The Zambian government has unveiled its plan to establish Community Digital Transformation Centers (CDTCs) in every district of the country to enhance its digital ecosystem and empower its citizens.

The CDTCs will provide free Internet access to the public, as well as offer training and mentoring on digital literacy and skills, digital entrepreneurship and innovation, and online services and opportunities.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Felix Chipota Mutati, announced the plan on Tuesday, saying that the CDTCs will create jobs and improve the quality of life for the people, especially in rural areas.

“These centres will not only provide Internet access but will also serve as training grounds for digital literacy and skills programs, including digital entrepreneurship and innovation, creating opportunities for jobs and empowerment,” Mutati said.

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Leveraging Starlink and postal infrastructure

The plan to create the CDTCs comes after the government secured a deal with Starlink, a satellite Internet service provider owned by SpaceX, to provide every lawmaker representing Zambia with a Starlink kit for their home constituency.

The Starlink kits, which consist of a satellite dish, a tripod, and a Wi-Fi router, will enable high-speed and low-latency Internet connectivity in remote and underserved areas, where terrestrial infrastructure is lacking or unreliable.

The government will also make use of the existing infrastructure of the Zambia Postal Services Corporation (ZAMPOST), as well as other suitable facilities, to set up the CDTCs.

The government has partnered with Smart Zambia, a government agency that promotes the use of ICT for national development, to implement the plan. Smart Zambia will oversee the installation, operation, and maintenance of the CDTCs, as well as the coordination and monitoring of the digital programs and services offered at the centres.

Aiming to increase Internet penetration and innovation

The plan to launch the CDTCs is part of the government’s vision to increase Internet penetration and innovation in the country, which has a population of over 20 million people.

According to DataReportal’s Digital 2023 report, Zambia has 4.3 million Internet users, or a 21.2% Internet penetration rate, which is below the African average of 39.3%. The report also shows that only 16.6% of the population has access to broadband Internet, and only 9.5% has access to mobile Internet.

The government hopes that by providing free and reliable Internet access to the people, as well as equipping them with digital skills and knowledge, it will be able to bridge the digital divide and foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country.

The government also expects that the CDTCs will support the delivery of online education, health, commerce, and government services, as well as the participation of the people in the digital economy and society.

The government has allocated a budget of K200 million for the plan, and aims to launch the first batch of CDTCs by the end of the year. The government has also invited the private sector, civil society, and international partners to join the initiative and contribute to the development of the digital ecosystem in Zambia.

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What are the criteria for selecting the locations of CDTCs?

The criteria for selecting the locations of CDTCs are not explicitly stated by the government, but based on the sources I found, they might include the following factors:

The availability and suitability of existing infrastructure, such as postal offices, schools, libraries, or community centres, that can be used or adapted to host the CDTCs.

The level of Internet connectivity and access in the area, and the potential to improve it with the Starlink kits or other solutions.

The demand and need for digital services and skills in the area, especially among the rural, poor, and marginalised populations.

The presence and involvement of local stakeholders, such as government officials, community leaders, civil society organisations, and private sector partners, who can support and collaborate with the CDTCs.

The alignment and contribution of the CDTCs to the national and regional development goals and priorities, such as education, health, agriculture, security, and environment.