Fiber optic internet in villages is not just a whim, but an additional opportunity to endure and develop

Fiber optic internet in villages is not just a whim, but an additional opportunity to endure and develop

 

Fiber optic internet in villages is not just a whim, but an additional opportunity to endure and develop

The issue of coping with the digital divide in Ukraine, when residents of villages do not have access to modern urban telecommunication services, has already been actively discussed for several years. Recently, the Government presented its vision of achieving the goal of connecting 95% of the rural population of Ukraine to high-speed internet, especially to social infrastructure facilities. At the same time, Ukrtelecom was the first to talk about this issue two years ago. What are the real telecommunication needs of the residents of the Ukrainian village? What are the aims and prospects of connection to the network, and also how quickly can the biggest telecom operator implement the government’s plan? Serhiy Kindras, Head of 2 Sales department of PJSC “Ukrtelecom” shared his take on these questions during a talk with Mind.

Will Ukrainian villages survive without the Internet?

You are only able to read this interview, this text, because most of Ukraine has access to the World Wide Web. However, millions of Ukrainians still do not have this opportunity. Mostly, these are residents of small villages. These citizens have the same needs and rights to study, to develop, to access services, and to get access to telemedicine. All of these rights are significantly limited because of where they live. Migration to cities is not a solution, because this would mean the complete decline of village life. So, having access to the internet isn't just a whim, but an opportunity to endure and develop.

Why does everything depend on young people?

Every week our team covers up to 5000 km while exploring Ukrainian villages. We have travelled to more than 5,000 villages and met with the heads of village councils and village residents. This helps us to understand the activity of each town, the presence of educational and medical institutions, and the size of the working-age population. In every village we receive appeals from people – requests to connect their village to the network. The quarantine period made their situation especially aggravated. With the transition to life with social distancing, there was an urgent need for internet coverage. If schools are not opened in September, then children in villages without access to the internet will not be able to study.

In general, the internet coverage rate in Ukraine is 85%. If we speak about coverage in rural areas, then the coverage is only 65% – 4.6 million Ukrainians live in zones where the there are no fiber optic cables. This means that that young people leave the village because they are not able to receive additional education and access services, communicate with their peers, study the world, and get access to the entertainment they desire.

The youth is a driving force that sets the pace of infrastructure development and contributes to the economic, social, and cultural development of both villages and the whole region. If young people leave a town, then it is on the way to decline.

Right now the region with the best internet coverage is Western Ukraine (about 90%). In some areas there the digital divide is almost closed. For example, in 2020, in the Transcarpathian region, there are no more villages of more than 100 households without fiber optic internet access. However, there are still areas where the percentage of coverage is just 50-60%.

How many villages can the internet cover?

The Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation has announced a task for the state: to provide 95% of the rural population of Ukraine with high-quality internet by 2024. At the same time, the Ministry announced that this is primarily necessary for social infrastructure, because 40% of schools, 92% of libraries, and 37% of hospitals do not have access to the internet, or have access at such a low speed that it is impossible to talk seriously about digitalization.

Some time ago we began to figure out how to attract the technologies and investment that could narrow the digital divide between city and village. So, the project "Coping with the digital divide in Ukrainian villages" was created. Its main aim is for the internet to reach 95% of the rural population of Ukraine in less than three years.

At the same time, we plan to increase network coverage in rural areas by 20% during the first stage. When calculating these figures, we relied on the corresponding European indicators of 2019, where the average percentage of internet coverage is 97% and in rural areas is 90%.

At the same time, we plan to increase network coverage in rural areas by 20% during the first stage. When calculating these figures, we relied on the corresponding European indicators of 2019, where the average percentage of internet coverage is 97% and in rural areas is 90%.

How long will it take?

Our project of coping with the digital divide involves two stages. In the first stage – we will connect villages where a lack of internet coverage is especially acute. We plan to go through this stage over 2.5 years. The need for a second stage appeared after the tasking from the Ministry of Digital Transformation and after foreseeing the need to provide an additional 10% of Internet coverage in the villages. Further research will be required for this second stage, because before our detailed study only concerned towns that met specific indicators.

Indeed, a public-private partnership is the only possible way to achieve the set of KPI's (goals). Our calculation suggests that in the first stage there should be 1.4 billion UAH of investment from the state and 1.6 billion UAH from "Ukrtelecom".

What kind of connection does a village need?

Most often, people connect the Internet at speeds of 50 and 100 Mb/s, but soon the most popular speed will be 200 Mb/s. So, we will soon need to scale up and provide additional capacity. However, given that the most modern GPON equipment is now getting set up in villages, their residents will be able to afford better internet than they could in some cities.

Fixed or mobile Internet?

Take Europe – Europe has a well-developed 4G mobile network (with a coverage of 99%) which allows one to watch and upload videos freely, listen to music, learn, use social services, and work. However, people still prefer fixed (wired) internet. Thus, according to statistics, 90.5% of households use fixed internet and only 9.5% exclusively use mobile internet.

Therefore, it is impossible to make any further delays. In one or two years – and individual villages without internet access can disappear from the map of Ukraine. Besides, in coping with the digital divide, we are creating not only additional opportunities for the economy, accelerating it, but also creating a country of equal opportunities.

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