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Results Briefs April 12, 2022

Digital Infrastructure Boosts Resilience and Improves Lives in Rural Kosovo

Kosovo results brief

The Kosovo Digital Economy (KODE) project improved access to better quality broadband services in rural populations.

Photos: Sara Ibrahimi / KODE


With World Bank support, Kosovo now has the highest number of high-speed internet subscriptions per household in Europe, and with internet penetration of 135 percent, it outpaces leading EU countries. The country’s timely and well-implemented rural broadband program leveraged private capital and brought a digital lifeline to remote locations where it was needed the most — schools, health centers, and homes.

Challenge

Just a few years ago, in 2018, rural populations of Kosovo did not have equitable access to social and economic opportunities online. Remote schools and health centers relied on poor internet connections or remained unconnected. Without opportunities to work and study on-line, about 200 unconnected villages like Makresh, Stanishor, Gjilan, and Guskë, were losing young families to cities. Mountainous terrain and low population density meant operators were not able to provide good connectivity on a commercial basis. Moreover, low trust in institutions prevented the private and public sectors from working together effectively to close this gap. In 2019, Kosovo was one of the two last European countries without a National Research and Education Network (NREN), a specialized organization dedicated to supporting the needs of the research and education communities within a country.

Approach

The Kosovo Digital Economy (KODE) project, which began in 2018, improved access to better quality and high‐speed broadband services in project areas, opening online knowledge sources, services, and labor markets to citizens as well as public and academic institutions.

Building on years of collaboration with Kosovo, the World Bank used its knowledge and financing to support transformative sectoral reforms. This included enabling use of the fiber infrastructure of Kosovo’s Transmission, System, and Market Operator (KOSTT), and supporting the design of innovative broadband pilots which favored open competition, ensuring selection of internet operators offering the lowest price, and requesting the lowest amount of matching government funds. The World Bank also used its convening power to build trust between public and private parties.


"Isolated villagers that were infected with COVID-19 were concerned about their health and reached us through Viber (a messaging app) or any other instant communication app to tell us their symptoms and ask if their health condition is becoming worse. Me and a doctor have responded to many messages. Also, as a resident of this village I can say that without internet we were like isolated from the world."
Melihate Asllani, Nurse, Guskë Village
Melihate Asllani
Nurse, Guskë Village

Results

  • By 2021, an average of 80 percent of families in 163 villages in the project subscribed to the broadband services at prices similar to those in Pristina and other larger Kosovar cities. This brought national average broadband penetration to 135 percent — the highest in Europe.
  • By 2022, 76 schools and 27 health institutions in remote locations were linked to ultra-high-speed connections.
  • The private capital that was mobilized provided 30 percent of financing (3.4 million Euros) for infrastructure built in remote areas of Kosovo. Pro-competitive project design enabled efficient implementation, saving around 40 percent of public funds earmarked for infrastructure. By 2021, 20 internet operators, most of which were local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), benefitted from the project, receiving a boost to their businesses.
  • In 2019, Kosovo signed a Memorandum of Understanding with national higher educational institutions and established the Kosovo NREN (KREN), connecting Kosovo for the first time to the pan-European network of universities, GÉANT. As a consequence, Kosovar universities are now able to undertake knowledge exchange and research collaboration.

"Learning from distance was challenge for me, but I feel so lucky that we had the internet connection at home which allowed me to get class updates. My teacher helped to learn how to use the online platform to attend classes and to submit the homework."
Petra Kosumanoviç, Primary school student, age 14, Makresh Village
Petra Kosumanoviç
Primary school student, age 14, Makresh Village

Bank Group Contribution

The KODE project is supported by an International Development Association (IDA) credit of 20.7 million Euros.

Partners

The Ministry of Economic Development is the implementing body that provides strategic direction and technical oversight to the entire KODE project. The project partners include the University of Prizren, GÉANT, and the Kosovo Telecommunication Regulatory Authority.


"Our students are mainly from Guskë and Devë villages. We have continued with online schooling during the lockdown, thankfully to the internet connection that has been deployed months ago in these villages."
Digital Kosovo
Ukë Kuka
School Director, Guskë Village

Looking Ahead

The success of the Kosovo rural broadband program has made it a blueprint for similar World Bank projects in other parts of the world. In May 2022, Kosovo will inaugurate KREN’s hybrid cloud computing center to offer innovative services (e.g., Artificial Intelligence, machine learning) to Kosovar universities. KREN service pilots are planned with the University of Prizren. The project’s Youth Online and Upward Program (YOU) program trains 2000 youth in high-demand advanced digital skills and support their employability. YOU builds on successful Women in Online Work (WOW) pilots. The first YOU trainings have attracted wide interest among young people, with 2500 candidates registering in just one week.


"We have advanced in the extension of the fiber optic network in our area, which technology was not deployed before by our company. We have a significant increase as a company which has been reflected in increasing the number of employees and on customer satisfaction as well."
Bajram Hyseni, CEO at ISP Giga Group, Gjilan City
Bajram Hyseni
CEO at ISP Giga Group, Gjilan City