By Mozilla | Nov. 6, 2019 | Fellowships & Awards
In Lanet Umoja, Nakuru, a rural community about 250 kilometers from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, internet access is expensive. Community members are eager to enroll in online classes, search job boards, and bring their businesses online. But data bundles can run upward of 200 Kenyan shillings (or, $2 USD) for a single day — a prohibitive amount.
“There are commercial ISPs in the area, but the bandwidth is very expensive,” explains Irene Misoi. It’s a situation Misoi plans to remedy by providing an alternative to pricey ISPs: community networks that are based at local schools.
Misoi, an expert on community networks and system security, begins work this October as a Mozilla Fellow focused on Open Internet Engineering. She’ll be embedding with the Internet Society (ISOC) and drawing on her past work as a computer science lecturer and network engineer at Catholic University of Eastern Africa, and also her experience as a project coordinator with Afchix, a network of African women in computing.
Misoi, in partnership with USAID (which provided the initial funds), KENET the National Research and Educational Network (NREN) of Kenya (which will provide the bandwidth), will place omnidirectional antennas and access points in five local public schools. These will then provide access to the greater Lanet Umoja community — some 12,000 households, plus hospitals. This system hopes to bring the price of access down astronomically, from 200 Kenyan shillings each day to as low as 200 Kenya shillings each month.
A major part of Misoi’s project is working with the community, not for them. "We’re training the women, the men, and the youth of the community,” she explains. “We want the project to be self-sustaining — we can’t run the network ourselves forever.” Many of the community members supporting the project are youth without jobs but with computer science and IT degrees. Misoi is also deliberately involving women as leaders: “The percentage of women involved in the establishment and use of the community networks will not be less than 70%,” she says.
The training program is in two parts: One component provides hands-on technical training through the KENET engineers, related to setting up the network hardware and configurations, and also maintenance. The other component provides insight into the business model, policy, and governance — work being done in partnership with ISOC. The schools won’t be paying for the bandwidth; instead, the households benefiting from it will each chip in.
Misoi has the support of Francis Kariuki, Chief of Lanet Umoja. “He recently earned his Master’s degree online,” she explains. Lanet Umoja’s Assistant Chief is also sympathetic: She’s currently enrolled in online courses, but often encounters problems when the bundles run out midway when submitting assignments.
“If we can provide more affordable internet, we can relieve a lot of problems,” Misoi says. “We would like to make internet access like water — which is a necessity for the rural folk in Kenya.”