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 rely on digital tools and platforms to deliver on their missions, connectivity has increasingly become an vital part of their approach. Despite this trend, however, NetHope member facilities often experience poor signal coverage, slow speeds, and high costs of access. A significant reason for this is that private sector network operators often view areas where NGOs operate as simply too rural, too poor, and too isolated to justify investment in the network infrastructures needed to deliver quality service at reasonable costs. 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 through collective action.
The challenges related to connectivity in rural and developing markets is not a new phenomenon; what has changed in recent years, however, is that trends in technology, innovation in telecommunications business models, and public policies promoting greater efficiencies and emphasizing digital inclusion as a social good have created new opportunities to close persistent access gaps. In sum, connecting underserved populations has become a recognized priority, and new opportunities are emerging at a rapid pace. NetHope seeks to help accelerate the positive impact of these trends by consolidating its members’ connectivity needs and engaging in constructive dialogues with service providers.
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 digital connectivity a more important factor - digital tools and platforms are increasingly seen as a vital part of delivering assistance to the communities that they serve. NetHope’s approach - a strategy that is known as connectivity demand aggregation - focuses on working with its NGO members and USAID implementing partners to identify, consolidate, and leverage demand for access services at key field offices and points of presence within target countries. By bundling the needs of its NGO stakeholders and presenting them to connectivity service providers, NetHope is able to facilitate new solutions, including optimized pricing, extended network coverage, and improved quality of service.
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 negotiate significantly discounted broadband access rates for member facilities that had previously experienced 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 and incentivized private sector network operators to offer better service at lower costs.
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. 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 Connectivity Demand Aggregation program team.