Towards Sustainable Broadband Communication in Under-served Areas : A Case Study from Tanzania

Abstract: The problem discussed in this thesis is how to establish sustainable broadband markets in under-served areas. The purpose is to improve people’s living conditions by promoting efficient service delivery in education, health, and governance and alleviating poverty. Due to the high-perceived risks, the market forces have failed to bring ICT in these areas. The business community is reluctant to take on the supplier role. Earlier efforts through development partners have been focusing on connecting under-served areas to the global Internet via telecentres. However, most implementations could not operate beyond the initial funding for various reasons, especially the lack of understanding of the local needs where most technical solutions were imported from the developed world, not optimized to work under local conditions. We propose the creation of community or municipal owned “broadband islands”, defined as high speed communication broadband networks that do not depend on external connections for their operations. Using an Action Research participatory approach, we are emphasizing multi-stakeholder partnerships, and engaging the local community to contribute infrastructure, technical solutions and leadership. Our proposal is validated through the design and deployment of two pilot sites in rural areas of Tanzania. Our original contributions include 1) An overall model on how to establish and sustain broadband markets in under-served areas, making it scalable and reproducible. 2) technical innovations, especially the design and implementation of a low cost, low power-consuming, and robust router with integrated power management. 3) Organizational innovations by establishing institutional mechanisms at a local level in public-private-community partnership. 4) Innovative funding mechanisms by identifying partners who can pay on behalf of the end users and cut down costs through resource sharing schemes. The government of Tanzania has shown interest to use the pilot sites as models for extending the national backbone into other municipal. Also, discussions are underway to organize similar pilots in East Africa.