THE Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) and other stakeholders have resolved to form a coalition aimed at popularising community networks as a tool to address digital divide by promoting and popularising digital inclusion in the country, a communiqué at the end of a consultative meeting of civil society organisations on community network hosted by CITAD, has revealed.
The communiqué, signed by Y. Z. Ya’u, CITAD’s Executive Director, at the end of the one-day consultative meeting held virtually via Zoom on Tuesday July 27, 2021, and attended by over 40 CSOs from different parts of the country, noted that CITAD convened the meeting as part of its project on supporting community-led approaches to addressing the digital divide in Nigeria.
The meeting, the communiqué also stated, resolved that stakeholders should commence the sensitisation of their community members about the importance and benefit of community network; conduct sustained advocacy for the national telecommunications regulator to come up with a national policy framework for community networks in the country and support the collective effort to address the multifarious dimensions of the digital divide in the country.
According to the communiqué, the meeting was part of a larger project on community networks coordinated globally by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) with support from the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through its Digital Access Programme (DAP).
Community networks, the communiqué explained, comprise telecommunications infrastructure deployed and operated by local groups to meet their own communication needs as well as communications infrastructure designed and erected to be managed for use by local communities.
These communication needs can be voice, data, etc. and can be point of convergence for community to come together to address their common community problems, the communiqué further stated.
The resolutions were drawn from deliberations and observations of participating stakeholders who explored the possibility of a joint advocacy for the government to develop a policy framework for the community networks after noting that at the present, the country does not have a policy for community networks, a situation that has hampered evolution and growth.
For instance, participants at the meeting observed that there is no policy or regulation to recognise community networks as distinct operators with appropriate conditions for their operations and that at the moment there are over 100 “unserved or underserved communities who are digitally excluded in the country.”
Participants also observed that although there are over 298,823,195 (two hundred and ninety-eight million, eight hundred and twenty-three thousand, one hundred and ninety-five) connected lines out of which 297,536,702 ((two hundred and ninety-seven million, five hundred and thirty-six thousand, seven hundred and two) were said to be active in the country, only about 40% of these are connected to the internet, meaning that internet penetration in the country covers only about 40% of the population.
Participants also noted that most of the blind areas are in either hard-to-reach rural communities or poor communities due largely to the challenge of affordability, a situation which compelled operators not to provide connectivity to them as it would be unprofitable.
While the meeting noted that the NCC is favourably disposed to midwifing the policy framework for community networks, it however observed that there are still many challenges that have to be addressed for community networks to sustainably flourish.
Stressing that community networks will bring opportunities for direct access to education and health care for rural residents, participants considering the existing gaps, therefore resolved to pursue the popularisation of community networks which they believed will serve as catalyst to addressing digital divide, among other challenges.