The Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD, has called on Nigerian government through the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, to come up with a robust policy that would encourage the flourishing of community networks that would hasten digital inclusion in Nigeria.
The Centre also urged the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF, to support community networks initiatives across the country as part of its intervention to promote faster inclusion progress.
According to the Executive Director of the centre, Dr. Y. Z. Yau at a press briefing in Kano on Tuesday, “community network should be given license-free spectrum to use; proof of concept permit in connection with community networks should be license free; institutions of higher learning such as universities should embrace and deploy community networks to both meet their community needs and to serve as experimental sites for learning and domestication technology; both the NCC and USPF should establish a unit with the responsibility of coordinating their affairs with respect to community networks”
The centre stated that the USIP 2019 report “identified 114 connectivity gaps in the country as either underserved and unserved. It defines underserved area “as an area where less than 50% of the households or individual users have access to a minimum of 1.5 Mbit/s” while it defines unserved communities as “area where less than 10% of households and individual users have either no access to internet or have the most basic access such as EDGE.”
“When poor people cannot afford the cost of connectivity or data, connectivity becomes useless as it would not be utilized. Poverty is a key a factor that makes it impossible for many people to use the internet. Many Nigerians are not able to afford regular use of data.
“Aside from inability to afford, there is also the fact that lack of satisfaction makes people to stop using the services. In Nigeria, with an apparent monopoly by the four mobile technology service providers, quality of service is not their priority. They treat customers with no respect or regard because they are not penalized for quality of service falling below acceptable global benchmarks.
“Monopoly also controls the way people integrate with technology such that people are not able to learn, modify and remodify technology to suit their purpose. There are therefore many reasons why the USPF model needs to be complimented. Moreover, the USPF model is geared towards supporting the market rather than communities and subsidy regimes often end up being more beneficial to the market players than to communities whose affordability it is supposed to raise,” Yau stated.
According him, “bridging the digital divide is not possible by treating communities as passive recipients of support or as market to be developed. Rather, the most effective strategy is to engage the communities to identify how they can, with support of from stakeholders, address their peculiar connectivity needs.
“This community-driven strategy is the catalysing of the flourishing of community networks. Community networks are providing platforms or channels for people to communicate. This communication could be between individuals, within the community or outside it. The Internet Society defines community networks as “telecommunications infrastructure deployed and operated by a local group to meet their own communication needs.
“Community networks take different forms, with some extending access using commercial networks, others building their own source of connection, etc. But because they usually connect the unconnected, they are considered as extending connectivity to the last file,” CITAD further stated.
On the situation in Nigeria, the Centre observed that “there are very few community network operating in the country. The two that have most extensive experience are the one in Kafanchan established in 2006 by Fantsuam Foundation, a civil society organization there and one in Ibadan, Ibadan WUG.
“The Nigerian Chapter of the Internet Society in partnership with Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is establishing another in Zaria. There is also commercially driven community network coming on board, the best know is Fiam WiFi in rural areas of Lagos state. The reason why community networks are slow to pick up in Nigeria is because we do not have policies to guide them nor does government provides support to encourage such initiatives.
“The regulatory framework at the moment does not provide for community networks as distinct providers of connectivity in the country. Indeed, neither the NCC Act nor the USPF Act have made mention of community networks, consequently there is a lacuna as to how community networks are to be treated. For the moment, the few community networks are providing connectivity to underserve and unserved community by acting as point of farther distribution of connectivity provided by the main commercial players.”
The centre therefore recommended the following:
The NCC should come up with an appropriate policy that will encourage the flourishing of community networks in the country as a means to hasten digital inclusion in Nigeria
The USPF should support community networks initiatives across the country as part of its intervention to promote faster inclusion progress
Community network should be given license-free spectrum to use
Proof of concept permit in connection with community networks should be license free
Institutions of higher learning such as universities should embrace and deploy community networks to both meet their community needs and to serve as experimental sites for learning and domestication technology
Both the NCC and USPF should establish a unit with the responsibility of coordinating their affairs with respect to community networks
Doing away with some component of spectrum fees in exchange for commitment to rollout in specific unserved/underserved areas as provided in the Strategic Plan of the USPF