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This report by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) was commissioned by the UNHCR Innovation Service as part of the Digital Access, Inclusion and Participation programme. Evolving from the Service’s work on Connectivity for Refugees, this report aims to further examine frameworks for extending access to connectivity out to refugees and their hosting communities. In order to support community self-reliance, UNHCR often seeks to leverage market-based approaches to telecommunications services, and principally the inclusion of refugees in national frameworks and regulation to facilitate this.

The impetus for this report is two-fold, firstly the tendency for market failure to occur when attempting to support last-mile connectivity provision, often where significant numbers of refugees are hosted, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Secondly, in the delivery of communications services in refugee hosting areas, the skills and capacities of the refugee / host community are often under-utilised. This is not only a missed opportunity for refugee engagement but the resultant economic benefits of connectivity provision are often little felt inside the community.

By exploring the potential of community-based approaches to provision of connectivity services, UNHCR is seeking to not only explore opportunities for extending coverage into current connectivity ‘black spots’, but also to further ownership, knowledge and skills pertaining to connectivity services within the refugee and hosting community, and potentially bring extended economic benefit.


About this report

Executive Summary

  1. The Potential for Community Networks in Areas of Forced Displacement

  2. Community Network Technologies

  3. Policy and Regulatory Issues

  4. Connectivity Services In Forced Displacement Contexts

  5. Content, Applications and Demand Building

  6. Institutional and Governance Models

  7. Summary of Recommendations to UNHCR

  8. Summary of Recommendations to governments hosting refugees



1. The Potential Role of Community Networks in Areas of Forced Displacement

1.1 The Global Context for Innovation in Connectivity Strategies
1.2 The Potential Role of Community Networks in Meeting Connectivity Needs in Areas of Forced Displacement

2. Community Networks – Origins, Technologies, Services and Deployment

2.1 Evolution of Community Networks and The Technologies Associated With Them
2.2 Potential Connectivity Services In Forced Displacement Contexts
2.2.1 Public Wi-Fi hotspots
2.2.2 Private Wi-Fi hotspots
2.2.3 Public access centres
2.2.4 Mobile networks
2.2.5 Summary SWOT Analysis of the Service Options
2.2.6 Hybrid models – Community networks in collaboration with national mobile operators
2.3 Additional Considerations in the Provision of Community Network Services 
2.3.1 Upstream / Backhaul Connectivity Costs
2.3.2 Electricity Supply
2.3.3 Availability of Human Resources
2.3.4 Content and Applications
2.3.5 Protecting User Data
2.3.6 Options for Institutional and Governance Models
2.3.7 Alternative Business Models, Cost Recovery Strategies and Financing

3. Conclusions for Implementation of Pilot Projects

3.1 Summary of Factors Affecting the Emergence and Support for Community Networks 

4. Summary of Recommendations

4.1 To UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations
4.2 To governments hosting refugees
4.3 Considerations for organisations designing and supporting trial community networks in refugee communities

5. Country-Specific Considerations in the Countries of Initial Interest

5.1 Global and Regional Agencies/Initiatives
5.2 Ethiopia
5.3 Kenya
5.4 Uganda

6. Annexes

6.1 Details on Communications Infrastructure Technologies & Sources of Equipment
6.2 Mobile Community Network Profiles
6.2.1 TIC AC, Oaxaca, Mexico
6.2.2 Ungu Community 4G/LTE, Bokondini, West Papua, Indonesia
6.2.3 Village Base Station (VBTS) Konnect Barangay, Aurora, Philippines

7. Further Information Resources