A Global Broadband Plan for Refugee Inclusion
The Goal: Universal Connectivity for Refugees. In 2016, the principal international agency charged with protecting and assisting refugees, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) set out a new goal of universal connectivity for refugees, stating:
“UNHCR aims, through creative partnerships and smart investments, to ensure that all refugees, and the communities that host them, have access to available, affordable and usable mobile and internet connectivity in order to leverage these technologies for protection, communications, education, health, self-reliance, community empowerment, and durable solutions.”
That goal, however, is not self-executing. Achieving that goal requires a plan that evaluates the economic, legal, political and institutional challenges and charts a path for overcoming those challenges.
The Plan. With the financial support of the World Bank, USA for UNHCR and Tent.org, and under the auspices of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility of The New School, a group of experts on broadband undertook the writing of such a plan. With the help of over two dozen advisors from private sector companies, consulting firms, NGOs, academics and international organizations, they evaluated the different international efforts to bring connectivity to populations and geographies that currently are unconnected, national efforts, expressed through over 150 National Broadband Plans, as well as diving deeper into the current state of play regarding connectivity for three African countries that host refugees. They also analyzed the different stakeholders that would have an interest in improved refugee connectivity.
The Five Initiatives. In light of the analysis, the plan is organized around the five strategic initiatives:
Improving information collection, sharing of market information, analysis, and dissemination among stakeholders;
Improving purchasing power related to devices and services for refugees and the support ecosystem;
Improving the economics of network deployment;
Improving the utilization by refugees and by service providers through developing a platform and other tactics that facilitate innovation, constant improvement, and more efficient service delivery mechanisms and a digital first service delivery framework; and
Reducing legal barriers to refugee access to devices and internet services.
For each of these initiatives, the Plan makes a number of tactical recommendations, which stakeholder should lead implementing the recommendation, and the timing for undertaking the recommendation.
Implementation. The Plan recommends that the stakeholders create a coordinating committee, composed of representatives of UNHCR, the World Bank, the NGOs, and the Wireless Carriers, to oversee implementation. In addition, there should be a broader group composed of the other stakeholders (including bilateral donors, host country governments, technology companies, refugee related academics and think-tanks, and refugee oriented philanthropies, among others) that helps advise the coordinating committee and implement the plan.