The challenge of getting online - Fantsuam brings satellite internet to villages in rural Nigeria
By Karen Higgs for APCNews
KAFANCHAN, Nigeria, 30 July 2004
APC member in rural Nigeria, Fantsuam Foundation, has recorded yet another first in rural ICT programs. Earlier this year, Fantsuam launched a VSAT facility. VSAT stands for "Very Small Aperture Terminal" which can provide access to the internet by connecting computers on the ground to a satellite link. In a situation where other connectivity options are not feasible, VSAT can be relatively quick to install and easy to manage. The Fantsuam VSAT provides the first rural-based internet access in Kaduna State, if not in Nigeria, and it is already generating additional services downstream. This service is the only one of its type available to hundreds of people who have to otherwise undertake hours-long journeys to major cities, Jos, Abuja or Kaduna in order to access the internet or their emails.
The new internet facility has made it possible for Fantsuam to be approved to operate a Cisco Academy at Bayanloco, the only rural academy of its kind in Nigeria. Fantsuam is now working with Connectivity Africa to explore low cost wireless options to take connectivity to rural schools and health institutions in the Kafanchan area. APCNews talked to Fantsuam’s director, John Dada, about the impact the new internet satellite connection is having on the community and the Foundation.
APCNews: Fantsuam installed a satellite internet connection was installed earlier this year in Bayanloco. Who is coming to use the internet and for what purposes?
John: The VSAT serves locals using the Fantsuam Computer School, the Fantsuam (Cisco) Academy and the Bayanloco cyber-cafe. Purposes vary. The internet connection remains the only one for villages up to 20-mile radius of Bayanloco.
In Nigeria, many civil servants have had their promotion prospects suspended until they have acquired computer and internet skills. Fantsuam provides them with affordable training.
Our women’s scholarship scheme has encouraged more female enrolment at all levels of our training programs.
We also now have young people who have travelled from the city come for their internet and computer training at Fantsuam. Their chances of getting jobs in the city are improved if they have computer skills, which we provide affordably and of a high standard. We actually believe we’re starting to see a reversal in urban drift. Where traditionally young people have gone to the cities to get training and an education, now they are returning or staying in the countryside.
One person sought us out because he urgently needed to follow up on the results of a job interview he had had. The only way he would be able to find out if he had got the job was through his potential employer’s company website. The Fantsuam Foundation centre was the nearest internet access point that he could find without making a bus journey of hours to the nearest big city. Fortunately he got the job!
APCNews: Do you offer training to use the internet and email? Who’s carrying out the training and typically who needs it?
In response to demands for e-mail addresses and website browsing we saw the need to start internet training in the Computer School. The instructors who are members of our youth corps
the Zitt Geeks* carry out the training at the Computer School.
APCNews: These connections don’t come cheap. How much does it cost per month and how are you meeting the expense?
The monthly cost of the bandwidth is $1800 USD. If our users are to have affordable access we needed to work out how much they can afford while Fantsuam subsidises the rest. Some of the subsidy was from a grant from the Global Knowledge Partnership for "Small Innovative Projects".
APCNews: Fantsuam is now working with Connectivity Africa to explore low cost wireless options to take connectivity to rural schools and health institutions in the Kafanchan area. Can you give us an update?
An engineer from Connectivity Africa and a programme officer will be visiting Fantsuam from the 15th August for internet connectivity and wireless distribution network in rural Nigeria. We have identified the villages and civil society organisations to work with, and the team from Connectivity Africa will meet with them.
APCNews: Back in 2001, you told us that one of Fantsuam’s dreams was to have email in every local village so that where there was a threat of communal violence peace-brokers, who are primarily women, would be able to respond more quickly. How near is Fantsuam and the local community to making the dream reality?
The Bayanloco VSAT is the first of its kind in rural Nigeria, this is a major achievement towards rural access. One of the proposed sites for the Connectivity Africa project is the palace of one of the local chiefs. There women will have priority access. The fanning-out of internet access points through wireless will mean that women will not need to make a special trip to Bayanloco to make urgent phone calls or send email.
Photo: Local youths setting up the VSAT antenna
The Zitt Geeks – Young Nigerians turn to computing to improve their job prospects (APCNews, 09/02/2004)