• Communities can now organise themselves in such a model so as to supply and provide internet services through community networks.
• The advantage of an Internet Network that is set up this way is that it has collective ownership, helps in the growth of local economies, and promotes local content development.
In Kenya, communities organise themselves around communal models or “chamas” for ease of accessing services.
For example, dependable piped water continues to be provided through community solutions.
Examples abound of communities that pool resources together to dig boreholes and pipe water to different households.
Each household then contributes a small amount to maintain the system on a non-commercial basis.
In a similar fashion, communities can now organise themselves in such a model so as to supply and provide internet services through community networks.
This is what the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) is proposing with its new draft licensing framework for community networks produced in collaboration with KICTANet, APC, and other partners.
Community Networks are a way to bridge the connectivity gap where people come together to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure for Internet connection.
It is the Internet for the people, by the people. The advantage of an Internet Network that is set up this way is that it has collective ownership, helps in the growth of local economies, and promotes local content development.
The proposed licensing framework by CA will further create a mechanism to attract existing community networks that have been operating outside the regulatory ambit into the overall regulatory framework.
The framework proposes to integrate a new licensing category for community networks within the Unified Licensing Framework.
The license will be exclusively for community-based organizations or other forms of non-profit collectives.
This is aimed at encouraging members of the community to participate in the governance, design, and operationalisation.
The community network will be limited to a subcounty, and a community will be issued with a 10-year license, whose application fee and the annual operating fee are set at Sh1,000 and Sh5,000 respectively.
This is considered affordable compared to the lowest fee in the Network Facilities Provider  license where an initial license fee is Sh200,000.
Tier3 license allows a licensee to deploy communication infrastructure within a specific region using any form of technology except Satellite Communications because of its borderless nature.
However, if a community network grows into a commercial model and expands beyond a subcounty, it will have to upgrade into the commercial license under the unified licensing framework as set out by the Communications Authority (CA).
There is also a proposal to allow community networks to access the Universal Service  (USF) to buttress bottom-up digital skills, help the growth of local initiatives, and provide capacity-building initiatives within communities; but exempt the community networks from contributing to the fund.
The USF derives its funds from contributions by telco licensees, and its purpose is to support widespread access to ICT services, promote capacity building and innovation in ICT services in the country, especially to rural, remote, and poor communities.
Rural and urban areas that are perceived as commercially unviable have historically remained literally in the internet darkness. This is the promise of USF and Community Networks, namely providing a beautiful confluence of purpose.
While CA will assist the communities negotiate discounted backhaul (bulk internet for further distribution to users by the community network), the framework requires fibre-optic network operators to publish their pricing to ensure access, transparency, and non-discrimination in wholesale backhaul markets.
Finally, the licensing framework gives recommendations on how license-exempt spectrum (frequencies allocated for communication over the airwaves) can be utilised more effectively, and in ways that will strengthen collaborations with service providers.
This will foster standards and regulatory inclusion, and review of spectrum fees that recognise the need for significantly reduced tariff for underserved/rural areas.
The bigger picture for Community Networks is to bring more people online such as the children forced to learn online while preparing for their KCPE and KCSE exams, or the mwananchi forced to apply for a birth certificate or a driving license using the myriad of e-government services.
Other examples include the smallholder farmer searching for better farming techniques online, or even general information resources that the internet provides.
The bigger operators may one day take the internet to everybody, but for the marginalised, they cannot wait any longer.
They now want the same opportunities for their child, for their farm, for their economic empowerment just to mention a few.
In reality, Community Networks will ensure nobody is left behind. Progress, together, through The Power of Communities.
Mwendwa Kivuva and Grace Githaiga are trustees of KICTANet, an ICT policy think tank. www.kictanet.or.ke