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Launching Social ISPs

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Today for the first time our concept of Social ISPs was shared with a wider audience. That was at the IEEE 8th World Forum on Internet of Things (WF-IoT) 2022.

The background is, that especially in Africa digitalization of education and other areas of public life fail as the target population is missing connectivity. At the same IEEE event Abubaker Bbuye from the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports painted a grim picture about the impacts of the covid lockdown on education in Uganda.

Speeding up digitalization. That is what is needed and that is what social ISPs are designed for.

It is “social” as digitalizing schools, healthcare and other public services is a social undertaking – and needs to have the backing of the authorities. From technology point of view a Social ISP is an Internet service provider using base stations and user equipment of the mobile networking ecosystem. Unlike a public mobile network operator it does not build wide area coverage but builds connectivity where users need it – or in the optimal case: it enables communities or users to build coverage themselves where they need it.

The service offering of the Social ISP is simple. Data only, provided by small 4G access networks. Additionally, some local services such as storing of frequently used content (e.g. learning material for schools) and local messaging should be supported for reducing load of the Internet link and for being able to provide a meaningful service when the Internet is not reachable. In Africa that happens quite often.

Community hosting and building for demand make the social ISP business case look very different from that of a mobile operator – and much better than that of a new greenfield mobile operator. Unfortunately the business case comparison is in many countries just academic. The social ISP would not get access to the needed spectrum. It would lose the regulator beauty contests against incumbent operators hands down as “building for demand” contradicts with the required fixed rollout plan. Also the Social ISP would not score points on the service offering. All the makeup needed for the beauty contest is missing.

The proposed approach for the regulator is reasonably priced local (LTE) frequency licenses. Practices established in the UK or in Finland can be copied with pride…

The good news is that these messages have been heard. In several countries ministries of education and ICT are pushing for a change. Social ISPs are coming!

For more information about Social ISPs please refer to the Social ISPs for reducing digital inequality document prepared by Poutanet, Karugrid and Earth 3.0 Foundation.

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