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Successful meet with the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority

The Centre for Youth and Development (CYD) in partnership with the ICT Association of Malawi (ICTAM), Mzuzu University – ICT Department (Mzuni ICT), and UmozaNet are implementing a new project titled “Catalyzing Better Policy, Regulatory and Financing framework for Community Networks in Malawi”. The project aims to contribute to a conducive policy and regulatory environment for establishing and developing Community Networks to help address the connectivity gap in the country. 

The Partners with MACRA Staff

The partners had a courtesy call with the regulator – Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) – at their offices in Blantyre to introduce the project, raise awareness of Community Networks as an approach to addressing the digital gap, and build a common ground for collaboration. The partners that attended the meeting were, James Gondwe, the Executive Director of the CYD; Bram Fudzulani, the President of the ICTAM; and Reuben Moyo, the Head of Department at the Mzuni ICT. On the other hand, MACRA was represented by the Universal Service Funds (USF) section in the names of Emily Lungu, Head of USF, Khumbo Kasambala, Projects Manager – USF, and Limbani Mkandawire, Finance Manager – USF. 

The meeting was successful and a common ground for collaboration was drawn to support the development of Community Networks, acknowledging that the current models for providing connectivity only work for urban geographies, leaving out rural and hard-to-reach populations. The leadership at MACRA is on track, and they have a strong interest in supporting the emergency of rural connectivity solutions but also recognize that lack of policy and regulatory framework derails the process. 

“As MACRA we are interested to explore solutions for rural connectivity, especially ones that will make rural communities productive, and we recognize that the lack of the policy and regulatory framework hinders the process. We welcome your support and look forward to working with you”.

Emily Lungu, Head of USF. 

In Malawi, only 13.1% of Malawi’s population of 17.1 million have access to the Internet, one of the lowest in the world, according to the latest data from the International Telecommunications Union. The few who have access to the Internet face slow speeds and high costs.  Telecommunication services such as mobile telephony and broadband are prerequisites for human development in the 21st century, according to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. 

The current connectivity models have a lot of limitations in reaching out to rural and hard-to-reach communities, and there is increasing interest in exploring alternative strategies for reaching the unconnected. Innovations in low-cost technology have created possibilities for the development of affordable, locally owned and managed communication infrastructure, commonly called Community Networks run and managed by communities themselves using off-the-shelf low-cost commodity networking equipment to build Wi-Fi, GSM, and fiber connections. Examples of successful Community Networks that are connecting thousands of people include Rhizomatica in Argentina and  Zenzeleni in South Africa.  

In Malawi, there is a lack of knowledge about the potential of Community Networks to bridge the connectivity gap. There are also “overwhelming regulatory and licensing regulations” that require Community Networks to follow the same start-up processes as any other private internet service provider and huge financial, technical, and economic requirements at startup with no or little opportunities for funding.  

The project, Catalysing Better Policy, Regulatory and Financing framework for Community Networks Project in Malawi, focuses on various activities such as awareness-raising programs, building the Community Network Movement, and desk research on policy, access to backhaul, and spectrum framework on Community Networks and financing in Malawi; training on policy advocacy and 

Advocacy targeting the Ministry of Information, and MACRA to ease policy, regulatory and licensing requirements for Community Networks. 

This project is co-funded by the World Association of Christian Communications, with the support of Bread for the World-Germany and the  Association for Progressive Communications (APC) under their Connecting the Unconnected initiative.

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