Counting the Gains of Fantsuam
Published: 16 Jan 2008 (Fantsuam Foundation, Efem Nkanga)
In this analysis, Efem Nkanga reports that the wireless Internet Service Provider (ISP) feat achieved by Fantsuam Village in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, has reinforced the importance of Information Communications Technology (ICT) as a tool that drives development, especially in the developing world.
As 2008 unfolds, the call for the rural areas to be included in the drive by Nigeria to work towards becoming a knowledge economy with the uptake of technology is beginning to yield dividends. A remote village called Fantsuam in Kafanchan area of Kaduna has hearkened to the call and is running with this vision to become a digital economy by becoming the first village in Nigeria to establish the first rural wireless ISP. Already, stakeholders have agreed that one of the indicators expected to push the nation into reckoning as one that is technologically compliant is the entrenchment of broadband everywhere in the country, to drive the wireless culture.
The Fantsuam feat was enabled by a non governmental foundation called Fantsuam Foundation. This is not the first time for the Foundation, a local non governmental organization that has been battling all odds to make the community a technologically savvy one that will deploy the benefits of technology to better their lots.
The Fantsuam community is made up of a population of about 83, 000 people who have tasted digitalisation, courtesy of the untiring efforts of the Fantsuam Foundation to change the lot of the people.
Before the foundation started sensitising the community to the benefits of technology, Kafanchan, where Fantsuam village is domiciled was inadequately connected and lacked basic telephony and Internet connectivity. GSM arrived Kafanchan in 2005 and has been battling with poor quality of service since then, with only the SMS platform as a reliable means of communication because of the challenges posed by drop calls, among others.
All these challenges were made worse by inadequate power supply as the community is said to get only three hours unreliable power supply per day.
But Fantsuam has so far managed to perform the magic of digitalising the community by providing alternatives that gives hope to members of the community and they have been doing it since 1996. The Foundation is slowly but surely transforming Fantsuam into a digitally compliant village. Apart from the deployment of the internet, computers, community radio, it has in the past championed and enabled the use of solar power for cooking by the local women.
The Foundation is a non profit organization aimed at pioneering gender and youth focused micro finance and ICT services and development in rural communities. It is a group and individual membership organisation with about 3,500 members from clan womenТs groups in rural communities in the chiefdoms of Atyap, Bajju, Godogodo, Gwong, Gworok, Ham, Fantsuam, Moro'a and Numana.
Fantsuam foundation has for over twelve years fought to make the small sleepy community relevant by waging war against the indices of poverty and the disadvantages it brings through integrated development programmes targeted at entrenching development in Fantsuam. The foundation focuses on providing and using micro finance, ICT services and social development as a tool in taking the rural community to the next level. The rural wireless initiative called Zittnet was enabled by a partnership between IT +46, a Swedish based consultancy company focusing on ICT's for development and funding by the International Development Research Centre of Canada IDRC.
Fantsuam's focus lies on micro finance, ICT services and social development in rural communities of Nigeria. To become the first rural wireless ISP in Nigeria was just another step in the mission of the foundation to be a recognized leader in the provision of rural development initiatives in the country and the foremost and thriving rural knowledge economy driver in Nigeria.
The main objectives of the wireless Zittnet network is to improve access to communications in the community by implementing a community wireless network that will provide Intranet and Internet access to local partners in the community. The community network is formed by community based organisations such as educational institutions, faith based institutions, health services, small enterprises and individuals.
To ensure that the community gets the best of the Zittnet wireless system, it was equipped with a stable power backup system that would not depend in any way on power provision from the authorities which is almost non existent. To ensure consistent service, a hybrid system consisting of a deep cycle battery bank and two KWp solar panels which can be charged from three different sources, from NEPA when electricity is available, a diesel generator and the solar array was designed for Fantsuam.
The network operation center (NOC) of the organization runs solemnly from solar energy, while the rest of the Fantsuam FoundationТs premises runs from NEPA or generator though the battery bank tanks provides uninterrupted voltage stability. The NOC load has been separated from the rest of the load of Fantsuam to ensure a reliable power source to the critical infrastructure in the NOC even when the battery bank is running low on power.
Though the Foundation is facing a lot of challenges in its quest to digitalize the community, it has not relented and is in fact waxing stronger and stronger by looking for solutions to combat whatever challenges arise in its bid to make the Fantsuam community a better one.
Other non governmental organisations and stakeholders in the public and private sectors should borrow a leaf from NGOs like the Fantsuam Foundation to make a difference. The Foundation has in the past done what organisations like the Grameen Foundation in Bangladesh has done to empower rural women to shake off the dust of poverty through the platform of ICTs by providing micro finance to women's groups, promoting the use of ICT in support of traditional governance in rural development, education, rural-urban-rural and rural-rural connectivity, as well as eCommerce, among others.
The Foundation has also won several awards for its work including that of the first Africa Hafkin prize, first rural Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Nigeria, first rural Cisco networking academy in Nigeria and winner of the First Global Knowledge Partnership Seed Grant and Small Innovative Projects Fund.
In Nigeria, there are currently several initiatives geared at accelerating development via the technological platform in the polity. eNigeria initiative is geared towards connecting communities, vital agencies and institutions of government and educational institutions at all levels with ICTs. Stakeholders and privately run organisations are also joining hands with the Nigerian government to make technology the bedrock of the nation. A good example is the private initiative of Intel Corporation which late last year launched a unique first of its kind telemedicine initiative in the country that will transform health care delivery to rural areas and ensure that rural folks get the best quality healthcare no matter the distance.
Other laudable initiatives geared at enabling the rapid development of the Nigerian nation include the ePublic Service Network initiative, Internet Exchange points initiative, wire Nigeria initiative and the development of a keyboard for the three main Nigerian languages. It is hoped that these initiatives will help in putting Nigeria on a roller coaster of digitalization that will ensure a new dawn of progress and development devoid of indices like poverty, illiteracy and lack that is an anathema to humanity.