The Zaria Community Network and Culture Hub
After some years in hibernation, the Internet Society Nigeria Chapter was relaunched in February 2018 and since then we’ve put our efforts into building the Nigerian Internet community and enlightening our members. In addition to organizing webinars on various topical issues, the Chapter leadership applied for and received a grant (under the Internet Society’s Medium and Large scale projects) to build a community network and culture hub at a location in Nigeria. Because of banking-related issues, general elections in the country and other factors, the project is only just about to take off.
Why a community network and culture hub? What on earth is that?
Simply put, a community network is a network For the Community, With the Community, and By the Community. Community networks are not a replacement for the more conventional commercial networks but rather they are networks that leverage social connections to augment existing infrastructure for the purpose of extending services or increasing penetration rates especially in areas that may not be commercially viable to traditional network operators. These networks are operated by the members of the community in the interest of the community. The culture hub component is in recognition of Zaria’s rich historic culture which is at risk of extinction if deliberate steps are not taken to preserve and showcase it continuously. With a community network connected to application servers, Zaria will be able to showcase itself to the world.
For the Community, With the Community, and By the Community
Being great believers in the power of the Internet and its ability to change lives for good, we could have simply parachuted into the target location with a number of Internet devices, installed them and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done; Experience from several well-intended ICT intervention projects has however shown that such a model does not work! Yes it works for the contractors that are paid to supply the facilities and it probably also works for the donors who take beautiful pictures and move on with their lives, but in how many cases does it really work for the residents of those communities? In how many cases can they say they have truly benefited in the long run? How often do the communities have any control over the impact of the projects and/or feel any sense of ownership? How many of these projects have improved the technical capability of the residents and provided them with tools and increased earning capacity?
Our awareness of the aforementioned and our sincere desire for sustainability are some of the reasons why the Zaria Community Network (and any other community projects that ngNOG and ISOC-ng are involved in) will be driven by the community itself. Although we have seen the possibilities and have the technical capacity to implement, we are eager to see the community lead this while we are on board as partners sharing insights and bringing our technical expertise and relationships to bear in making the project a success.
Do you think this is realistic? How much funding do you have so far?
ISOC has provided us with take-off funds of about 10 million naira (about the cost of a fairly used Toyota Corolla). By being very frugal and leveraging on existing infrastructure being contributed by community members, this will cover the cost of the initial wireless hardware required to connect at least 12 locations across Zaria. A significant amount of funds would have been required for metro connectivity, servers, co-location, professional fees, labour, and technical support but with the commitment of the community, volunteers from the Nigerian Network Operators’ Group (www.nog.ng) and other members of the ISOC Nigeria Chapter, we do not necessarily have to deal with such costs. Although we do not yet have the ability, it would also be nice to at the very least be able to put volunteers up in decent accommodation and feed them whenever they leave their homes and businesses to come help make this project a reality.
We definitely realize that there are several more ingredients required to increase the impact of this project and so we invite commercial network operators, content distributors, application developers, government agencies, and other well-meaning individuals and organizations in commerce, communication, education, healthcare, culture, tourism and other sectors to partner with us in the execution of this project and in the other locations where we seek to replicate the model once this succeeds. Please take this as an open call for collaboration and feel free to reach out to us via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Below is more information about the project
An introduction to the project
This project seeks to network a cluster of research and education institutions; In addition to Internet access for students and researchers, the resulting Community Network will provide affordable access to locally-hosted teaching and learning resources via wireless hotspots on campuses and in public locations. It will also host a hub whose goal is to document and promote the culturally-rich Zaria by training the community to develop, organize and upload content relating to the local food, clothing, games, stories, etc.
To help raise living standards, the project will use the Internet to improve the quality of education for the formally enrolled, while at the same time exposing those outside the formal schooling system to resources for basic education, vocational development, access to markets, and self-employment opportunities.
Using existing infrastructure in part, the project will demonstrate how collaboration, stakeholder engagement and capacity building can lead to sustainable development and richer lives for entire communities. Lower costs of access will encourage increased Internet use and free up scarce personal income for other basic needs.
To encourage more use-cases to emerge, the Culture hub components will train the locals to use the improved Internet connectivity and websites to document and promote their culturally-rich community and agricultural produce. This is aligned with ISOC’s value of the Internet being a force for good.
What is the purpose of the project and your role in the initiative?
The purpose of this project is to improve the quality of communication, education, healthcare and life generally in Zaria by bringing Internet connectivity and localized networked resources to a metropolis that has several higher education institutions but no local Internet service provider besides the mobile network operators. It will network Zaria’s research and education cluster, build local technical capacity in network management, empower the citizens with various Internet tools, provide local wi-fi hotspots and attract better upstream network connectivity.
What situation led to this project and who will benefit from it?
Zaria is a symbolic town in Northern Nigeria dating back to the 1400s which is rich in culture, agriculture and national research and education institutions. It still hosts the largest University in Nigeria and several other notable research and education institutions. The project seeks to build a community network that brings Internet access to the local community while at the same time helping to establish a local research and education network that potentially multiplies the output and efficiency of these institutions. Without the support and participation of the Zaria Community, the Community Network project would not be possible – the Ahmadu Bello University (whom we first approached) is providing data centre colocation, several kilometres of optic fibre cable across the town, and several eager volunteers. Other entities within Zaria are also responding positively as we reach them – their commitment and content will go a long way to improve the value of the network. The primary beneficiaries of this project are the residents and education institutions in Zaria and the secondary beneficiaries are people all over the country who currently have limited access to all the valuable outputs of Zaria’s education institutions as well as its rich cultural history.
What motivated you to take this initiative?
Nigeria’s land mass is close to a million square kilometres; With only a few urban centres having the bulk of the commercial activity and disposable income, it is not usually sustainable for commercial network operators to operate reliable broadband networks in the less urban areas.
Even with the availability of Universal Service Provision Funds, affordable and reliable Internet services are too slow in getting to the rural areas – probably because the disposable income of residents of such areas can barely support the recurrent expenditure on Internet services.
The current leadership of the ISOC Nigeria Chapter believes that community networks will be a game changer in Nigeria and selected Zaria as a pilot location for what we hope will be replicated in multiple towns and cities across the country. In particular, we hope that the Universal Service Funds and other local interventions can be used to support the deployment of more community networks where needed.
What do you expect to achieve?
Three main project objectives are:
- Sensitize the local population and build technical capacity regarding the Internet and how it can be used to improve the quality of life and education with/without being formally enrolled in a conventional education institution.
- Build a community network with localized services that are accessible on campuses and in public community locations for residents to access the Internet. The network will also interconnect the local higher education institutions to form a research and education network that increases their impact.
- Help the community derive greater value from the presence of the network by helping them generate Internet content in the form of applications and services that add value to the local population, preserve its rich history, and provide better access of the farmers and artisans to global markets. Of particular interest is the use of the network to improve trade, education, healthcare, and personal development of the residents.
What opportunity is in here for the local community?
This project is definitely a great opportunity for the local community because in addition to all the value foreseen, it will make it much easier to service the community with upstream Internet connections since such connections can come in at a single point and are potentially extended city-wide via the community network.
The planning and deployment of the community network will be done by volunteers with a view to training local resources in the deployment and ongoing management of the network. While community operation helps to keep running costs low, it also increases the earning potential and skills of the participating residents.
What model will this project use for sustainability?
As described earlier, the project will be owned by the Zaria community and sustainability is very key on our list of priorities. A model that has worked elsewhere is for the community to register a corporate/cooperative entity that will operate the “business” using the sustainability models the community decides on. Partners like us will continue provide aid and technical support to help the project succeed.
How can people engage with Chapter or learn more about the project?
Progress about the project will be made available via blog posts which will be circulated via the Chapter’s social media accounts. Efforts would also be made to promote the project locally via the various institutions that make up the community.
You may learn more about the project by emailing email@example.com and following our social media handle @isocngchapter across all social media platforms