The Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) has partnered with Space X’s Starlink team to explore the provision of affordable and reliable internet services for Zambian citizens in a bid to bridge the digital divide and boost socio-economic development. Following discussions initiated by
His Excellency, President Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, during the 77th United Nations General Assembly in September 2022, the Zambia Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) received a proposal from Starlink to test their Starlink satellite technology internet services.
The Government is currently providing internet and network connectivity to 300 sites across the country through the Government Wide Area Network (GWAN). However, this has resulted in a digital divide, with some underserved areas lacking access to digital tools and hindering the provision of enhanced services. Recognizing the importance of connectivity in today’s digital world, the Government aims to ensure that all public service sites have access to the internet for enhanced service delivery and socio-economic development.
To achieve this goal, the GRZ initiated the provision of satellite internet services, primarily targeting remote towns, public libraries, schools, health facilities, and local authorities. Starlink, a division of SpaceX based in the United States of America, focuses on delivering high-speed broadband internet to areas where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable. To test the viability of Starlink’s satellite-based internet connectivity in Zambia, an agreement was signed in December 2022, allowing a six-month Proof of Concept (PoC) exercise to commence in ten public service sites across the country.
The PoC exercise, overseen by a multi-institutional technical committee led by the Electronic Government Division aimed to assess the quality of service and the potential for interference with other wireless services. Among the tested rural locations were Luano and Lunga Districts, which are among the most rural remote districts in the country.
During the PoC exercise, nine out of the ten Starlink user terminals were installed and tested in various locations, including Mansa College of Education, Kasomalunga Health Center, Kaputa District Hospital, Rusangu University – Monze, Muoyo Secondary School – Nalolo, Luano District Commissioner, Jimber Border Post – Ikelenge, Kasumbalesa Border Post, University Teaching Hospital, and Mitete Rural Health Centre and Mitete Secondary School. The initiative allowed residents in these locations to access over 283 Government services through the Zamportal (www.zamportal.gov.zm), also known as the Government Service Bus, which provides citizens with access to public services 24/7.
The benefits of internet access in remote parts of the country are significant, including improved access to healthcare, education, and business opportunities. The Satellite-based Internet Initiative is expected to enhance the quality of life for people in targeted sites and set an example for other rural areas in Zambia. The government’s commitment to bringing Government services closer to the people and bridging the digital divide is demonstrated through this initiative.
Following the successful conclusion of the PoC exercise, the service has proven to provide fast and reliable internet at an affordable cost structure compared to existing market options. As a result, the Zambian Government has officially licensed Space X’s Starlink Satellite group to provide internet services in the country, with operations expected to commence in July 2023. Moving forward, the Government will work through various Multi-Sectoral Partnerships Agreements (MSPAs) coordinated by the Electronic Government Division to ensure internet service coverage across all public institutions and accessibility to sector-based solutions and applications.
Reliable internet services have a profound impact on socio-economic development by expanding access to information, promoting education and skills development, creating economic opportunities, enhancing communication and collaboration, improving healthcare delivery, and facilitating government services and citizen participation. The utilization of satellite-based internet services, such as Starlink, offers cost-effective delivery of internet in remote areas, high-speed internet access, and disaster resilience during emergencies when terrestrial communication infrastructure may be damaged or disrupted.
The collaboration between the Zambian Government and Starlink marks a significant step towards a more connected and digital Zambia. By leveraging satellite technology, Zambia aims to ensure that all citizens have access to affordable and reliable internet connectivity, driving progress and inclusivity in the digital era.