Held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire from 3-5 July 2013, the sixth West African Internet Governance Forum was attended by African and international organisations and businesses in addition to delegates from West African countries. Deliberations highlighted access, the dot Africa prospects for internet development in Africa and cybersecurity issues. APC was a sponsor of the event and policy specialist Mawaki Chango attended on our behalf.
APC’s presentation focused on TV White Spaces and the opportunity they afford for more efficient radio spectrum management and how that can be used to to improve Internet access in Africa. TVWS are unused spectrum channels in the wireless bands normally allocated to broadcast TV, which include frequencies between licensed radio spectrum bands among others. Large sections of lower frequency TV bands are almost unused in Africa thus the idea of tapping into those bands to improve Internet access through wireless connectivity.
The presentation reported on the status with ongoing initiatives with Google and Microsoft in Africa and the findings from those experiments. The notion of TVWS-based Internet connectivity seems to gain momentum in Africa with a number of countries including Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Senegal, Nigeria and Tanzania which either have been part of the trials so far or have expressed interest in the technology.
At this point, the main challenges are on two fronts: the technical front and the policy front. On the former, there still is a need for further standardization in order to enable interoperability between vendor equipments while on the latter, regulators and policy-makers need to assess the regulatory frameworks in place in order to make the adjustments necessary to accommodate and foster this emerging technology.
Questions from the audience precisely touched upon the need to bring regulators on board as well as on licensing issues. Clarifications were provided to the audience regarding the fact that white spaces are typically unlicensed although their used may be regulated.
Concluding the proceedings, participants discussed and edited together a final draft of the forum’s official communique, which was eventually released on 31 July 2013. The final recommendations included APC’s input on TV white spaces: