Author: Mwendwa Kivuva and Josephine Miliza
Editor: John Walubengo
Serial (No.4) (August 2020)

Community networks are telecommunication infrastructure built with and for the community to support economic and social activities. These networks are emerging as complementary access models that adopt a holistic approach in addressing the digital inclusion barriers such as digital skills, locally relevant content and applications. They also contribute to local economies, workforce development and fostering social connections. Although community networks have existed for over a decade, the number of these networks in Africa is still few compared to the unconnected population. Lack of awareness, high license, spectrum fees and equipment costs are some of the barriers to entry and growth for community networks.

This policy brief looks at the existing policy and regulatory frameworks including the national broadband policy, ICT policy, licensing framework of telecommunication operators, and frequency spectrum licensing in enabling community networks.

The policy brief also addresses the high spectrum fees which make the Internet inaccessible to poor communities. It recommends the creation of spectrum policies and regulation that specifically target affordable access for the underserved. This can be achieved by expansion of license-exempt frequencies, and adoption of dynamic spectrum licensing and spectrum sharing. It also recommends the streamlining of licensing procedures to make them accessible to communities.

The policy brief also calls for the creation of an enabling policy and regulatory environment for the growth of community networks. For example allowing community network providers to access the NOFBI national fibre optic backbone since the wealth generated by such access will be far greater for the economy than any revenue from network traffic charges. Policies for infrastructure sharing will enable upcoming community networks to have access to the infrastructure of established operators.

Community Network leadership and participants should also be sensitized about the existence of the USF and encouraged to apply to access the fund to build their networks. There is, therefore, a need to have a policy to support capacity building and innovation, especially for women and girls to enable them to have equity in internet access. Finally, there should be a structured dialogue between all stakeholders to find ways these recommendations can be implemented to make community networks ubiquitous.