About the Session
The overarching aim of the session is to talk about issues that affect connectivity for refugees. The Session aims to unpack some of the different challenges faced and outline what potential solutions might be. Some of these will touch upon the responsibilities of carriers, as well as the duties of regulators and what good practice looks like, specifically citing the example of the connectivity technical working group in Uganda as something we’d want to replicate elsewhere.
Firstly, Blair Levin who is ex-Head of the National Broadband Plan for the FCC in the USA who will take about a broadband plan for refugees. Secondly, we have Dr Aaron Martin present some of our findings regarding refugee access to SIM cards, and Thirdly we will have GSMA representative Erdoo Yongo talk about some of the research they’ve been undertaking looking at barriers to refugees accessing digital services.
The discussion aims to provide a good set of ideas to participants on how to tackle these issues and demonstrate that while some consider it tricky, with collaboration and coordination all can play a role in a way that supports the mobile industry, refugee access and of course host community access in rural areas as well.
High lights – Uganda Case Study
Stats of the current refugee load – Uganda is currently hosting at least 1,223,033 registered refugees spread in at least 13 districts across the country including the capital Kampala. Source https://ugandarefugees.org/en/country/uga
- That refugee host communities are a digital divide that requires deliberate interventions.
- That no one is a refugee by choice and as such all interventions to support improving the livelihoods of these people who have been pushed out of their comfort zones
- Access to ICTs can significantly help the resettlement and survival of refugees within their host communities and, once they can access \ICTs, they can also access other humanitarian services like food and health centres.
Uganda’s efforts to improve connectivity for refugees has over the years had moved from generic to more specific interventions.
Uganda’s approach to undeserved communities (including refugee host) is dual-faceted through the Universal Access programme as well as through specific provisions in the licensing requirements for the ICT operators.
Licensing: Obligatory coverage requirements/targets have been incorporated in the license terms and conditions.
Universal Access Interventions which specifically target these communities with infrastructure subsidies (GSM Expansion & data connectivity) and other things like digital literacy campaigns and digital content for education.
Uganda’s licensing regime is technologically neutral and therefore allows for any technology to be deployed in areas with less connectivity. The choice is left to the MNOs to decide the best cost-effective technology. This has made the rollout of new services and service models easy in the undeserved areas.
Over the years, the universal Access Programme has been very instrumental in bridging the gap. Take the example of the earlier years when it catalysed the expansion of 2G in remote areas of the country. By providing subsidies to operators to build GSM coverage sites in areas that are not very profitable.
Our targets have now shifted to access to the internet. The regulator through the universal access program is taking a very deliberate effort to address data connectivity gaps by; Continuously monitoring the rollout obligations for MNOs and identifying areas that require more attention/interventions. Designing subsidies for the MNOs to upgrade their previously 2G sites to 3G. (Last year RCDF gave subsidies to MTN to upgrade 22 sites from 2G to 3G. This year another 22 sites have been selected for upgrade).
Specific Interventions – connectivity for refugees
Access to ICT Services.In consideration of ALL other national and social requirements of resettlement; the Government of Uganda has made it possible for refugees to access sim-cards and as such get online within the existing framework that requires clear national identification (Passport, driver’s license / National ID) that the refugees might not be able to process in their refugee status. This allows the refuges to use their temporary identities as a guarantee to cater to the security issues that have over the years come up through abuse of ICT services.
Financial Inclusion. With access to sim-cards, refugees have also been able to access the digital financial services aboard the MNOs, and all this moves to improve livelihoods and acclimatisation with their host communities.
The Connectivity Technical Working Group
The Connectivity Technical Working Group (CTWG) was established to enhance the coordination efforts and operational effectiveness in addressing the connectivity for refugee host communities and network coverage in Uganda. UCC co-chairs the working group with UNHCR. Other members of the working group include: MNOs, Global Development Partners UK AID, GSMA, Global Pulse; Other UN Agencies –UNCDF, UNDP
Notably, humanitarian and development agencies and various other stakeholders are working hand-in-hand with the public and private sector to deliver solutions that will improve the connectivity in refugee host communities in Uganda through different operational arrangements, programmes and projects.
The formation of the CTWG has been critical in facilitating connectivity solutions in the complex operational context and will enable and support high-level advocacy and intervention at the national level and to guide on the strategic response, investments and policy considerations. The CTWG also has an important role to play in developing a national strategy and ensuring its comprehensive and coherent implementation.
The Uganda Communications Commission is a co-chair together with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and has been tasked with coordinating the design and implementation of activities that will improve the connectivity through 3 main areas: Availability, Affordability and Usability of solutions.
Through the coordinated efforts of the Connectivity Technical Working group, there are collaborated efforts and influence to include refugee host communities to the priority areas for inclusion.
For Example, MTN won a Grant from GSMA to cover some connectivity gaps across the country. The working group is requesting MTN (Who are a member of the Working group) to prioritise the refugee settlement and host communities. Equally, RCDF plans to work very closely with MTN to undertake some demand-side activities like setting up community centres and undertake digital literacy training.