The Role of Community Based Networks in the Development of Rural Broadband. The case of Djurslandsnet in Denmark and lessons for rural sub-Saharan Africa

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2014 18 Pages

Sociology - Individual, Groups, Society


Table of Contents

Abstract ... 2
Introduction ... 2
A brief Overview of Universal Access and Service Models ... 3
A brief overview of Actor Network Theory ... 3
Methodology ... 4
About DjurslandsNet ... 4
Findings/Analysis ... 5
Translation Process ... 5
Discussion ... 14
Conclusion ... 17
Bibliography ... 18


The Universal Access and Service of Broadband of different capacities is of interest to national Governments of sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is how to facilitate Broadband Infrastructure development in rural Areas of the region. This paper investigates the possibilities of facilitating this development using Community based networks. The DjurslandsNet Network in Denmark is used as an inspiration for the organization and financing of such networks from a bottom-up approach. The conclusion is that facilitating these networks is possible as the social structures already exist in Africa. This is a case study where the Actor Network Theory is used as the analytical tool


This paper is aimed at providing inspiration for the development of community Broadband Networks in sub-Saharan Africa. It is further aimed at promoting the bottom up approach to ICT infrastructure development in rural sub-Saharan Africa using the existing social structures. The case for inspiration is the DjurslandsNet community based wireless Broadband Network in Denmark. An actor network that can be used by Governments in Sub-Saharan African countries to help the people in the rural areas develop affordable Broadband solutions is proposed.

The problem this paper attempts to tackle is that poor or no broadband service in rural areas as a result of their not being commercially viable. The current approach to solving this problem has been to facilitate competition between network operators. However, these network operators are profit making entities; hence they shy away from areas that will not produce a good Return on Investment.

The idea of this paper is; the combination of the top-down approach and the bottom up approach could lead to Universal Access and Service of Broadband at a much faster pace. The methodology used here is qualitative and the data used for this paper are extracted from the founders of DjurslandsNet.

A brief Overview of Universal Access and Service Models

There are different top down approaches or models adopted by National Governments to ensure the adoption and diffusion of universal access of telephony and the Internet. Some of them include: Access Deficit Charges, Cross Subsidization, Market based reforms (Infodev, 2008). Universal Access Obligation (see (Infodev, 2010)). Privatization of the telecommunication sector, promotion of access via competition, and rate balancing towards cost based prices (Yongsoo & Siddhartha, 2010). Government supports for National backbone development are also some examples by which a telecommunication market can be reformed. Liberalization, Deregulation, Commercialization and corporatization and other forms of market based reforms.

The afore mentioned top-down approaches and the subsequently mentioned market reform mechanisms has been a catalyst to the development of other models that will facilitate the growth of the telecommunications market. Examples of these models are Universal Access Fund, Gap model and the Telecenter initiatives (see ( (Infodev, 2008) (Navas-Sabater & al, 2002) (Lie, 2001) (Towsend, 2003)).

In the midst of these top down approach, the bottom up approach has become necessary as well. There are examples of this bottom up approaches in Latin America (Townsend & Stern, 2006). These approaches were necessitated by the need to facilitate efficient trading in real time between farmers in rural Latin America and the buyers in the city. The adoption of Broadband for these farmers was not as a result of knowledge but as a result of their search for an efficient network. In Europe and in Asia, these bottom –up approaches exist and in many some cases it is a combination of the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach facilitated in the form of public Private Partnerships.

The bottom-up approach one would say is not very common and not often part of ICT policy documentations, however it holds a lot of promise especially in the adoption of Broadband in rural areas. An assessment of the current Bottom-up approaches indicates that most of these initiatives serve as a way of facilitating the entrance of bigger players into the rural market. This is because the would-be users now have access to Broadband and understand the potentials of the service.

A brief overview of Actor Network Theory

Actor Network Theory is an agent-based approach to explaining networks and the interactions (Social relations, Power relations and organizations) within the network (Law, 1992). Law (1992) went on to explain that ANT doesn’t discriminate between people and objects as actors in a network and even further explains that an agent is not an agent because it is human, but an agent can also be an agent if it inhabits elements that would enable the network stretch out. Bruno Latour explains that modern society can’t be explained without taking into cognizance the ‘Fibrous, threadlike, Wiry, stringy, ropy, capillary character that is never captured’ by the conventional notion of network ‘layers, levels, territories, spheres, categories, structures and systems’ (Latour, 1996). Michel Callon in studying power relations in a network used what he called “Four ‘moments’ of translation” (Callon, 1986). The study centered on how marine biologists made an attempt to restock the St Brieuc Bay to produce more scallops. The scallop population had been on the decline and these scientists were eager to first know the reason behind the decline. The scientists had to make themselves indispensable to the actors by defining the problem faced actors in the network and how to deal with it. The process is called Problemization. The researchers had to identify the interests of the actors and charted their investigation to merge their interest and that of the actors. This is called negotiating the ‘Obligatory Passage Point’ (OPP) for the flow of communication. The next step involved the researchers recruiting the actors in the network to assume roles in the network. This is the Interessment phase. The third phase is the definition of roles and actually mapping the interrelations of the roles. This is called the enrollment phase. The final stage consists of the researchers setting themselves as the spokesperson of the network and the mobilization of the actors to action. This is the mobilization stage. Michel Callon explains that the process of translation involves negotiations among the actors in the network. The translation process could fail as in Callon case study or succeed. But one could clearly see that the central power of the network were the researchers.

The Sociology of translation of the ANT aids in the understanding of the power relations in the transformation of the DjurslandsNet.


This is a qualitative case study research. Data was gathered from an 8 hour interview with Bjarke Nielson and Stephen, the former chairman of Djurslandsnet and volunteer with DjurslandsNet respectively. Data was also gathered from site visits to DjurslandsNet facilities. The interviews were transcribed and summarized and some of the excerpts of the interview are found in the analysis section of the paper.

About DjurslandsNet

Djursland is a peninsular of the coast of East Jylland in Denmark. It consists of 2 municipalities, which is a merger of the previous 8 municipalities during the 2007 Municipality reform. The municipalities are Nordjurs and Sydjurs municipalities. It has a population 80,000. The municipalities consist of semi-urban and rural areas. Djursland boasts of fishermen, few industries (in the urban areas), schools, small shops, resorts etc. in the urban areas and farmers, artisans etc in the rural areas.

Djurslandsnet was conceived at the turn of the century. Bjarke Nielsen an art teacher and a technology enthusiast was fascinated with the repair of computers. In the process of he began repairing PCs for friends and clients in the middle 1990’s. His enthusiasm with radio communications made him believe that the future of telephony would be mobile communications. The reason he had this ideas was because he knew that once the mobile is in production, the cost of mobile terminal equipment would be cheap as the manufacturers would want everyone to have it.

In the process of repairing PCs for friends, he began organizing PC problem solving workshops (Bovl) for his clients. This became a platform for him to disseminate his ideas about the mobile and solicit views. He did train some young people who assisted him and thereby people from all over Djursland would locate him in Grenaa for their PC repairs at a cheap price.

The arrival of mobile telephony did bring the promise of the reduced cost of radio equipment but not the quality of service desired. This is because Djursland was not found to be that commercially viable to the network operators due to low population density. This led him and his Bovl members to begin to think of how they could facilitate the entrance of mobile operators to Djursland. This was a failed attempt. It was in the process of looking for solutions by attending conferences and reading on the internet did he come across the idea of wireless broadband. This coincided with the possibility of getting an e1 connection from Randers, a commercial town close by Djursland.

Being a wireless enthusiast, he shared his idea of wireless broadband to his Bovl friends, some bought the idea. The Bovl group in 2001 metamorphosed into DjurslandsNet. From this group, one of the largest wi-fi enabled initiatives in Denmark was developed.


In analysis of the DjurslandsNet initiative, it is important to note the author was not involved in the development and implementation of the initiative. However the interest here is to understand the factors behind the inception of the network as a way of inspiration to sub-Saharan African countries. The concept of translation is used to understand and pin-point factors that facilitated the development of the DjurslandsNet network.

The understanding of the network is based on the interview conducted with the former Chairman of DjurslandsNet, Bjarke Nielsen. He was the initiator and arrow head of the idea.

As mentioned earlier, Michael Callon’s Actor Network Theory consists of four stages namely: Problemization, Interessement, Enrolment and Mobilization. With these concepts a microscopic view is employed to understand who defined the problem and led others to accept the way forward, Who recruited the identified stakeholders and subsequently defined their roles in the network and finally how did the identified stakeholders go about their business to ensure the success of the network. As this process takes place, effort is make to identify key success factors that worked in favour of the founders of the network and the barriers they had to overcome.

Translation Process

1. Stage 1: Problemization stage:

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The initial proposal was to develop a wireless Broadband network to enable the citizens of Djursland have access to Broadband Internet services. Bjarke Nielsen defined the nature of the problem and co-opted the other stakeholders to join in the vision of developing a wireless network. However the only stakeholders he succeeded in convincing on the way forward were members of the Bovl group. Hence the initial network had three actors with two of the actors being punctualized networks or black boxes as seen below.

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Figure 1 First Actor Network

At the initial conceptualization of the solution as mentioned earlier, Bjarke believed that radio /wireless solution held the solution to developing an affordable Broadband network that will provide affordable Broadband Internet services to people in rural Djursland. At that moment from the ANT point of view, Wireless technology is an actor network consisting of different types of actant wireless technologies. In the second network, the bovl group consists from the ANT point of view consists of individuals, machines, tools and artefacts. However our stakeholders of interest are the individuals.

Having extracted the network and the stakeholders, two questions emerge from the process. The first is; what was the motivation behind Bjarke’s enthusiasm? The second question is; why were the Djursland Business association and the Network Operators unwilling share in his enthusiasm?

The reason behind Bjarke’s enthusiasm could be seen in the table below as extracted from the interview.

Table 1: Reasons behind the enthusiasm of the DjurslandsNet founder

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For the second question, Network Operators did not see the possibility of making profit from such an enterprise in Djursland. On the other hand, the Djursland business association saw the project as very expensive for Djursland and impractical with respect to the economic conditions of Djursland.

A major drawback one would say here are that the initial plans for developing a Broadband wireless network were vague. This was because the initiator of the idea was not a trained technical person and was yet to identify which wireless solution that would work. Secondly some members of the Bovl movement though convinced of the need for a broadband network were not in favour of a wireless network as it was deemed unreliable. In order to carry everyone in the Bovl movement along in the midst of the setbacks and controversy of which wireless solution was best, different experts were made to come on give talks on the advantages and disadvantages of fixed versus wireless networks before the decision was made to go wireless.

At this stage of convincing problemization, one would say that self-will played a greater role than technical ability, market feasibility, network development, management and implementation. This self and the quest to find the possible solution led them to learn more on how to develop a wireless network from the internet.

In 2001, the Bovl group metamorphosed into a cooperative called DjurslandsNet. Bjarke was elected chairman of the network for 2 years based on the new DjurslandsNet constitution. From this moment, although Bjarke was the chairman of the board, the Board was the decision making body. Hence the DjurslandsNet became the Obligatory Passage Point (OPP) as seen below. This was the formation of the local network or the core network. This Local network, DjurslandsNet was not affected by the activities from the global networks, such as the Danish Government agencies or other external bodies as DjurslandsNet did not work in direct collaboration with these agencies. As mentioned earlier, their attempts at collaboration did fail.

Be that as it may, the formation of DjurslandsNet changed Power structure as Bjarke had power in principle but not in practice. The practical power was with the board despite Bjarke’s charismatic leadership. This change the problemization process as the problem definition became clearer with time and the board could map a way out leading to another attempt to recruit new stakeholders to aid the process.

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Figure: Evolved Actor network

From the collective point of view of the DjurslandsNet board, they agreed with Bjarke’s initial assumption that a wireless Broadband infrastructure will be needed to facilitate an affordable Broadband infrastructure and service in Djursland. The Wireless technology of choice as seen in the figure above was Wi-fi. The board also decided to intensify efforts in gaining external funding for the project as well as facilitating enlightenment campaigns aimed at gingering the interest of the people of Djursland.

From the ANT point of view as seen in the figure above, the DjurslandsNet had no control over the external networks but wished to collaborate with these external networks.

The stakeholders in network B are expressed in the table below.

Table 2: Initial stakeholders concieved

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As mentioned earlier, The Djursland Business Association and the Network Operators were not interested in the project for reasons earlier mentioned; the DjurslandsNet board still had hopes on EU funding and possible assistance from the Danish Government. This is the reason why network 3 consisting of funding sources exist.

At this Level, the board could not co-opt the Danish Government as well because the Danish Government favoured Broadband development facilitated by the force of competition. Hence the external ‘funding source network’ collapsed to just EU funding which became an external actor exerting little influence on DjurslandsNet via funding. The influence was said to be little as DjurslandsNet did not depend entirely on the EU funding to carry out its activities. As the DjurslandsNet board had failed to convince more stakeholders towards participating in the scheme, the Wi-Fi network could no more be a stand-alone network, as it was not being introduced to any new stakeholder; rather it became a part of the DjurslandsNet Network as seen below.

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Figure 3: At reformed Actor network

Therefore at the problemization stage the network that mattered was DjurslandsNet. Network 4 did not matter much because once the people were co-opted to join the cooperative or subscribe to the network; they would be part of the DjurslandsNet network.

What kept the Djursland board going despite the setback at the initial stages are possibilities such as Access to Broadband Gateway at Randers, some form of external funding possibilities, the potential of wireless technologies, their dream as a collective community to own a Broadband network thereby facilitating the Broadband market and the possible Network effect Broadband Internet will produce to the Peninsular. The table below shows how these abstractions came about.

Table 3: Reasons the DjurlandsNet adopted the Broadband idea

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Barriers experienced by the Board have been mentioned earlier. But the table below expresses in detail the nature of the barrier.

Table 4: Barriers to the recruitment of initial stakeholders

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It would be noted that these barriers shaped the imaginary structure of the perceived Actor Network reducing it to just one complex network DjurslandsNet with a weak relationship with an external actor, EU Funds. Hence the problem of developing the Broadband Network expanded from just, How Broadband Internet could be delivered to Djursland to How will the infrastructure delivery be facilitated and funded.

This led the Board deciding to recruit members and volunteers from all over Djursland. In this manner they could collectively contribute money to augment the EU funds which was not significant for the project.

2. Interesement stage: Having defined the approach to solving the problem, it was time to create a more feasible framework of operation that would not be affected by the reluctance of external networks to help. The idea was to create sub-DjurslandsNet boards in the 8 old parishes of Djursland. The chairmen and secretary of these boards would be members of the central Board.

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Figure 4: Final Actor Network

By the development of this framework, the central board interposed themselves on the network by determining how the actors in the network will relate with the central body and with each other. The essence of the decentralization was to give the feel of ownership of the network to the members in each sub-network.

The financing structure involved each member paying DKK 1000 (Danish Krone) as access fee for the network and DKK100 monthly subscription fee. Before the network was developed, members who were interested in the service had to pay only the one time access fee.

3. Enrolment: The board decided that each sub-network would control be semi-autonomous. This implied that they would control the finances raised in each parish, the finances would be used to develop the network in such areas. Each network could elect its leaders; hold their meetings separately and in a sense own its own constitution. A percentage of the finance was to be sent to the central body for administrative purposes. The centre held its grip by the design and implementation of the network. The network was to be developed in phases from the centre. The essence of this decision was to ensure a homogenous network. This in a sense implied that the network was controlled at the centre. Finances raised by the sub-networks went to the centre for the development of the networks. It was after the network was developed that the volunteers in the sub-network would take over. In most cases the volunteers in Djursland worked together to develop one network at a time. These sub-boards would administer, operate and maintain the networks in their areas. The boards would then be supported by volunteers trained to operate and maintain the networks.

4. Mobilization. Once the roles were assigned and the framework was outlined, the members and their board members began the recruitment process, based on the framework. The people of Djursland had poor mobile telephony coverage at that time, hence the idea of signing up for the Broadband Cooperative was in a way a welcome sigh of relief for an alternative means of effective communications. The amount they were asked to pay was reasonable. The individuals fronting the idea were already known by the people, hence entrusting their finance to them was not a problem. They had monthly meetings to deliberate on the progress so far.

Member recruitment was to be facilitated by parish seminars and door to door ‘Broadband evangelism’.The board had a selling point of 10 points. It could be summarized thus: Broadband was touted as an incentive that will keep young people from moving to the cities as it has the potential to preventing the industries in Djursland from moving away. Djursland had an IT community of ‘nerds’. Hence it was important to empower them with broadband. It was also seen as a way of bringing in tourists to Djursland.

With the one could see the translation of the Power structure from a single man to an organization. This Power was then translated to the individuals in the organization to Bring about change. Between 2001 and 2005, Djusrland was covered with Wi-Fi. However, like in every organization crises has the ability to break or transform an entity. DjurslandsNet broke up along the lines of the sub-networks into to networks, some new networks were formed while others merged. However, the reality is that each network operates under the same principle and there is still some form of loose collaboration between the networks. The only difference is that the central body does not exist again. The reason for the collapse was the need by each sub-network to control their finances. Information gathered from the trip indicates that some networks have scrapped the yearly access fee and charge as less as DKK40 monthly subscription fee.


The most common form of facilitating infrastructure Governance from the ICT Governance point of view is the top-down approach. Earlier in the paper mention was made of the different approaches to telecom infrastructure development. Most of these approaches are mainly Government initiatives aimed at facilitating the Universal Access and Service of either a telephony or Internet Service. In Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the reports of the high penetration of mobile network infrastructure, there are lots of either under served and unserved areas. Mobile and Fixed Broadband penetration is low as mentioned earlier. This is an allusion to the fact that the top –down approach to ICT governance has a snag somewhere. This snag can be seen in the analysis, where the network operators in Denmark did not see the Djursland peninsula as a viable area for telecom infrastructure development, hence they were underserved.

The bottom-up approaches exist as seen in this case and they are unique in their own way. This is because this form of ICT infrastructure is mostly facilitated by the users of the service. These bottoms- up approach is rare in Africa beside South Africa. Still one can pick one of them to see how it can be adapted to facilitate such developments in Africa. It is important to extract the barriers and how these barriers were conquered and juxtapose it with sub-Saharan Africa.

Table 5: Comparison between Djursland and sub-Saharan Africa

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These barriers were possible barriers the potential investors saw and shied away from the project

However certain characteristics came up that led the people of Djursland overcome the barrier. This will also be juxtaposed with the sub-Saharan African scenario

Table 6: Character comparison

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As seen in the two tables, the situational conditions are not that dissimilar, however what makes the man in Djursland more innovative than the man in sub-Saharan Africa is the gap in socio-economic conditions.

The dissimilar conditions do not make the bottom up approach impossible. Rural sub-Saharan African countries do possess social structures that can be used as a tool for community broadband development. In some rural communities, there are local chiefs or village chairmen. These are institutions that can mobilize people in rural communities for a common purpose. However, quite unlike the case of Djursland, where the people adopted trial and error measures to developing a sustainable network, Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa can develop such actor networks similar to the case of DjurslandsNet. The government can decide on what affordable broadband technology to adopt, the funding possibilities and the commitment needed from both ends. This form of collaboration can be described as Public /Private Collaboration. The word Private denotes both profit and non-Profit private organizations.


The purpose of this paper was to examine the possibility of developing community based broadband networks in sub-Saharan Africa for the purpose of delivering affordable broadband internet services. The case of inspiration here was the Djurslandsnet network in Denmark. The Actor network theory was used to analyse then stakeholder interactions and networks formed from the inception of the idea of DjurslandsNet to its maturity. The identified actor network was then used as an inspiration juxtaposing potential similarities on the attributes of the principal individuals involved with similar potential individuals in sub-Saharan Africa. It was realized that in sub-Saharan Africa, such potential individuals could be identified but the snag was that the socio-economic condition of the African would be different from that of the Djursland citizen.

Hence this paper proposes Public Private Collaboration between the village establishment in rural sub-Saharan Africa villages and the Governments. The paper further proposes the adoption of the DjurslandsNet framework by the central government as a way of facilitating such community broadband network.


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Community Based Networks rural broadband broadband infrastructure telecommunications community informatics PPP Public Private Partnerships Djurslandsnet




Title: The Role of Community Based Networks in the Development of Rural Broadband. The case of Djurslandsnet in Denmark and lessons for rural sub-Saharan Africa