Where There Are No Phones: NCA, GIFEC speak

For the many thousands of people who live in rural areas in Ghana, and most parts of Africa, the reality of modernity and the growing essence of science and technology remain mere fiction. They live in the past.

My name is Kwaku Owusu Peprah.  In this second episode of “Where there are no phones,” the people who live in these areas would share more of their frustrations as I demand answers from the telecoms services providers, the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications and the industry regulator, the National Communication Authority.

Kakabo adventures
I walked towards a small kiosk which stands at the eastern corner of the village. It was a small wooden shack painted yellow and roofed with rusty iron sheets. As I approach I see a small generator in front of the kiosk.

That was where mobile phone users come to get their phones charged every day.

There were dozens of mobile phones arranged side by side, being charged. There were about four multi socket extension boards with countless phone chargers plugged in.

My conclusion after sighting this was, “This must be good business for the young man running this facility.” But Stephen Boakye, owner of the business, insisted business was not altogether good.

Stephen also sells mobile phone recharge cards, but he determines the price. Sometimes he sells the one cedi scratch card for 1.20 pesewas. Yet when these rural folks endure all these challenges the very limited access to the network in the area often deny them the chance to successfully make or receive such calls.

The Devil
He calls himself the Devil, but his real name is Martin Dovi. He’s 45-years old, a farmer and an opinion leader at Kakabo. He struggled to understand why none of the telecoms companies was willing to deploy the network infrastructure to the area, in spite of the fact that they produce a lot of cocoa and other foodstuffs.

“We don’t have network in this community. We’re cut off from the rest of the world. We live in a remote island,” he said.

A digital world
More and more people in the world use cell phones. Six billion mobile phones are used on a regular basis on earth, and this number is increasing. 

Of those six billion phones, five billions are in developing countries. We could say that nearly everybody has a cell phone and uses it. Despite the fact that rural folks struggle to make or receive calls on their cheep phones that can do little besides making calls and sending text messages, they are attached to the devices. In villages like these those who have phones are esteemed very high. But what is a phone when it can neither make nor receive calls?

These underprivileged and deprived Ghanaian communities often have populations of less than 2000 people.

The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications was thus mandated by the Government of Ghana to extend communication to these remote communities and thus open them up for economic development and access to information. Communications Manager at GIFEC, Kwame Badu Andor, told me the outfit is doing a lot to improve the quality of network in rural areas such as Kakabo.

GIFEC indeed has done something. But this is not enough because until the network providers are willing to install their microwaves and wireless antennas on those masts erected at such huge cost, the entire process is defeated.

The NCA, GIFEC and the telecom services providers are supposed to work together to ensure the attainment of universal access tenet. However, there is not enough motivation for any of these entities to work towards the achievement of this goal which will not benefit the rural dwellers alone but those who live in urban area. This is because our economy depends so much on agriculture and quality telephone access to farmers can significantly reduce post harvest losses. Sometimes all the farmer needs is to call a driver to come to the farm gate and convey the foodstuff to the market.

Today, mobile telephony is being used to provide information to the farmers through SMS and multimedia-supported systems in many African countries. This has been made possible through public, private as well as NGO sector initiatives. Mobile telephony effectively reduces the “distance” between individuals and institutions, making the sharing of information and knowledge easier and more effective. Social networks can be strengthened and individuals empowered through use of their handset.

The Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications launched the Rural Telephony Project (RTP) in 2010 to extend mobile communication signals to unserved rural communities as well as to enhance customer experience of quality of service. The project provides funding to operators to cover the full capital expenditure costs of extending mobile telephony services to these communities.

A self-supported mast is erected with microwave and wireless antenna installed on it. The facility is fenced and has a security post. A cabinet houses the indoor unit. A solar panel to provide the power source for the equipment is also installed. When a site is activated, there are both voice and wireless internet signals.  Solar panels are used at such sites where there is no electricity

The Rural Telephony Project is the Government of Ghana’s vision to ensure that each citizen has access to communication services regardless of their geographical location in the country. This provides an opportunity for growth of customized applications such as mobile money transfer services, for employment generation and for revenue mobilization for economic development. The goals of this project are to establish a total of 150 rural telephony sites by the end of 2015. Currently 30 rural telephony sites have been deployed across Ghana.

Of course these efforts are all aimed towards ensuring quality access to the mobile phone signal for people who live in places like Kakabo, Mmoframfadwene and the many others found over the country. But telecom services operators say the bureaucracy within some permitting agencies and authorities also hinder their efforts to deploy the telecoms infrastructure both in urban and rural  

Especially in rural areas, chiefs, land owners and some opinion leaders are seen as part of the reasons some of those villages do not have mobile phone services.

Rural folks are generally poor, travelling to these communities, I have heard the choking effect of poverty in the voices of the people, seen the deep cracks of deprivation on the skins and on the mud houses they live in. In these villages the reality of technological advancement is a huge plain imaginary tale.  This wedge can be closed when access to telephony services is significantly improved.

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