One of the most persistent and fundamental challenges that NetHope members face in their field operations is access to broadband connectivity. As NGOs, donors, and other stakeholders increasingly look to the power of digital tools and platforms to carry out their work, connectivity has become an ever more vital part of their approach. Despite this trend, however, NetHope members often experience poor signal coverage, slow speeds, and high costs for connectivity. A significant reason for this: private sector network operators (including Mobile Network Operators and Internet Service Providers) often view areas where NGOs operate as too rural, too poor, and too isolated to justify investment in robust network infrastructure.
As part of its Global Broadband and Innovations Alliance partnership with USAID, NetHope has initiated a program designed to expand coverage and improve terms of connectivity at these market and network frontiers.
The challenge of rural communications service delivery is not a new phenomenon; what has changed in recent years, however, is that trends in technology, innovation in business models, and public policies that promote greater efficiencies and emphasize inclusion have created new opportunities to close persistent access gaps. In sum, connecting underserved populations has become a recognized priority.
NetHope members often serve as the most critical actors and institutions in areas where a range of basic humanitarian and developmental needs must be met. While the ability of NGO facilities in these regions to communicate has always been an important element of a coordinated response, evolving organizational needs have made more robust connectivity a more important element of this presence. At the same time, digital tools and platforms are increasingly seen as an important part of delivering assistance to the communities that they serve. NetHope’s approach - a strategy that is known as demand aggregation - focuses on working with its NGO members and USAID implementing partners to identify, aggregate, and leverage demand for access services at key field offices and points of presence within target countries. By consolidating the needs of its NGO stakeholders and presenting them to connectivity service providers, NetHope is able to facilitate new solutions, including optimized pricing, and improved quality of service.
Examples of Success
The NetHope demand aggregation approach has been implemented successfully in Uganda in recent months. Uganda has experienced a large-scale influx of refugees and there are acute needs for improved connectivity solutions among NGOs that are responding to the crisis. In light of this development and in close collaboration with its NGO members and USAID implementing partners that have a presence in Uganda, NetHope has been able to negotiate significantly discounted broadband access rates for facilities that have had poor quality of service and high access costs. By identifying geographic clusters of NGO demand and working with network operators to better understand both the present and future access needs of the NGO community - as well as NGOs’ role as an access intermediary and catalyst in underserved communities - NetHope has raised awareness of the commercial potential that its affiliates represent.
Building on the successes in Uganda and in response to demonstrated member needs for improved connectivity, NetHope has initiated a demand aggregation program in Malawi in early 2019. Additional target countries will also be added in coming weeks and months. If your organization has specific and urgent needs for improved connectivity in Malawi (or any other geography) - or if you would simply like to learn more about the initiative, please email the NetHope Solutions Center.