Global Broadband Plan for Refugees Request for Information (RFI)


Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this RFI is to seek information and advice from all relevant stakeholders related to achieving the goal stated by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), that that “all refugees, and the communities that host them, are connected to mobile networks and the Internet so that they can leverage these technologies to improve their lives.”  


Background:  Need for Broadband Connectivity for Refugees

This RFI is part a project to create a Global Broadband Plan for Refugees. Managed by leading experts on broadband policy and practice and funded by USA for UNHCR,, and the World Bank, the Project reflects the increasing recognition that, in addition to emergency responses, the world’s growing refugee population requires investments in long-term solutions and that, in today’s connected world, a sound investment strategy should include initiatives that increase refugee access to broadband.


In a report published in September of 2016, UNHCR described many ways in which internet connectivity aids refugees, such as keeping in touch with families and communities, helping them remain safe, providing health and educational services, and supporting livelihoods. In the report, UNHCR noted in reference to education: “Without connectivity, millions of displaced children won’t get the education [they need].” Similarly, as to livelihoods, UNHCR observed: “Connectivity would make it much easier for refugees to create and sustain their own businesses, as well as make remote work possible, which will be particularly important in situations in which there are constraints on the right to work or limited opportunities in the local economy.” It is thus unsurprising that UNHCR found that “refugees deem connectivity to be a critical survival tool in their daily lives” and that they “are willing to make large sacrifices to get and stay connected.” In that light, UNHCR set a goal, as noted above, of ensuring universal access and adoption for all refugees, and the communities that host them.


Unfortunately, there is a large gap between that aspiration and today’s reality.  Refugees find themselves in a variety of circumstances but in all, generally find themselves less connected than the surrounding population, which itself is far from the universal goal set by the UNHCR. For example, refugees in rural areas are twice as likely as the general global rural population, to live in an area with no connectivity.  And where there is connectivity, globally, refugees are 50 percent less likely than the general population to have an internet-enabled phone.


So how should the universal connectivity goals set by the UNHCR be achieved? There are many examples of ad hoc efforts to address the connectivity needs of a specific refugee community, but such responses are unlikely to meet the larger, long-term needs of refugee communities and their host countries. As UNHCR observed, while the private sector supports connectivity efforts, “There is a need to scale up and expand these partnerships.” Similarly, a study of National Broadband Plans by Nokia and Diffraction Analysis found that in achieving such broadband goals “a structured approach with a clear identification of goals in a coherent package is more effective than disparate individual measures.” Further, the basic connectivity of the last generation of technology must be enhanced to ensure sufficient bandwidth to enable the emerging tools that are particularly important for people who are forced to separate from their communities and families. In addition, refugee host countries all have their own digital deficiencies.


Fortunately, most host countries either have, or are in the process of adopting, strategies and plans to close three broadband related gaps among their own population, namely:

  • an access gap, caused by lack of deployment of broadband networks to unserved or underserved areas;

  • an adoption gap, caused by the cost of devices and services as well as a lack of training; and

  • a usage gap, generally caused by a lack of services and content targeted to low-adoption populations.


As many countries have recognized, closing any one gap helps close the others. Deployment drives adoption and usage; adoption creates demand for deployment and usage; and usage drives deployment and adoption. Incremental additions to the strategies and actions that will improve broadband for their own populations can be utilized to improve broadband for refugees as well, potentially capturing synergies between refugee-oriented donor funding and specific broadband-related investments and policies by host countries.


A Global Broadband Plan for Refugees

This Project was created with the view that the time is right for a strategic approach to meeting UNHCR’s connectivity goal, taking into account opportunities created by technology developments, lessons learned in addressing connectivity needs around the world, and the priorities of countries that host refugee and migrant populations, including those expressed in national broadband plans. Moreover, for both economic and political reasons, the most likely path to success in connecting refugees is to do so in ways that connect others in host countries through the same process.


Project Goals

The purpose of the Project is to develop an approach to melding policy, private sector, and philanthropic approaches and to recommend concrete actions that can bring together the various stakeholders to improve connectivity for refugees and the residents of the host countries.  To do so, the Project will have three goals:

  • To examine the current situation and propose a framework that, by coordinating the government approach with the philanthropic and assistance efforts, allows the three broadband gaps to be addressed more effectively for both residents of the host country and refugees;

  • To propose specific action steps for government, philanthropic, and assistance organizations for a select set of countries; and

  • To propose specific action steps for all stakeholders to scale up those efforts to address the broadband needs of the global refugee population and their host countries.


Project Process

The Project will undertake to achieve its goals through a combination of an intensive study of the situation in three countries and a broader inquiry into general barriers to achieving the UNHCR’s goal.  As to the three countries, the Project, on the advice of key stakeholders, will study the broadband market, policies, and refugee situation in Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia.


As to the broader inquiry, the Project intends to hold two summits.  The first will focus on technology trends and developments that may assist in achieving the UNHCR goals.  It will be held in San Francisco in February.  The second will focus on various barriers to achieving the goals and the role of government policies and non-governmental organizations in overcoming the barriers.  It will be held in Africa in April.  The Project will also have a Board of Advisors composed of experts in connectivity issues and refugee assistance.  The Board will help guide the Project team evaluate a variety of options in closing the broadband gaps noted above.


In addition, the Project hopes that through this RFI process, it can obtain useful information for analyzing both the specifics of the three countries and the general environment for connectivity and refugees.


RFI Process

The purpose of this Request for Information is to engage all stakeholders so that the Project can benefit their ideas, research, concerns and other intellectual capital related to refugees and the three broadband gaps identified above.  The Project intends to finish writing its report by June 2018.  To be useful to the process however, all submissions to the Project must be received by April 1, 2018 to provide sufficient time to review the submissions.  We note however, the earlier the Project receives the information, the better, as the Project team will be constantly evaluating and testing information with a wide variety of stakeholders.  We further note that it would be helpful if submissions related to the topics to be discussed at the San Francisco summit and the Africa summit be submitted prior to those meetings.


Submissions should be provided by electronic mail to:  // Please include "GBP4R RFI Submission" in your subject line. 


Questions regarding this RFI or any other aspect of the Project should be sent to:



RFI Topics

The Project will investigate a number of questions related to the three broadband gaps and requests any reports, studies or other information helpful to addressing the following questions and topics.


Information.  The Project seeks to make recommendations on improving the fact base on which governments, institutions with the mission of assisting refugees, and the refugees themselves rely to make various assessments and decisions.  In that light, the Project is interested in information relating to how to use communications technology and other means to improve, among other things:  

  • Identification, counting, mapping, and assessing the needs of refugees, as well as targeting the most vulnerable for assistance, and creating tools to rapidly and regularly update this information;

  • Dissemination of reliable information to refugees about available services, assistance, and other relevant issues through the use of information and communications technology, data management, and/or other outreach activities, and maintaining ongoing communication with refugee (and, where relevant, host) communities; and

  • Utilization of Open Data to improve resource allocation, enable more informed decision making, and foster innovation and self-reliance.


Access. The Project seeks to make recommendations designed to assure that broadband networks are deployed to all areas where refugees reside and that services on those networks are affordable. In that light, the Project is interested in any information related to improving the economics of deployment, including, but not limited to:

  • Networks (including all the elements of the networks, such as backhaul, middle mile, and last mile elements);

    • What are the biggest barriers to the deployment of networks in areas with refugees?

    • What networks are best suited to deliver sufficient bandwidth to refugees?

    • Over what timeframe do networks need to be deployed and/or operated?

    • What links are there with other infrastructure deployment (e.g., electricity)?

    • What technological developments, such as mesh networking, drones, satellites or others, have the potential to change the answer for what networks are best suited to deliver sufficient bandwidth to refugees? When will they be ready for deployment?

  • Information.  Governments have significant data and information that is useful for for planning network deployment.  What information can government or others provide that would be helpful in lowering the costs of deployment.  These could include, for example information related to:

    • Existing communications networks;

    • Existing facilities which can host communications network equipment; and

    • Existing populations without access to communications networks

  • Government Policies.  What government policies are most important for lowering the cost of deployment?  These could include, among others, policies related to;

    • Spectrum;

    • Universal Service;

    • Licensing;

    • Taxes and other fees, including import duties on communications related equipment;

    • Local hosting of content;

    • Construction approval and management;

    • Permitting;

    • Contracting, such as aggregating government and NGO demand for backbone and last mile network services;

    • Government coordination between different jurisdictions (local, regional, national, international) serving the same areas;

    • Utilization of public assets and infrastructure;

    • Investment in infrastructure, such as in public investment in backbone network;

    • Infrastructure sharing and/or access to essential facilities; and

    • Public/Private partnerships.

  • Aggregation of demand.  What are examples or models of institutions, including Aid assistance organizations serving both refugees and non-refugee communities, banding together to aggregate demand and improve the economics of deployment?


Adoption.  The Project seeks to make recommendations that will improve the level of broadband adoption in areas where broadband networks offer service.  In that light, the Project is interested in any information related to how governments, institutions serving refugees and the refugees themselves can improve the level of broadband adoption by such actions as:

  • Lowering the cost of devices, by such means as buying devices in bulk;

  • Lowering the cost of service, by such means as buying services on behalf of aggregations of persons;

  • Providing digital literacy training, or improving existing digital literacy options; and

  • Improving online services so as to improve relevance and the value of adoption.


Utilization. The Project seeks to make recommendations that will improve the delivery of critical services and facilitate greater self-reliance over the broadband platform.  In that light, the Project is interested in any information related to how best to provide services in the following areas, including information about existing or future applications that effectively address these areas:

  • Identity.  How to securely provide proof of identity;

  • Refugee-relevant Information.  How to provide information of particular interest to refugees generally and in specific situations, particularly when in transit or otherwise in emergency situations;

  • Financial Services. How to provide refugees access to money that is transportable and usable in environments in which refugees find themselves;

  • Public Health. How to monitor and disseminate information about public health threats and provide information in the event of an outbreak that threatens public health;

  • Personal Health. How to provide individuals and families information about their own health and provide access to various health services, including preventive, emergency  and longer-term treatment services;

  • Education.  How to provide a full spectrum of educational services, at all grade levels and in multiple languages;

  • Public Safety.  How to monitor and disseminate information about public safety threats and provide information in the event of an outbreak that threatens public safety;

  • Job Training.  How to provide a full spectrum of job-training services, in multiple languages;

  • Job Matching.  How to provide platforms that match various job skills with available jobs; and

  • Economic Development.  How to use the broadband platform to improve the economy of areas where refugees are present.


General Guidance for Response to RFI

In responding to the questions and situations posed by this RFI, respondents should keep in mind the following:

  • Respondents should not feel obliged to respond to every topic but should clearly identify to what specific obstacle to achieving the UNHCR’s goal the information is relevant;

  • Proposals included in the responses to the RFI should, where possible and efficient, aim to serve both the refugee communities and the communities of the host country.  That is, the Project has a preference for avoiding the creation of refugee-specific, parallel services to those that already exist (and are available to refugees) in the country and communities in which they are currently located;

  • Proposals included in the responses to the RFI should, where relevant, clearly identify national, regional, and/or local public policies that could be used to facilitate acceleration in achieving the UNHCR’s goal;

  • Proposals included in the responses to the RFI should aim for forward-looking solutions that create immediate advantages for institutions serving refugees and the refugees themselves, as well as flexible platforms for innovations in products and services that enable such institutions and refugees to take advantage of technological developments  for years to come;

  • There is no specified location for which information is relevant, other than the interest in locations where there is generally a gathering of refugees.  The Project, however, as noted above, is particularly interested in information relevant to Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

  • Respondents should feel free to propose alternative business models and network solutions that could be used to meet the needs of refugees and the institutions that serve them.  In this regard, respondents should feel free to point to private/public partnerships that they believe have potential for achieving the UNHCR goal and how those partnerships in particular have overcome some of the barriers that have caused other partnerships to underperform.

  • Respondents should feel free to identify experiments and models that they believe hold promise for achieving the UNHCR’s goal, even if such experiments and models are relatively new, so that their efficacy has not yet been fully tested.


Other Terms and Conditions to this RFI.

In addition to the information provided above, all information provided to the Project pursuant to this RFI is subject to the following:

  • Responses to this RFI become the property of the Project, which may use the response in any way consistent with the mission of the Project.

  • All responses to this RFI may be regarded as public records and may be subject to disclosure.

  • This RFI is issued solely for information and planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation.

  • No material submitted in response to this RFI will be returned.

  • The Project will not be liable in any way for any costs incurred by Respondents in replying to this RFI, including, but not limited to, costs associated with preparing the response, participating in any site visits, demonstrations, conferences or oral presentations.