Mozambique is one of the ten poorest nations of the world with 60% of its population below the poverty line (1). Efforts to establish the Internet in the cities have not spread to its rural areas, where 87% of its people dwell (2). Although the country inherited a near 97% literacy rate at the time of its independence a quarter of a century ago, literacy has sunken to 42.3% since then (3). The country is also just recovering from a civil war that spanned multiple decades. Its private sector is fighting to establish itself, and the state is short on funds.
However, the Mozambican government is pushing an aggressive policy on telecommunications development. It spends 5% of its GNP on telecommunications development, one of the highest percentages in the world (4). With technical assistance through such outside agencies as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Mozambique hopes to catch up socio-economically with more developed nations by harnessing the opportunities the Internet provides. One current challenge the country faces is to ensure that there is equal Internet access to all its citizens – urban and rural, rich and poor.
Since Mozambique currently offers only dial-in Internet connections, telephone access (wireless or wired) is essential. Despite the prolonged civil strife Mozambique exited in 1992 and the poor state the telecommunications sector was left in, the country has made significant strides in improving telecommunications. The average call completion rate within Mozambique in 1995, for instance, was 74%, far higher than the rate encountered in most African countries. Intra-city phone connections within Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, are especially reliable. Some even claim that the fact that most of the country has no access to standard, analogue phone lines, is actually an opportunity for the country to jump directly into the digital, wireless age. In fact, 99% of the main lines currently provided by the telecommunications company in Mozambique, TDM, are digital (5). The already significant number of cellular phone users in Mozambique – 12,400 - is expected to increase dramatically as cellular service is extended to rural areas (3).
In terms of computer access, Mozambique has also made great relative progress over the last few years, although in absolute terms the results are less impressive. From 1996 to 1998, the number of computers per hundred inhabitants increased dramatically from 0.08 to 1.6 (6). Most of this can be attributed to technological growth within the cities. In contrast, the number of televisions per hundred individuals increased from 0.39 to only 0.4, indicating that Mozambicans are excited about the Internet and, to some extent, prioritize it higher than other media (6).
In terms of educational infrastructure, Mozambique still has a long way to go. The nation currently suffers from a severe shortage of trained people in information technology to help the country advance. There are at present only two schools training people in Internet skills – the Mondlane university, and a private company, EXI Lda (3).
The cost for a limited amount of bandwidth is disproportional to standards in well-connected countries. For ISPs, Leasing a 64K line is $400/month and actual access to the internet is another $400/month, depending on how far the access is located from the connection source (8). With the TDM’s infrastructure concentrated in urban areas and barely spread out to rural areas, access is more expensive and more limited in rural areas since they are so far from the main connection source.
Despite all these cost limitation, the biggest hurdle to full connectivity for Mozambique’s citizens still has to do with its extreme poverty. It is very unrealistic for a substantial percentage of Mozambicans to own their own computer. Studies of Manhica, who’s residents are slightly better off than their counterparts in Namaacha, show that target internet users, identified as “potential immediate users,” are “earning US$40 to $60 a month.” (6) Access alone would eat up half their income, not to mention the costs of setup and buying a computer. It is clearly not feasible for most individuals to obtain access on their own. Even given the government’s proportionally high budget expenditure of 5% in telecommunications development, the total monetary amount is not nearly enough to provide access to all or even a majority of its citizens.
Substantial aid from foreign sources has greatly alleviated inability to pay. Through currently developing programs such as the telecentres, Mozambicans are able to access the internet in community-owned settings even if they cannot afford to obtain access on their own.
Mozimbique’s telecommunications company, TDM, was once state-owned but since 1992 has become a publicly-owned firm as part of large economic reform to improve its efficiency by making it independent. The reality has been that its continued monopoly and static nature have kept it from being efficient in spreading and encouraging internet access. The company only provides internet services to Internet Service Providers and not end users. Accessibility to end users is left up to individual ISP’s.
The Mozambique government has a positive view on furthering domestic support for the Internet. Although the urban minority currently enjoys most of Mozambique’s telecommunication system, the government is taking considerable effort to connect all of its citizens to the Information Super-Highway. Not only has the government massage spending on telecommunications provided economic and political support, its encouragement of outside organizations has led to pilot programs in internet access all around the country.
Mozambicans view computer learning as the most important application of Internet connectivity. Mozambicans also value highly the improvement of their country’s education. When asked to rank what priorities they would give to spending income, food was most important (71%), but a full 20% said they would spend it on education as second priority, and 36% said as a third priority. Given that Mozambicans perceive the Internet as a learning tool, such organizations as IDRC believe that the Mozambican people would be willing to invest in increased Internet access (2)