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Govt finally brings free internet to Kampala, Entebbe

Minister Frank Tumwebaze addressing the media

Starting October 1, government will provide Ugandans in selected parts of Kampala and Entebbe with free internet access from 6pm to 6am in the latest ICT project.

Information and ICT minister Frank Tumwebaze announced it about 3 months ago in parliament, but many Ugandans were skeptical as to whether this was not one of those government PR stunts. But addressing the media today, Tumwebaze said that government sees internet as a necessity and one of the key drivers of Uganda’s prosperity and development. 

“Internet access, we believe is no longer a luxury but a necessity for all Ugandan citizens and [the] ICT sector must remain at the centre of this country-wide transformation clearing Uganda to world class efficiency and productivity. Over time we have seen the benefits of rolling out the national data backbone infrastructure in terms of increased productivity. Why were we able to achieve this? Because, we invested in the infrastructure. We are now able to broaden the rich of internet access to all citizens by effectively utilising the capacity the country built by investing in that infrastructure”, he said

Government has gazetted fifteen areas within Kampala central business district (CBD) and parts of Entebbe to initiate its free internet access pilot project. Tumwebaze says the phase I of the project will see the areas of Nakawa, Bugolobi, Kololo and Kamwokya connected first.

The areas to benefit include Bugolobi Flats, Middle East, Village Mall, Makerere University Business School (MUBS), Uganda Manufacturers’ Association (UMA), Lugogo Cricket Oval, Kololo Airstrip and Kisementi.
Others in the city center are Bombo road, Buganda road, Ben Kiwanuka street, Johnstone street, Luwum street and Kampala road. Tumwebaze says the internet will be available from 6pm and 6am during weekdays and 3pm to 6am during weekends.
The project is part of an East Africa-wide terrestrial fibre-optic cable that covers 15,600 km linking the five countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. The project’s objective was to help lower the cost of Internet bandwidth for the government and target user groups such as schools, universities, hospitals and research institutions. Rwanda is already providing free internet hotspots in Kigali while Kenya is also mooting the same although free internet is available on some of the city buses and taxis.
James Saaka, the executive director of the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) says the free internet is part of idle internet bandwidth in government offices after working hours, enhanced through the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure project.

The free internet however comes with restrictions. Users who want to access pornographic websites, terrorist inciting websites, music and video downloads, mobile phone applications and Virtual Private Networks (VPN) will not access the wi-fi hotspots.
“We already borrowed $106m to put the national backbone so that infrastructure is already available, the road is already available and all we are doing is using that very same road to give you the free internet. Because it is shared, you are getting a maximum of 2mbps [loading speed]. It is service that is available not for everything. There are restrictions to that internet. You won’t be able to download videos, you won’t have access to those bad sites…We want to give it you specifically for emergencies. People after 6pm still remain in town and weekends, people are in town. So use it, here is an opportunity, if you want to use it for free, you can wait in the evening or over the weekend at zero cost. We have already bought it”, Saaka said.

It is not immediately clear the maximum capacity government will provide per user per day. In South Africa for example, some telecommunication companies provide up to a maximum of 500MBs per user per day.

Some Ugandans on social media have also expressed excitement for the project while some have raised privacy concerns on the process of registration before one is allowed access. The registration requires a user to submit their first and last name, phone number, gender, email address, date of birth among others. But NITA-U defends the lengthy registration process saying it is necessary for them to collect their analytics. The project is a positive expression by a government that has always been accused by activists of reacting slow to local technology innovations and global ICT trends.

Tumwebaze says people who will attend the annual KCCA street festival will be the first beneficiaries of the free internet.

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