Director of Digital Media and Diaspora Communication Dennis Itumbi (right) shows Nakuru County Governor Kinuthia Mbugua the basics of Wi-Fi connectivity. Photo Courtesy of Nation Media

Director of Digital Media and Diaspora Communication Dennis Itumbi (right) shows Nakuru County Governor Kinuthia Mbugua the basics of Wi-Fi connectivity. Photo Courtesy of Nation Media

By Kioko Kivandi

Going digital, a key plank of the Jubilee administration with its flagship area being Nakuru County is experiencing a mixed bag in its launch of free WiFi. It is available in certain ‘strategic’ areas only for now with the hope of expanding in future. Identifying these areas seems the way forward in using the internet for entertainment, recreational and also marketing opportunities available online.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Director for Nakuru County is urging residents to make use of free internet being provided by the government in Nakuru town.

The WiFi project which is being done in collaboration with State House Nairobi and Liquid Telecom was launched in March 2014 but did not pick well much to the disappointment of residents. It was then launched again at the start of this year.

It aims at cutting the cost of doing business online including doing research for students and their lecturers in colleges of higher education in the county.

Although the WiFi is only being accessed in specific spots within the town, Leonard Kirui wants residents to take advantage of the service as they wait for the town to be fully connected. “Try it it’s there,” says an optimistic Kirui.

According to the County Government the free internet is accessible at 13 different spots beginning with the county headquarters. Other spots include the CK Patel building and the Afraha Stadium.

In some of these spots, for instance at the Old Town Hall, it is strong enough to stream live T.V. especially if there is only a single user doing the streaming. And while there is a good presence of businesses in most of these spots it remains to be known how many of these businesses are making use of the internet considering that it was set up for them.

“The aim of having the internet services at Afraha Stadium is to make it possible for people attending sporting activities at the stadium to post information with ease,” says Kirui. This perhaps suggests a cultural inclination by the County to inform the world of Nakuru County.

The Afraha Stadium is Nakuru’s main sports facility with an estimated capacity of 5,000 persons. Apart from being the main ground for Ulinzi Stars, it also hosts Nakuru All Stars Top Fry and St. Joseph Youth football clubs.

But unless the government publicizes the free internet it is very likely that sports enthusiasts visiting the County and the stadium will never get to know about it and use it since even now residents are yet to make maximum use of the internet partly because of technical challenges and partly because of lack of information concerning the services.

Maureen Macharia, a trader who runs a boutique shop next to the Nakuru Town Campus of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) – where the service is available – says she would like to use it while advertising her business but it has a weak signal.

For her to post pictures on social media platforms on which she usually advertises her products she has to leave her shop unattended as the signal cannot be accessed within it even though it is available at its verandah.

“It has become common for people to stand outside my shop to browse through the free WiFi and I wish it was strong enough for me to access it without having to go out,” she told Kenya Monitor.

Apart from JKUAT the WiFi is also available at the Nairobi Aviation College.

“We use it to do research for our studies,”

said John Ogoi the Chairman of the students’ body at the college.

But a business man who did not want to be named complained that he has never been able to access the service despite his premises being close to the college.

“When it was launched we thought it would be economical for us in doing business, but it is not. We thought it would be accessible to everyone.”

Responding to the complaints the County government has said that it is aware of such challenges saying that they are technical and will be handled with time.

“For you to get any WiFi signal you need to be at a place where you can get a line of sight,”

says Kirui the ICT Director who wants residents to be patient until the project which is fully underway.

Apart from the technical challenges Kirui has sited resistance from a section of residents towards the project. “Some people don’t want us to fix our antennas at the top of their buildings,” he said with disappointment.

A successful free WiFi access to residents in Nakuru County, even just in the Central Business District would be another plus for the town which is considered to be the fastest growing in the region. But before it records it as a success, the county government will need sensitize residents of its availability in order to increase its uptake.