Community network Legal and regulations in the case of Liberia: Prospects and Hurdles

Community network Legal and regulations in the case of Liberia: Prospects and Hurdles

Access to connectivity is now well recognized as an enabler of socio-economic development and can help address many of the barriers that presently exist in Liberia.  It is saddening that many people are currently still not connected to the Internet in Liberia. The government of Liberia is not thinking of working to support the unconnected communities to obtain access to the Internet. Barriers to connectivity exist across Liberia, I must admit and most of the people who are unconnected are socially underserved and economically impoverished. The government needs to understand that Innovative last mile connectivity as the means of providing basic infrastructure would make Liberia better and more equal.

To be clear, empowering individuals who are living in remote areas is only possible if Internet connectivity is not only available but also affordable enough to allow access to the wide range of information available on the Internet. Technology is making transformation from market prices, weather information, new opportunities, and new skill set, to discovering dances, food recipes, or how-to videos. Internet content covering the various economic, social, educational, and cultural aspects of human life, is a democratic mechanism in and of itself, is growing every day, yet many communities in Liberia are denied the current opportunities that the Internet provides due to non-availability of the Internet or limited access which is very precarious.

After my intensive community network training from internet society, I have decided to establish a group of community wireless Internet connectivity networks in Liberia by providing digital literacy skills through training programs, connecting the unconnected regions where traditional and mainstream Internet service providers (ISPs) either do not wish to expand or simply do not consider as relevant markets. We will also train local community members (many of whom have not completed a formal education), to maintain community network infrastructure.

Someone may ask, what are community networks (CNs)? Community network also called community-based Internet service providers (C-ISPs) are networks whose infrastructure is built, managed, operated, and administered by a community-driven organization or by a community itself by pooling their existing resources and working with partners to start-up and scale their activities. These networks provide affordable access to the Internet, while also strengthening the local economy. There are now hundreds of community networks around the world spread across diverse countries located in a mix of underserved and geographically challenging areas. Among them, more than 100 community networks have adopted a bottom-up approach instead of adopting the classic, telecom operator-driven, top-down approach.

This research paper will enable you to understand the regulatory, policy, spectrum, and legal challenges in Liberia and how they affect Liberia without community networks. The document identifies the common elements of policy, legal, and regulation challenges among community networks that may challenge operating in other countries around the world, and presents recommendations that aim to inform national.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVE

The primary objective of this document is to describe the legal issues surrounding spectrum allocation and management, licensing regulation, and bandwidth issues in Liberia as they relate to community networks. The report outlines the technological and infrastructural challenges from a policy perspective in Liberia and identifies some of the common issues that may be faced by other community networks across the world. Finally, it also provides policy recommendations and suggestions to assist in deploying community networks in India.

 METHODOLOGY

The research for this report draws on academic literature as well as government and regulatory documents to analyse existing policies and programmes. One mapping methodologies is adopted, it examined existing policies and the other that examined relevant stakeholders. Aside the DEF networks, the community networking professionals in countries other than India also interviewed included:

THE TECHNICAL HITCHES OF COMMUNITY NETWORKS IN LIBERIA

Backhaul Connectivity

One of the greatest issues hampering the growth of community networks is lack of sufficient and affordable backhaul connectivity. Liberia has a great populations, and the demand for broadband from new users is high, which is partly owing to the availability of audio and video content via broadband. This means that there needs to be a large number of Wi-Fi hubs with strong backhaul connections serving a limited number of users. At present, however, this is largely not the case, which is why most public – though not all – Wi-Fi initiatives show disappointing performance. Furthermore, a robust and reliable public Wi-Fi system would need to be based on strong, cross-country, ubiquitous optic fibre backhaul open to all providers. This can be shared public infrastructure, which can be used by all providers, or a private one but with an open access structure

Regulatory Environment Constraints

Aside from the complexity of spectrum regulation detailed above, any institution or individual applying for an ISP license, is required to engage with all the regulatory bodies. The large number of institutions that are involved in the licensing process leads to an increase in waiting time, unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, and associated costs.

 Recommendations

  1. Encourage rural/village level ISPs – Rural/village-level ISPs should be encouraged and promoted by the government as well as major ISP stakeholders. Any NGO, small organization, or individual should be encouraged to become a rural/village ISP and be allowed to further distribute Internet connectivity in Liberia
  2. Support development of intranets and links between CNs – Decentralized community networking allows for network managers to provide locally created and locally relevant content on the relatively high-speed intranet. Even in the event of the failure of backhaul connectivity, it would allow people access to such content due to the local storage and sharing of data.
  3. Increased support for video services – Support operationalizing of video conferencing and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services over the intranet to allow communication within the network between citizens, and similarly connected public and private institutions, such as schools, primary health centers, government offices, and others.
  4. Empowering local communities in collaboration with government – Establish an underserved communications commission to advise the government on community networks.
  5. Universal service funds for community networks – The USOF should also be available for community networks or alternative connectivity models that are providing the connectivity in rural and remote parts of India.
  6. Make more license-free spectrum available: De-licensing spectrum would lead to more innovation and entrepreneurship as there will be fewer administrative barriers. This could also lead to lowering the costs of mobile service data plans due to increased competition. The approach for the de-licensing spectrum should also be technology-neutral and find a balance between proprietary, unlicensed, and shared spectrum. Other related recommendations include:

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