(A) Without a Community Network – a COVID-19 situation analysis
It has been two years since the passage of Hurricane Maria and Dominica’s telecommunication infrastructure is still being rebuilt. Currently, there are two main service providers – Digicel Limited and Flow (Dominica) a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless Limited that serve the country. Nonetheless, there are many villages that still do not have full connectivity to the internet. This has been made more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
As an educator, I was very surprised to witness a large number of students who were disenfranchised from having adequate internet access to participate in online classes. For example, I taught a required course to a class of 30 students and only 11 could actively participate in the class. Out of which only 5 students have dedicated Wi-Fi access. The others use data.
Using data for internet connection is very costly, on average it costs a student EC$30.00 a week or EC$120.00 a month. If one asks the regulators or each service provider as to whether every community has connectivity, the answer would be a resounding “Yes, we are present in each community”. When the same question is poised to a local, the response is almost always “the company has connected one spot within the community or at a nearby community, and they refuse to connect the rest of us.“
In April, many parents called into a local radio station to address their frustrations about the process of online learning that was taking place. One of their key concerns was that their children were unable to participate in classes due to the high cost of data or poor connectivity. Having a community network implemented in such a community would serve it very well, not only during the COVID-19 lockdown crisis, but any other situation where connectivity is needed.. Online delivery of content and online learning would be more cost efficient and smoother. The COVID-19 lockdown and social-distancing restrictions that were applied islandwide also severely delayed the chapter’s ability to conduct the community specific survey. Let’s look at the community of Grand Fond.
(B) The Community of Grand Fond – On the ground situation
The Grand Fond community is a very small community with a population size of 722 (Dominica census, 2011) nestled at the top of a mountain with one main road that is used as entry into and to exit from the village. There are approximately 280 dwelling homes in the area, with on average 3.3 persons within a household. An additional 66 dwelling units have been built as a part of the housing recovery project post Maria through the efforts of the Government of Dominica. The nearest serving police station is situated in the La Plaine community approximately 20 minutes away. The community has a health center with a resident nurse.The community does not have a fire station, although there is trained personnel from within the community. Agriculture is one of the main sources of revenue for the village . Sports and culture along with education are also ingrained into the preservation of this community.
This small community has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 lock down. For at least two months the tour operators and bus drivers who serve the community have not been able to garner the income that they are used to. Residents who work within Rosalie either have to stay away from home or stay out of a job for two and a half months. For this community, Internet access is critical. By a general observation this community could be well served with a Community Network.
Research on the community yielded the following details:
The residents are heavily reliant on data services for Internet access
The predominant internet service provider in the community is Digicel. Persons spend an average EC$100 – EC$160 monthly on data. The data and cell phone service ranges from weak to average based on location. There are residents who want better internet performance from the comfort of their homes. When asked about owning and managing a network as a community, they are interested ready to have their own community network.
Though there were questions which enquired in what ways technology could be used to improve their community – it was largely ignored at the time. The current interest however – was to provide better service for users to participate in online education. This response suggested two things (1) Online learning is at the forefront and (2) the community may certainly need to be exposed in the other ways that having a community network can improve a society.
During the process of conducting this research on the community, it was discovered that Digicel, one of the main ISP’s on island will be launching its facility in the community pretty soon. This posed the following questions – will there be room for ISOC Dominica Chapter to still implement the community network within this location? Can ISOC Dominica and Digicel collaborate on this initiative? How can this initiative be truly sustainable in this small but strong community?
How a Community Network can serve the Grand Fond community
With a resilient community network, the immediate benefits to the Grand Fond community would be the following:
(1) Given full rights and responsibility for the deployment, management and security of the satellite and connectivity devices to ensure that their communities have connectivity at any point in time.
(2) The community will need only a limited number of direct internet connection points from the ISP from which the community can connect its BCN to.
(3) The community has complete control of its network, they can secure it before an impending disaster; and restore it after so that there is adequate connection.
The community will have a quick turn around time to restore connectivity after a disaster helping the community to not only get back on its feet but to be able to provide an immediate situation analysis.
Owning a Community Network
One of the few questions that one must ask is:
(1) What is the intrinsic motivation for a community to accept the network? The researcher must identify what is of paramount importance to the community.
(2) Who are the motivators or the connectors within the community? Are they willing to be part of this team? Will the community be able to invest financially to maintain the network?
(3) What training needs is required to help the community be self reliant in maintaining the network?
In summary, Grand Fond is not the only community that is in need. As in recent weeks there has been a recent demand for better Internet connection coming from young civic minded persons who have been disenfranchised in their ability to further their education due to the imposed COVID-19 lockdown.
This blog is meant to be the first of a three part series, as the ISOC Dominica Chapter embarks upon the implementation of a Community Network within the village of Grand Fond. The information compiled in this blog was conducted through the use of surveys and interviews with persons who are from and live in the Grand Fond community, Digicel Limited and other key stakeholders.
East Coast Housing Project. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2020, from https://housingdominica.com///projects/grand-fond-housing-project/
Google Earth – Grand Fond. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2020, from link.