CITAD advocates public sensitization, local skills to build community networks

Umahi legacy

 



By Chimezie Godfrey

The Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD, has advocated for the mobilization of resources and local skills to build and manage community networks across Nigeria.

The Executive Director, CITAD, Y. Z. Ya’u, said this second edition of the Nigerian School of Community Network (NSCN), being part of a broad project on connecting the unconnected being implemented by CITAD with support from the FCDO through the Association for Progressive Communication (APC)..

Ya’u also said that the project in Nigeria is part of a global effort to seed and consolidate community networks as part of the efforts to bridge connectivity divide across many countries.

He noted that not everyone in Nigeria has access to the internet, adding that about half of Nigerians do not have access to the internet either because it is not available in their communities or simply, they cannot afford it or that they fear to use it as many women are, arising from harmful practices online, such as gender violence online.

According to him, by official figures, there are about 114 communities that have been classified as either underserved or unserved while internet is simply not available, these 114 have about 40 million people.

He also noted that investors are looking for where they would gain in profits, adding that unserved areas are considered generally economically unviable because of either they are sparsely populated or are in difficult terrains that require additional expenditure over and above the normal or simply the people are too poor to afford telecommunication services.

He therefore said that Government in Nigeria, like in many other countries, has divested from providing public infrastructure for telecommunication.

According him, this means that only the private sector infrastructure is available in the country.

He said,”Given that this private sector cannot address the connectivity needs of the over 80 million Nigerians, there is need to rethink infrastructure rollout. Globally many countries have been responding by allowing for a new tier of providers distinct from either public or private. This new tier is called community networks. Community networks are telecommunications infrastructure designed, deployed and managed by communities or community based organizations in trust for their communities.

“While in many countries such as Kenya, South Africa and even our neighbor Ghana have robust community networks sub-sectors, in Nigeria, the sub-sector has failed to take roots. the reason for this is that currently there are no policies or guidelines to allow the licensing, regulation, and orderly rollout of community networks there are no framework for interconnectivity, either between community networks and their peers or across the spectrum of providers such as between a community network and MNO.

“When the policies are in place, two more necessary factors are needed to be in place. One is public sensitization and mobilization to raise community resources and endowments to build and manage community networks, the second is to have local skills that can help community to design, deploy, and manage community networks. We know that even the major players have difficulty getting the right human resources.

“While other aspects of the project we are implementing is engaging government and other stakeholders to have community networks policy and other licensing frameworks for regulating community networks in the country, the School of Community Network has the objective of help to enhance skills set of participants in the design, deployment and managing community network, in a sense, it is a crush professional training that is taking place over the next couple of months both here in city and at the communities.”

He added,”In this school, participant will learn about basic telecommunication concepts, networking, planning, switching concepts, IP protocols, etc., They will also learn about emerging technologies such as TVWT, VSAT etc. in addition, a component of the school deals with community sensitization and mobilization, identification of community champions and resources mobilization, marketing, and sustainability issues.

In others the school deals with both the hard and soft skills that are needed to have community networks in place and to run and managed sustainably.

“The school itself, like last year, will take place in three phases, the first phase is the face to- face which is starting today. This phase will run for two weeks, from morning to early evening it will run by professionals from the industry. The second phase is online, and it runs for three months. The third phase is mentoring, in which participants are paired with three months (each dealing with one key aspect of the skillset) to guide them as they work how to go about build real life community networks. This can last for about three-five months.

Participants were selected from a pre-determined catchment community. These catchments are the pilot communities where we are working to pilot community networks. There are seven of these which are from different parts of the country. Two them are in Bauchi State, one in Kaduna State and the four others in rural communities of FCT. The selection of these communities based on previous and ongoing related work that provided a base upon which to build. For instance, in each of these community digital centres.

The participants all were selected on their own merit, but they represent their communities and that they are expected to work with their communities as well as past participants of the school to build community networks.

“While thanking all the partners and all the guests here as well as the participants and the media, we would like to note that skills without the necessary conducive environment is not a sufficient and necessary conditions for the emergence and consolidation of the community networks.

“Such must coexist with appropriate policies. For this reason, I will not end this brief remark without calling on the federal government to quickly come up with the policy that will seed community networks in Nigeria for the country to all join other countries in working to address the digital divide,” he said.