The members of ZAMREN are the higher education and research institutions of Zambia. For the Zambian regulator (ZICTA) the members of ZAMREN are a closed, well defined user group and ZAMREN is not allowed to provide services outside of this member group. Members are free to choose ZAMREN or one of the commercial ISPs in the country for their internet services.
ZAMREN’s main service is affordable internet for its members. ZAMREN is still in its start-up phase and the capacity of the ZAMREN organisation is mainly directed at connecting new members in order to be able to reach financial sustainability. ZAMREN does provide eduroam for its members. In the Strategic Plan for 2015-2018 the deployment of additional services has a high priority. These services will only be available for ZAMREN members.
ZAMREN members provide the income of ZAMREN to pay for the operational expenditures of ZAMREN, there is no direct government financing. The government does however support ZAMREN indirectly:
- The national telecom provider (ZESCO) provides a national Gigabit backbone free of cost during the start-up phase and has announced that in the future ZAMREN will have a special tariff for the national backbone.
- The Zambian regulator provides additional funds to ZAMREN to connect members to the nearest ZAMREN PoP; there are budget limitations to the number of members that can be connected per year.
Apart from this indirect government support there are donors that have contributed to ZAMREN:
- AfricaConnect and AfricaConnect2
These EC funded projects will provide long term financial attractive international circuits for ZAMREN.
- Dutch Niche project
The Dutch government has provided funds (M€2.3) for infrastructure investments, human capacity development and service deployment under the condition that ZAMREN developed a sustainable business model that ensured continuity after the end of the project. This condition has been met.
As outlined above, there is no direct government support, but governmental organisations do provide substantial backup for ZAMREN.
Why is ZAMREN an example of a successful NREN?
ZAMREN has managed to develop a sustainable business model without direct funding from government. Although having a national backbone free of costs from the national telecom provider is a substantial financial support, the actual costs to the government are very limited as unused bandwidth is being given away for free.
The support of the last mile connectivity is an example of addressing national policy priorities by the NREN – the funds for this support come from the obligation of the regulator to provide internet access to rural areas.
The main threat for ZAMREN is that its attractiveness to current and potential members is limited to the provision of cheaper internet tariffs. Without additional value-added services, member loyalty might decrease and members might move to commercial ISPs as soon as the tariff advantage disappears.