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Saturday, September 9 • 9:34am - 10:08am
Getting There from Here: 30 in 2020 in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Internet penetration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is 4%. According to radio okapi, the high costs of services and the lack of infrastructure block most people from accessing the Internet. The high Internet costs are due to the high cost of satellite bandwidth use, which raises Internet providers operating costs. Low Internet penetration in the D.R.C. is a brake on the development of this country, experts in the sector confirm. This damages both the economy and society, and is especially dangerous in case of emergency. The objective of the Interagency Task Force and Advisory Group is to support the D.R.C. achieving 30% penetration as soon as 2020.

This paper assesses an Interagency Task Force and Advisory Group (IATAG) helping catalyze interagency and civil society cooperation with industry investment to enable D.R.C. Internet penetration to exceed 30% in 2020. If successful, the economic and social benefits are obvious as a more connected and wealthier D.R.C. creates more economic opportunities for citizens and investors, improves health and well-being, and improves the functioning of the public sector.
Fieldwork to identify key inhibitors and barriers, which must be removed or reformed if the DRC Broadband Vision is to be realized, is among the research methods to be used in this paper. Experiments with government ministries, governors, civil society actors, and firms will be evaluated. Sociopolitical challenges will vary both between and within the Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. To obtain a realistic view of current conditions and critical barriers, infrastructure providers of telecommunications and energy, and their business, residential and public sector customers must be encouraged to contribute, along with potential new market entrants. Investors and industry partners, who affirm they would contribute if identified barriers were removed, are participating in this multi-stakeholder process.  

The conclusions of this paper may have significant application to realizing efforts of international agencies and the technology industry to facilitate the next billion and half people accessing the Internet. Already, the nascent efforts in the DRC are being attracting growing interest in several other African nations whose geography, economy, and political instability may also have left large numbers of people excluded from Internet access to date. Are there lessons to be learned from the DRC on what policy approaches and technology innovations may help rural areas, education and emergency services leap ahead? 

Aggregating demand by supporting inter-city hybrid heterogeneous (fiber, wireless, and satellite, as well as off-grid solutions) networks will be key to enabling sustainable, rapid growth in connectivity and Internet access, this research indicates.

Establishment of an annual series of DRC Internet Forum meetings, to facilitate continuous multistakeholder dialogue is planned. Several Provinces whose Governors and citizens may be prepared to commit to supporting the Vision will prove their commitment by formally volunteering their Provinces as Innovation Zones. Both government and civil society clearly must be prepared to take practical, and difficult, actions to make the plan implementable, and change possible.  
The IATAG is developing a checklist and brief questionnaire for submission by the Governor of interested Provinces, with indications of broad support by local officials, university and school leaders, businesses, and community organizations. Results of this questionnaire may be shared with TPRC participants for their feedback and suggestions. Incumbent telecommunications operators identifying what they perceive to be the key challenges in the region is also critical input for the Task Force to consider. For example, it may be that mobile backhaul is the top obstacle, as it was in Ugandan regions where Facebook co-invested in 2017 with two operators to remove that barrier. This paper will also report on findings from the point of view of incumbent and new entrant operators.

The virtuous circle of private sector actors encouraged by reformed government innovation policies and engaged community groups inviting change, will risk investment in advanced wireless, mobile and fiber infrastructure in the DRC as soon as possible. This can increase access and can lower costs for everyone while improving quality and variety of services far beyond 4G. These include innovative hybrid heterogeneous software-defined and virtualized networks offering cloud services across wireless grids for the Internet of Things with edgeware.

Moderators
JK

Jack Karsten

Brookings

Saturday September 9, 2017 9:34am - 10:08am
ASLS Hazel Hall - Room 225

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