Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Madagascar

May 26, 2016

World Bank Group

  • The World Bank-supported Communications Infrastructure Project (PICOM) helped expand access to mobile telephony and the Internet in a number of very poor and remote areas of Madagascar
  • More than 660 communities, most of them in rural areas, are now connected to ICT services
  • The presence of a reliable and efficient telecommunications network has is also facilitating entrepreneurship development in difficult-to-access areas

ANTANANARIVO, May 26, 2016– With the goal of bridging the digital divide, the Communications Infrastructure Project (PICOM) has given more than two million Malagasy access to the benefits of new technologies.

With support from an International Development Association credit, PICOM was implemented in three main areas covering nine regions between November 2007 – December 2015, mostly in rural areas and in locations that are difficult to access.

 “In those regions, the project has succeeded in improving access by residents to services that have transformed their day-to-day life, thus bridging the digital divide not only between the different regions of Madagascar, but also between urban and rural populations, and between disadvantaged groups and others,” noted Coralie Gevers, World Bank Country Manager in Madagascar. “This project has therefore contributed to democratizing mobile telephony and the Internet in Madagascar, and has without a doubt had an impact on the economy.”

In the covered regions, there has been significant growth in the penetration of ICT services. Internet service penetration has improved from negligible at the time of project approval in 2007, to 13.4% at the end of the project in 2015, tripling the targeted goal. At the same time, the volume of international traffic reached 32 Gbit/s at the end of the project, exceeding the intended goal by almost 50%. This growth included remote populations in more than 660 rural communities, which now have access to ICT.

In practical terms, residents in areas where PICOM activities were carried out can now enjoy on a daily basis the many benefits and facilities provided by ICT, which seem commonplace to most city dwellers (including in developing countries) but which may be crucial in some isolated areas. Beyond statistics, the residents in areas where PICOM activities were carried out can see the positive impacts of this project every day, including the ability to get in touch with family who live all over the country, and being able to send money.

In addition to the social impacts of the expansion of mobile telephony, mobile payment, and Internet services, PICOM has also fostered economic activity in these often difficult-to-reach regions and facilitated commercial activity by improving access to information and creating new opportunities. Small businesses, for instance, have sprung up in villages to provide cell phone charging services, using solar energy. Several farmers in these regions have seized the opportunity provided by the Internet to get in touch with potential customers in remote areas, among them a farmer from the district of Farafangana who uses this tool to sell her produce either in Madagascar or abroad.

A total of 68 telecommunication towers were installed, through effective collaboration between the private operators and the public sector, as part of an ambitious public-private partnership. Without this partnership and sharing of the deployment and maintenance costs of these towers, the areas concerned, affected by deep poverty and low population density, might not have been covered.

According to Isabel Neto, Senior Operations Officer at the World Bank, “the success of the project itself was facilitated by the exceptional tripartite collaboration between Madagascar’s Minister of Postal Services, Telecommunications, and the Development of Information Technology, the telecommunications companies, and the World Bank. That really was a determining factor in the quality of the public-private partnership upon which the project is based.”

The strong involvement of the population helped to foster ownership of the new infrastructure, guaranteeing its sustainability, from site selection to infrastructure construction and installation work.