by AKANI CHAUKE
JOHANNESBURG – THE Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA’s) amendment of applicable radio regulations and making available an additional 500 Mhz of bandwidth for Wi-Fi use is welcome news for communities across the country.
This is according to Gabriel Ramokotjo, information and communication technology (ICT) consultant and advisor, who believes this move will mean more people, and their devices, would be able to log onto better quality, faster Wi-Fi.
“Finally, we can reimagine the Community Network (CN) model as fully-fledged, digital divide-bridging Community Owned Digital Economies (CODEs),” he said.
Ramokotjo explained that whereas the former simply centres around adequate local Wi-Fi hotspots that allow users to check emails and do little else, the latter goes further and is about super-fast pervasive, inclusive wireless broadband providing a backbone for human capital and economic development.
“The proliferation of CNs as complementary models for enabling access to connectivity has indeed been successful in South Africa, particularly in rural and township communities, but stopping here is like being satisfied with Windows 95.”
The CN model however has limitations that affect the growth of these networks beyond providing access to connectivity.
For example, the CN model typically does not address issues such as content relevant to the local community nor the imparting of digital skills to this captive audience, Ramokotjo explained.
Moreover, the CN model is often reliant on the goodwill of volunteers, which leads to sustainability challenges in the long-run.
The expert believes a shift is needed and CODEs can help this transfer of digital power that must take place for real-world opportunities to materialise.
“First and foremost, we must reimagine a CN as a platform beyond enabling access to connectivity,” he explained.
“CNs must be seen as platforms to develop digital skills within communities while the development of locally relevant content takes a front seat, as does the promotion of local innovation and entrepreneurial development.”
The multi-layered approach is anticipated to lead to increased uptake of connectivity and foster intra-community economic activities as well as spur economic growth.
Ramokotjo noted impressive work by stakeholders including policy makers and regulators in creating an enabling environment for CODEs.
Recently, the Communications Authority of Kenya formulated the licensing and shared spectrum framework for CNs.
In South Africa, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is working on the draft Next Generation Spectrum Policy for Economic Development.
“This highlights the urgent need for ICASA to look into a new licensing framework for CNs and CODEs,” Ramokotjo concluded.
– CAJ News