We reported last year that ZICTA was set to erect 169 cell towers in Zambia, with a focus on rural areas to increase the network coverage by the 3 mobile operators MTN, Airtel and Zamtel.
However, a discovery has been made by the Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS) has our hopes dashing by filing a report that states that these cell towers are beyond standard, the standard being that the towers are supposed to cover a radius of about 3.1 miles or 5km from the spot of erection, as was agreed upon when the bidding took place for their construction. The contracted construction company is Huawei Technologies.
They also included the fact that even the towers that are already existing and being used by the MNOs also fall short of technical standards, but is it all of them? A closer review of the said report highlighted that these test sites were Malendema, Shakumbira and Kaindu in Mumbwa. It also stated that Shakumbira and Kaindu had no electricity supply so the focus was concentrated on Malendema.
The installed tower at Malendema was only covering a radius of 2.8km covering only 56% percent of the area, meaning 44% was left out.
According to the report by CUTS, “In areas where the towers are fully operational, those interviewed were asked about their observation on the coverage (radius). Most of them indicated that they had not paid particular attention to this – as they hardly knew the actual specifications of the project. It was also noted that most of the people interviewed expressed ignorance on social accountability and the role they can play in monitoring the effective delivery of these projects. Though this observation cannot be generalized, it still calls for the need to address the capacity the ‘demand side’ of service delivery by ensuring communities are informed of their such specifications and expected gains. This will promote a culture of monitoring the quality of public services being delivered and holding the government and service providers accountable as mentioned earlier.
Further, it was also clear that some people fail to distinguish between ZICTA installed towers and those by service providers. It is important that ZICTA builds on its communication campaign – as community ownership is required realizing that this was public infrastructure. And any if meaningful safety is to be guaranteed, community members ought to be appraised that this infrastructure is theirs and it will propel a culture of ownership.”
So we tried to get a comment from all parties involved. The CUTS phone number listed on their website was unavailable. The ZICTA PR line went unanswered after three attempts.
If they really are below standard, is ZICTA not looking into that? Would they still be allowed to operate if that was the case? The fact that this report was specific to one location would be wrong to use as a generalization of the entire cell tower network in the country. Until we get a report on ALL, there is only one faulty tower recorded.