New social groups of digital natives and immigrants are emerging from Zimbabwe due to the high demand for access to information and digital technologies. These digital social groups are generations of people living in Zimbabwe whose socioeconomic wellbeing is part of digital technologies. However, these generations are fleeing digital poverty in Zimbabwe, outsourcing affordable internet services from neighbouring countries.

According to Marc Persnk, 2021, digital native is a term used to describe the generation of people who grew up in the era of ubiquitous technology, including computers and the internet. On the other hand, digital immigrants are people who have had to adapt to the new language of technology.

The long awaited deal between Zimbabwe’s data authority, POTRAZ, and satellite-based internet service providers is an indicator of digital rights issues that may not necessarily be protected by policy and the country’s laws.

Digital poverty is the main driver of the widening digital gap in Zimbabwe. More people are disconnecting from the internet due to the unaffordability of data and internet services.

Key issues on internet distribution

  • Zimbabweans have started using satellite-based internet service provider Star Link.
  • POTRAZ is restricting and criminalising access, possession, and distribution of satellite-based internet services.
  • Starlink is now available in Zambia and Mozambique, where Zimbabweans are purchasing and registering their kits.

ZNCJ is concerned with the current state of internet governance in Zimbabwe, which is restricting a liberal and free internet market in a country affected by acute digital poverty.

This article will unpack how satellite internet service and Elon Musk’s Starlink have the potential to unlock internet freedom and access through equitable access to the internet.

For a country struggling to increase internet penetration due to digital poverty as a result of the unaffordability of data to the public, the government must welcome satellite-based internet service providers to provide affordable services to achieve digital socioeconomic justice.

Star Link has already started operating in Mozambique and Zambia, while some Zimbabweans have already started purchasing Star Link kits from neighbouring countries and paying for the premium, which is slightly under $60 per month for uncapped internet. Compared to service providers in Zimbabwe charging for a similar package, Starlink could be four times cheaper, offering steady and reliable internet speed.

A significant population remaining connected to the internet is likely not to get the full digital experience due to data rationing.

As more Zimbabweans have started accessing Starlink internet with foreign accounts, the affordable option has become popular, with more kits finding their way into the country to avert the high data tariffs charged by the local service providers.

POTRAZ, the data authority, recently released a public notice on the government’s position regarding satellite internet service, which presents a digital rights issue stifling access to the internet.

Part of the statement reads:

“It has come to the attention of the authority that local entities masquerading as satellite internet service providers or local agents accredited to distribute customer premises equipment for satellite-based internet service to the unsuspecting public”

“Being found in possession of or operating telecommunications without a valid licence, certificate, or authorization from POTRAZ is an offence punishable by law.”

ZNCJ opines that the so-called “unsuspecting public” is a collective population of digital natives and immigrants fleeing local conventional service providers in desperate search of affordable options.

Therefore, digital immigrants cannot afford to be excluded or left out of the digital economy because there is a risk of existential threats that may manifest as career and education redundancies.

ZNCJ position

ZNCJ is concerned with digital rights, where the law criminalises Zimbabweans who are outsourcing satellite-based internet services as an affordable option against local service providers.

The matter must be treated with urgency so that the government finds a way to regularise the usage of StarLink equipment in the country or risk having an increase in digital refugees stuck in a country with internet services they cannot afford.

ZNCJ supports and advocates for a liberal market for internet access and government policies that are inclusive and crafted to bridge the digital divide and end digital poverty.

The government must craft an internet governance policy with a democratic approach that liberalises the market.

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By Richard Kawazi

Richard Kawazi is a media policy and tech enthusiast, also a multi award winning journalist with a keen interest in Experimental Media Development.

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