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CITAD Advocates For National Policy On Community Networks To Address Digital Divide



The 16th edition of the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) commenced two days ago at Katowice, Poland, with the general theme of United Internet.

The two main focus areas are for the one-week long global submit are economic and social inclusion and human rights, universal access and meaningful connectivity.

Both the theme and the two main focus areas were carefully selected on the basis of the realization that the internet is not just a means of communication but also a major means of economic and social transformation.

Consistent with this realization of the internet as tool for social and economic transformation, the UN has been at the forefront of the advocacy that no one should be left behind or excluded from the benefits of digital technology. That is why as early as 2005, it set up the Digital Solidarity Fund to finance ICT development to bridge the international dimension of the digital divide.

Speaking in a press conference, the executive director of the centre for technology and information, CITAD, Dr. Y. Z Ya’u said, “the international dimension of the digital divide remains a major point of the global struggle for justice. This requires both developed and developing countries working together to address it. But the internal dimension of the digital divide is what we as citizen and as a country can and should be addressed.

“The reality of the internal divide of the digital divide is routinely acknowledged by government and its agencies.

“By government statistics, only about half of Nigerians have access to the internet. This means that within the country a population of about 100 million is already left behind and excluded from the benefits of the internet. Let me illustrate how those who are left behind from the benefits of digital technology are losing by using two obvious examples.

“One is about national identity. For years now, the National Identity Management Agency has been trying to issue national identity cards to Nigerians and as of today, less than half of Nigerians have been able to be enrolled.

“The major reason is that because it is IT based people in rural areas where internet infrastructure is lacking find it difficult to be enrolled.

“Such people are identity excluded and what that means is that they cannot access banking and financial services. They will even face problems when travelling.

“The second 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 school without seeing 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 relate 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 profitability.”

He added that 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 in Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, 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 opportunity to bridge the connectivity gaps in their community.

“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 policy makers especially the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, the telecommunication regulators, the Nigerian Communication 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 government to address the digital divide and to prime the country to achieve its digital transformation agenda.

“So far, we have understanding and promises but no action. We would like to use this press conference to specifically remind all the actors to match their promises with action.

“In particular, we would like to call on the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy to set up a mechanism for the development of a National Policy for Community Networks.”


December 2021
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