Liquid Telecom Kenya (LTK) is installing a $2 million (Ksh 175 million) fiber optic network in Siaya County, the first its kind in rural Kenya, to open the areas underserved in terms of internet access.
The move is part of firm's plan to invest Kshs 4.35 billion ($50 million) in partnerships with counties in the next 24 months to roll out data connectivity projects that will see more counties benefit from projects similar to that in Siaya County.
Through the Wide Area Network (WAN) concept, the internet will link the county headquarters, sub counties and wards together, with a connection back to the central government. This will allow Internet users in the county reliable and affordable access to local and global websites. The installation process will see 50 staff employed with further roles being created to handle maintenance of fibre optics and wireless networks in the county.
"Rural Internet connectivity is rather poor in Kenya due to lack of infrastructure. What LTK primarily seeks to achieve in the partnership with the Siaya County government is open up the county to new business opportunities and improve government functionality," said Nic Rudnick, Liquid Telecom Group CEO. "There are vast human and capital resources lying idle in Siaya. Connecting the county to the rest of Kenya and the world will in turn enable businesses and the county government register increased productivity at reduced costs."
This is welcome news. According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) statistics released in 2014, Internet penetration in Kenya stands at 52.3 per cent, making the penetration in the country among the most enviable across the region. However penetration in rural areas has remained dismal locking out rural businesses and people from business, trade and employment opportunities experienced elsewhere.
In Senegal, the focus on improvement of Internet infrastructure countrywide has paid off by contributing 3.3 percent to the country's GDP as of 2012. Plans to accelerate internet penetration are underway, with expectations of creating at least 240,000 new jobs by 2015, according to a report by Dalberg Global Development Advisors.
The Internet in India, one of the fastest growing global economies, has been a key driver of the economy contributing 3.2 percent of the country's GDP. This is projected to exceed 3.7 per cent in 2015 as the country taps into rural areas, according to McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm. This will place the country in the same league as the US, Japan and Malaysia in terms of internet contribution to GDP.
In Kenya Internet connectivity, as it stands, contributes to 2.9 per cent of Kenya's GDP. The improvement of Internet infrastructure in Siaya, like in many parts of Senegal and India, is poised to trigger an increase in business activity while being a magnet for investors who counts on requisite infrastructure like internet to set up shop. This, in addition to firms seeking to meet the demands of their target markets and eased communication links, will result in employment creation within the county as firms set up operations in Siaya. A number of foreign and local investors including NGOs and service firms such as banks are expected to expand operations into the county following improved Internet infrastructure.
Through the installation of world class infrastructure courtesy of LTKs fibre network, Siaya is also set to win investor confidence even as the county seeks to position itself as an educational and agricultural.
The county is home to a number of university and tertiary institutions, most notably Bondo University College and Siaya Institute of Technology, which rely heavily on the Internet in the acquisition and transfer of knowledge and skills. The county government has also been liaising with a number of USA-based education establishments and universities such as the University of Florida on streaming lectures and lessons and other content to schools in the county.
Given its fertile soils and reliable rainfall, the county has immense potential for agriculture to thrive in as an industry. Internet connectivity is especially critical for an economy heavily reliant on agriculture as it makes strides towards e-agriculture, more so in access to linked information, mechanization and understanding of weather patterns. Currently, the key areas of agricultural focus in the county are rice, coffee, sugarcane and cotton farming.
Liquid Telecom Group, the parent company, has positioned itself as one of biggest investor in Africa's Internet connectivity. In East Africa, the firm has invested $20 million (Ksh1.75 billion) which has seen the installation of 17,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, the largest of its kind in Africa. This has ensured high speeds and continuous uptime for internet users.