Fourth Summit on Community Networks in Africa held at the University of Dodoma.

The Internet Society (ISOC), in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), held the Fourth Annual Community Networks Summit from 28th October to 2nd November 2019. The summit was hosted by the University of Dodoma (UDOM) to promote the creation and growth of community networks, increase collaborations between community network operators in the region, as well as provide an opportunity for stakeholders to engage with each other. Among the stakeholders included content providers, Internet service providers, regulators, and policymakers. The event comes in the backdrop of past successful summits held in Nairobi – Kenya and Eastern Cape – South Africa, respectively.

Community Networks can be defined as communication by the people for the people. “To be resilient and achieve sustainability, members of the Community Network play a critical role in the building of the community network infrastructure. We help provide the training and know-how that is needed. Still, ultimately, it’s up to the communities to run the network themselves,” explains Michuki Mwangi, Senior Development Manager for Africa for the Internet Society. The summit brought together 24 community networks from Africa and beyond, and over 134 participants from 19 countries attended the summit. These countries are Argentina, Cameroon, Canada, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Uganda, UK, USA, Zimbabwe, France, and German.

Prof. Joyce Lazaro Ndalichako, Minister for Education, Science, and Technology, officially opened the summit on behalf of the Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania, Hon. Kassim Majaliwa Kassim. In her keynote speech, Prof. Ndalichako pointed out that the Government of Tanzania recognized the importance of investing in science, technology, and innovation (STI) as a strategy to enable the country to achieve middle-level economy status by the year 2025. She added that the communications sector was among the most significant contributor to the economy’s growth in Tanzania. As from July to December 2017, Hon. Ndalichako revealed that the communications sector grew by 13.1%, and was the second most contributor to the economy. In the quest to connect the unconnected, the government, she said, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Viettel Tanzania PLC to connect 4,000 villages. As of January 2019, Prof. Ndalichako said that Viettel had completed the construction of communication towers and managed to connect the said villages. Furthermore, Ndalichako mentioned that as of December 2018, the government through the Universal Communications Service Access Fund (UCSAF), had managed to connect 530 villages out of 2,132, comprising of a population of 3.8 million people. Prof. Joyce summed up her speech by emphasizing the need to invest in communication, a factor she said would immensely aid the government in attaining the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The main activities for this weeklong event included a two-day training workshop on community networks for participants (28 – 29 October 2019), a Community Network Summit Plenary (30 – 31 October 2019), and a Site Visit to Kondoa Community Network – KCN (1 – 2 November 2019). The site visit was the center stage of the event as it aimed to showcase Kondoa Community Network’s progress concerning its pilot to use the television white space (TVWS) for community networks to address the issue of the digital divide gap in rural Tanzania. The TVWS concept emanated in 2014 as a novel project idea by Ph.D. candidate Mr. Jabhera Matogoro, assistant lecturer at the University of Dodoma, and Mozilla Fellow. Following the project idea’s formalization, a series of stakeholder engagement meetings with the community members ensued, and with the backing of the university faculty, and the regulator (TCRA), the project eventually took off in 2017.

While at Kondoa, Dr. Dawit Bekele, Director of the African Regional Bureau of the Internet Society, recognized the presence of Universal Communication Service Access Fund Chief Executive Officer Ms. Justina Mashiba, who joined the summit participants for the full day. Dr. Dawit further mentioned that community networks and universal service funds have similar objectives, which are to connect the unconnected population. Ms. Justina Mashiba, the UCSAF CEO, acknowledged the role of community networks in helping to address the digital divide in Tanzania and therefore promised to collaborate further with them as both complements each other in ensuring that rural dwellers get affordable Internet services. In his narration, Mr. Matogoro stated that, to date, KCN has been able to provide an alternative solution to connect the unconnected education institutions through TVWS technology. The connected education institutions are Kondoa Girls High school, Ula Secondary School, and Bustani Teachers College. Mr. Matogoro recounted that the KCN had a plan to extend its free services to a women group conducting entrepreneurship ventures in Kondoa. Ms. Sophia Mumba, a participant from the Tumaini Women group, is one of the beneficiaries of KCN. Ms. Sophia revealed that the Internet could help her group to market their products online and reach out to more customers, a factor that could hugely lead to an increase in their revenue stream; as a result, assisting many women in getting from the Base of the Pyramid (BoP). Also, Dr. Carlos Rey Moreno (Local Access Policy and Regulation Coordinator for the APC) called more innovative policies and regulations favoring community networks and television white space technology as alternatives to connect the unconnected population.

The curtains on the fourth community networks summit drew at Kondoa Girls High school with closing remarks from Hon. Eng. Isack Kamwelwe, Minister for Transport, Construction, and Communication.  In his speech, the minister hailed the organizers of the summit and recognized the importance of community networks in bridging the digital divide gap. Hon. Isack stated that statistics showed that only 23.1 Million Tanzanians out of 55 Million population have access to the Internet. These statistics imply that about 32 Million Tanzanians were still unconnected, a factor that limited them to participate and contribute to Tanzania’s digital economy. Eng. Kamwelwe decried affordability as an impediment to Internet connectivity to users. He, however, said that the government was committed to setting enabling policies and reforming regulatory frameworks that were obsolete and no longer suited for the 21st century digital economy, in efforts to embrace novel ideas capable of connecting the unconnected.

This event was made possible with the support from the University of Dodoma, Internet Society, Association for Progressive Communications, Tanzania Internet Service Providers Association, Universal Communications Service Access Fund, Human Development Innovation Fund, Netflix, Telecom Infra Project, Habari Node, Department of International Development, Sida,

Reported by: Bonface Witaba (ICANN Fellow), and Matogoro Jabhera (Mozilla Fellow, 2019)

Disclaimer: Views expressed here are solely those gathered by the author(s) and should not necessarily be construed to be those of any of organs or agencies or any other organization mentioned or discussed. We released this article under the cc-by-sa 4.0 license, and translation into other languages is encouraged. For more information, please contact the author(s).

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