Why Uganda needs broadband connectivity in game parks

Wednesday August 7 2019

 

By Kyetume Kasanga

When former US President Barack Obama created the US Broadband Opportunity Council in June 2010, he noted that access to high-speed broadband was no longer a luxury. The Council declared broadband an essential commodity that was “taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities”.

According to the US National Park Service (similar to Uganda Wildlife Authority), which superintends the country’s 419 national parks, with the aid of fibre optics, high speed Internet provides visitors with easier access to park-specific information. It also appeals to those who want to meet their professional obligations while in the national parks.

The US government, therefore, prioritised broadband connection in its protected areas. So far the Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are some of those that are connected. Yellowstone, the world’s oldest protected area that was launched in 1872, even operates a Geyser App, which notifies visitors of eruption times in the upper Geyser Basin.
Internet in the national park makes it possible for rangers to access critical information in real time and even share about what they find in the field.

Bill and Maya Waikiki are affluent socialites who live in Honolulu, Hawaii, an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 3,840km west of California. The couple cruises with a get-curious-get-going adventurous streak. They rave about exploring as they gather immigration stamps on their passport at international airports around the globe.

Before they could schedule a 20-day trip to South Africa with the attendant generously lavish expenditure, they asked about Wi-Fi access and Internet speeds in Kruger National Park, one of the largest national parks in the world with an area of 19,485 sq km (more than 4.8 million acres or three quarters the size of Rwanda).

Bill and Maya are an example of tourists whose next adventure destination is determined by the presence or absence of Wi-Fi and Internet. In the Kruger, each of the park’s gates has a Local-Area Network and long-range technology providing Wi-Fi. To enhance security, acoustic fibre was fitted along its electrified fence, enabling cameras to capture movements and allowing staff to communicate while seeing live data on patrol.

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With such technology in Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, the April 9 kidnap of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott and her guide Jean Paul Mirenge at gunpoint wouldn’t have happened.

In a report to the plenary in May this year, Tororo North MP Annet Nyakecho, who chairs the Parliament Committee on ICT and National Guidance, implored Parliament to set aside Shs68b (about $18.3m). The money was for the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance to establish broadband infrastructure and connectivity at tourism sites in the country. This sparked a flurry of opposition from sections of the public. Some even cynically wondered which elephant had asked for Internet.

Internet access is becoming an absolute necessity for business travellers and a fair percentage of leisure tourists. Many travellers have children, aging parents, other relatives and friends back home that may need to stay in touch.

In Uganda, tourism is a major contributor to the economy. According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, its revenues soared to $1.4b (Shs5.1 trillion) in 2017/2018, up from $979 million (Shs3.6 trillion) in 2012/2013 and $1.35bn (Shs4.9 trillion) in 2016/2017. It was the single highest foreign exchange earner, contributing 23.5 percent of total exports and 10 percent of GDP.

Mr Kasanga is the principal communication officer, Directorate of Information and National Guidance.
dkkasanga10@gmail.com

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