March 29, 2022

CITAD calls for sustainable community networks to bridge digital divide in Nigeria

The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) has called for commitments towards the establishment and sustaining of community networks, to help bridge the digital divide, across the country.

CITAD made this call at a press conference in Lagos, where it listed efforts made on identifying and cultivating local champions to influence and support the community networks.

Read the statement in full: The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) conducted a number of programmes toward supporting ICTs and specifically, advocating for the establishment and sustaining of community networks across the country.

Recently, the centre organized meetings with friends of community networks, the CSOs and with larger stakeholders on identification and cultivating local champions to influence and support the community networks.

Jointly, CITAD and the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), a South Africa based group sharing same ideals with CITAD, drafted a Regulatory Framework for Community Networks in Nigeria (CNRF).  This will soon be presented to the Honorable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy for action.   

Today, the international dimension of the digital divide remains a major point of the global struggle for justice. This requires both developed and developing countries to work together to address it. But, the internal dimension of the digital divide is what we as citizens and as a country can and should address.

In the present context, the certainty of the internal division of the digital divide is routinely acknowledged by the government and its agencies.

By government statistics, only about half of Nigerians have access to the internet. This means that within the country, an estimated population of 100 million people is already left behind and excluded from the benefits of the internet. To buttress this point, we can provide a few illustrations for you to understand how those who are left behind from the benefits of digital technology are left behind:

Access to some special interventions through financial institutions:

In many instances, people especially those at the community level often lose many opportunities provided especially on access to loans or other facilities. We all know that many financial institutions provide support with some conditions such as (provision of email addresses, etc) which lots of citizens, especially rural communities, don’t have.   

The second is about National Identity. For years now, the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, has been trying to issue National Identity Cards to Nigerians and up till now, less than half of Nigerians have been able to enrol. The major reason is that because it is IT-based and people in rural areas where internet infrastructure is lacking find it difficult to be enrolled. Such people are “identity excluded”. They will even face problems when travelling.

The third is about education. Today all those who wish to access higher education, have to sit and pass the computer-based examination of JAMB. For many communities, their children graduate from Secondary Schools without using the computer until they enter the JAMB examination hall. Clearly, they are disadvantaged and often get blocked out from the education system at that stage.

“There are many reasons for the digital divide but one of those related to the model of technology rollout we use. In Nigeria, as in many other countries, technology rollout is market-driven, meaning that companies are willing to invest in infrastructure for connectivity only for areas where profits are assured and they are unlikely to invest in poor communities or communities that are sparsely populated that the telecommunication traffic cannot support profitably

“While this is not unique to Nigeria, many countries have solved the problem by deploying other models of rollout such as community networks to compliment market-driven rollout.

“Community networks are telecommunication infrastructure designed, deployed and managed by communities to meet their communication need. Globally these community networks are helping many countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico to address the internal dimensions of their digital divide.

“Community networks have failed to take roots in Nigeria because we do not have a national policy to guide their emergence and provide a supportive environment for communities to leverage various opportunities to bridge the connectivity gaps. The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) has said there are 114 communities where GSM signals are either weak or not at all.

“These are called underserved and unserved communities. These communities could, if there is a policy that would provide clear rules for interconnectivity, frequency and spectrum allocation and use, etc, could mobilize their own resources and create their communication infrastructure to address their need.

“CITAD has, in the last eight months, been engaging the policymakers, especially the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, the telecommunication regulators, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and other stakeholders in the country such as NITDA, USPF and Galaxy Backbone with the aim of arriving at a consensus on developing a national policy for community networks.”

 “They all agreed on its desirability, noting that community networks will help greatly in accelerating efforts of the government to address the digital divide and to prime the country to achieve its digital transformation agenda.”

We would like to use this conference to specifically remind all actors to match their commitments with action. In particular, CITAD would like to:

1.            Call on the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy to ensure full implementation of the draft National Policy on Community Networks

2.            Enjoin the Galaxy Backbone PLC to provide communities with access to its backbone for them to use as their community networks getaways

3.            The USPF to support the upgrading of the many communities’ digital centres they set up in the country to serve as basis of community networks for communities that desirous and passionate to set up such in their communities

4.            Demand on NCC to develop guidelines and regulations for the operation of community networks in the country and to allow communities to access and use TV White Space (TVWS) for the purposes of setting up community networks

5.            NITDA to work with communities at grassroots level to drive digital literacy which is critical for the effective utilization of digital technology and which is the foundation upon which the digital transformation agenda of the country will rest.

6.            Urge the CSOs to sustain evidence-based advocacy for the establishment of CNs across the country

7.            Call on the private sector operators to as, part of their corporate social responsibility support communities to set up community networks

8.            Call on all other stakeholders, including political office holders to support communities to go digital as critical contribution to community development.

9.            Call on private sector operators to see community networks as complimentary but not competitors