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11 November 2021

Creating Affordable Internet Access with the Help of the Early Career Fellowship

By Ibrahim Ola GarbaGuest Author

The Early Career Fellowship empowers a new, diverse generation of Internet champions. Fellows become advocates for the open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy Internet. Ibrahim Ola Garba, one of our July 2021 Early Career Fellows, shares his own experience of the Fellowship, and how he plans to help close the global digital divide in his own community.

The cost of connecting to the Internet is expensive here in Nigeria – as in many parts of the world. But our day-to-day activities depend on it, from applying for jobs to communicating with family and friends.

During the pandemic in 2020, I came across the Coursera Workforce Recovery Program, which provides free access to more than 4,000 courses for people to gain on-demand skills for employment and better livelihood.

I thought this was a great opportunity. I spoke to people in my community in Kakuri about it, but we had a major challenge completing the courses and specializations because of the high cost of connecting to the Internet.

Many of my friends couldn’t complete the specializations they chose due the draining cost, especially when the pandemic impacted their income. In the words of one person I spoke to, “accessing the Internet is not really affordable and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Building a Community Network for Kakuri

If a service is not affordable, it is not accessible. Even in areas that are adequately ‘served’ with Internet access, low- and even moderate-income residents can struggle to afford service that is fast and reliable, or to afford any service at all.

I started looking for ways to solve this problem and realized that the Internet Society’s Early Career Fellowship could empower me to develop a solution for my community to gain access to an affordable and accessible wireless Internet connection.

So my project for the Fellowship is to build a low-cost and community-owned telecommunication infrastructure (i.e. a community network) for the people of Kakuri.

I believe that this project will contribute a lot to my community. People, schools and businesses will be able to leverage the Internet for socio-economic opportunities available online.

What Are Community Networks and Why Should We Care About Them?

Community networks are local telecommunications infrastructures set up by groups of people to connect to the Internet and provide digital communications services.

They are built and managed as a commonsin other words, as a resource produced and maintained collectively, rather than privately, and an alternative to large commercial or state networks and Internet service providers.

Here are some of the benefits of community networks:

  • They bring down the cost of Internet and broadband connection.
  • They are an essential and complementary solution to last-mile connectivity.
  • They offer affordable and flexible connectivity for communities.
  • They empower communities with digital tools and skills to improve their lives
How Can I Build a Community Network in My Own Community?

Because of the Internet, groundbreaking innovation can come from anywhere, and anyone can change the world. And one way that ordinary people and communities can do this is by building and maintaining a community network.

It’s truly a collective effort. The first step to building one is planning and designing with the community, and then teaching community members to build, operate, and maintain the network. Once an Internet connection is in place, they can raise awareness and promote the use of network and create relevant local language content and services.

Being part of the Early Career Fellowship is providing me with the resources and opportunities to build a community network, and helping me to build skills and a network of experts.

Through the Fellowship I’m looking forward to learning even more from world class experts and luminaries in the Internet ecosystem, and to develop my leadership, communication, advocacy and program-management skills to help bring my ideas to life.

You can shape the Internet’s future through an extraordinary professional opportunity. Apply to the Early Career Fellowship by 18 November!

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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