I had a question about people’s experience or if they heard of other Community Networks that have partnered with a mobile network operator (MNO). At a recent A4AI seminar (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a4ai-webinar-policy-regulatory-challenges-of-community-networks-tickets-94846034041#) there was mention of of a recent relationship between a community network in SE Asia and the termination of their contract with their national MNO that was providing them with the spectrum to operate on their network. To me, it seems like CNs are then left in an uneven, precarious relationship, if terminated. I suppose it then makes sense for CNs to try to get their own mobile spectrum (like 3G) like the case of Rhizomatica, but usually license costs are high and exemptions are admin heavy, or CNs can go for wifi. The choices for spectrum access can be limited. Any others aware of experiences or speak to this - CNs working with MNOs in this space or thinking about it?
One of the big regulatory objectives for Community Networks is to gain access to mobile spectrum (frequencies). WiFi is great but it is limited in power output which makes it challenging to scale whereas a single mobile tower can reach a thousand people or more. Mobile spectrum has typically only been handed out to big operators, increasingly in exchange for large sums of money. There are very few exceptions to this. Rhizomatica is the most notable where the government/regulator has actually set aside spectrum for CNs. Brazil has just recently issue regulations that may turn out to be similar (jury is still out). But for everywhere else, mobile spectrum is controlled by the mobile operators who also have heavy influence on the regulators. In situations where there seems little hope of regulatory change, sometimes a private deal can be struck with an operator to gain access to spectrum that they have a license for but are not using (typically in remote areas). The project in the Philippines was one of those cases where a deal had been struck with a private mobile operator to use their spectrum. Mike’s news was that the operator has changed their mind and that the project must stop using their mobile spectrum which means they have had to turn their mobile tower off and go back to WiFi. In the absence of a regulatory framework that can guarantee some space in the mobile frequencies for CNs, they will always be vulnerable to this sort of thing happening.