One of the positive developments in Kenya is the existence of the Universal Service Fund which has great potential to improve the welfare of people with limited access to digital equipment and services.

The fund seeks to collect funds that are then used to bridge the digital divide in several ways. Mobile network operators in Kenya are required to contribute 0.5 percent of their annual turnover to the fund while the Communications Authority of Kenya also contributes to the fund. Other sources of funds include grants and donations. The purpose of the fund is to promote access to ICT services and promote capacity building and innovation in ICT services in Kenya.

The regions that are a key focus are the rural, remote, and urban poor areas.

The challenges in the targeted areas

Most remote and areas have limited infrastructure and a low population density which makes them not economically feasible for ICT infrastructure investment. Consequently, telcos have no interest in investing in these areas because they are commercial ventures and these regions do not suit their interests. This also applies to other services such as healthcare and education, and these are often provided by the government.

The implication of this is that most of these areas end up being even more marginalized.

People cannot own mobile phones because they cannot use them, they lack access to the internet and cannot enjoy services like mobile money. Only the government can intervene to ensure that the people living in these areas are not left behind and the Universal Service Fund in Kenya is being used for this purpose.

Interventions to bridge the digital divide in Kenya

One of the interventions of the Universal Services Fund has been the expansion of mobile networks in remote parts of Kenya.

To date, the fund has helped set up voice infrastructure and services in 67 locations, provision of internet connection to 885 schools, computerization of 62 libraries in Kenya, and supporting 8 ICT Centers for people with disabilities.

In the 2020/2021 financial year, the fund will see base transmission stations set up in 101 marginalized locations and benefit about 270,000 people.

Other possible applications of Kenya's Universal Services Fund

Of late, there have been suggestions that the fund can be more involved in supporting eLearning in public schools since schools are closed until 2021. While it may not be possible to implement eLearning within such a short time, nascent steps can be taken to start laying the ground for the future.

This could involve equipping the teachers with the requisite skills, running pilot projects, and creating content that would suit even remote parts of Kenya.

There are still many areas the fund could focus on, including providing digital literacy skills, empowering post and courier services, and also Television Broadcasting. If done right, the fund will have a great impact on creating a more equal society.

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