Universal and community network

the purpose of universal access program and community networks is the same. it is about digital inclusion. does it necessary to combine the policies together as one?

Currently, I am developing universal access where community network is mentioned.

Please advise

Hi Mohammed, it is great that you are working on it.
Many of us feel the same, and though they have similar objectives, they are not necessary the same.
It would certainly be great if they could be connected more, and more examples could appear.
As far as I know there are no examples of community networks that have been funded by Universal Service and Access Funds, but it would be great to be wrong.
I know that a lot of progress has been done in Argentina (with @jesica from Altermundi.net) and I know the South Africans have a very close relationship with the regulator, who might be a gate to having it working (@sol and @carlos might know more).
Also, @steve might have some insight out of the wiki.opentelecomdata.org website.
What is that you need advice about? maybe if you give us more guidance we can collectivelly support you. Thanks!

I agree we should be lobbying for universal service funds to include programs to support community networks. You are exactly right Mohammed, they have the same objective. However, it is also true that the situation varies from country to country. In some countries, universal service funds are highly political and fighting to access to funding through might be harder than approaching other elements of government.

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Hi Mohammed, at the CN summit last year, you were with members of the USF from Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania, it would be interesting that you engage with them to make a common effort on making this happen. Let me know if you want an introduction.

The most important thing to consider here, in my opinion, are the missing lessons from the failure and poor accountability of Universal Access Funds, in many countries.

Community Networks hold some keys to improvement, so promotion of policies to work with them, especially with one of the official supporting bodies involved, might help - but also just a good understanding of history, politics, sociology, economics, telecommunications and project management.

These funds didn’t fail because they didn’t meet each specific project goal, but they failed in promoting universal access - those that managed to promote some universal access still failed to promote access on a cost effective basis.

This is about a number of underlying issues, such as poverty, education, sustainability, weak management, or simple looting of the fund by another entity who simply wanted to sell their product or use the funds to build their own network - which, in two instances that happened very close to me, they proceeded to rent what is essentially a public funded network, back to the public, because the officials involved were not powerful or shrewd enough to hold them accountable. Also it’s usually nasty people that they have to deal with - who gets the deal through bribes, or will even turn to threats of violence to make sure they get their way. So those enforcing it need to be really invested and tough, if they want to see this work.

On a related tangent

Maybe their failures were due to more systemic socio-economics.

The ITU published this almost 20 years ago:

5 Key principles are mentioned:

  • Liberalisation (competition in the sector)
  • Affordability
  • Quality of service
  • Geographic Access
  • Availability

Retrospectively, you have to ask yourself how things might have looked differently if other priorities were included here, or more precise definitions. Or if the whole document just focused on one of these.

For example, does competition mean breaking up monopolies, or simply introducing another player into the market? Or does it mean 100’s of players? Even the few countries that managed to do the latter, still have a duopoly or oligopoly serving as a bottleneck, somewhere in the telecommunications economy.

I recently did a casual study on the history of technology, and I noticed a 20-year cycle that marked everything I looked at (with the exception of TV’s, refrigerators and dishwashers) for the last 100 years. While cycle shortened, as I would’ve expected, for the latter, it seemed to hit a floor at 20 years. For the longest time it looked like it was a generational thing… until I realized that a US patent lasts 20 years. I still need to confirm its role in what I saw - but it seems plausible that a patent could’ve served to stall a technology and that only when it expired and real competition could open up, could that technology start to saturate a market. Maybe it’s both. Certainly an interesting topic - and caveat here - this was only from a day of research.

How is this relevant here? Well, we’re almost 20 years down the line, from that ITU recommendation. Maybe it’s not patents, or generational, but something more systemic and fundamental…

By 2022 universal access might be as simple as packaging solar satellite uplinks with a few hundred solar mesh nodes as there’ll be thousands of broadband satellites in the sky, and 10Gbps wireless links. But will it immediately saturate the market? Or will it take another 10 years? (It’s already been in development for 10 years.)

Will there be push back from the mobile operators? You bet. Will they eventually, after a lot of policy infighting, have massive layoffs, and have to pivot and find a new business model? Yes. But when? By 2030? 2040? …Could this be why the are dragging their feet with affordability?

Research on Terabit wireless started in the last few years… if the cycle continues, we’ll have those by 2040. If it shortens, sooner.