlink.

"Governments often recognise the potential benefits of technological advancements and may work towards creating an enabling environment for such technologies to thrive," Dhlaminii said.

"It is possible that our government will consider the potential advantages and evaluate the impact of Starlink before licensing it.

"The geopolitical implications of such a move also involve security readiness to regulate and monitor its use and abuse before licensing.

"The government is avoiding a situation where it licenses the technology and then starts trying to determine how to legislate it."

Dhlamini noted that the introduction of Starlink would require appropriate regulations to govern aspects such as licensing, data privacy, security, and spectrum management.

The process of developing these regulations may be very complex, he said.

"The environmental impact of potential space debris resulting from deployment of such technologies must be considered as well," Dhlamini added.

"But all these challenges can be overcome through careful planning, collaboration between stakeholders, and effective governance."

The economist said if Zimbabwe were to license Starlink, the country could experience several benefits which include improved connectivity.

The company offers an internet service that has high speed access where traditional infrastructure is limited or unavailable.

This, according to him, could be very beneficial especially in enhancing education and online business opportunities, which might lead to the much needed productivity and economic growth.

"The access to reliable internet can unlock opportunities for entrepreneurship, e-commerce, telemedicine, and distance learning, consequently empowering individuals and communities across the divide," he said.

Scotel managing director Stephen Mashingaidze said the cost of the internet will drop and increase the speed of the internet.  

While the authorities say Starlink has not submitted its application to operate in Zimbabwe, the firm's website indicates that its internet services will be available in the country during the third quarter of this year.

Efforts to get a comment from Starlink were fruitless.  

Starlink has been licensed in other African countries such as Zambia, Eswatini, Mozambique, Rwanda, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, and Malawi.

Source - the standard