Ms Valeria Betancourt (Association for Progressive Communications [APC]), moderated the session. The session aimed to discuss specific policy and regulatory recommendations and suggestions oriented to establish enabling environments for community networks.
Mr Sebastián Bellagamba (Internet Society [ISOC]) said that they are working on the sustainable development goals [SDGs], as the agreement, which says that everyone need to be connected. He added that connecting should happen as quickly as possible since the digital divide is getting wider. He underlined community networks as one of the available solutions. In relation to community networks he noted:
- commitment and engagement by the community which agreed on the need to be connected. Sustainability of the process of connecting is important.
- apart from governments, private sector needs to be involved in the process otherwise there is no connection
- regulatory enabling environment, because licence to operate is a must.
- it is important to create capacities which, for eg. APC is doing very well.
Ms Karla Velasco (REDES) said that in Mexico there is a lack of quality and knowledge on networks maintenance. Infrastructure was put in place but no one knew how to use it. They have organised a six-months long workshop in Mexico for indigenous communities which resulted with people changing connection from satellite to broadband. There is an open application for indigenous people in collaboration with ITU, workshop will be online. When it comes to universal access funds she spoke about two different cases in Canada. In the first case government used universal access funds, around 60 million Canadian dollars, to provide fibre to communities in need through national telephone company, but did not manage to successfully connect their community.
The second case, involved the ‘Connect Canada’ program where Canadians can directly access to fund to connect themselves, and are actually solving many challenges. She noted important preconditions for connecting communities:
- governments to open data and provide information for more successful connection of community;
- simple access to licences;
- access to funds and resources.
She said that capacity building and research are very important, and has named APC’s GISWATCH as an important point of reference when it comes to the content.
Ms Sofie Maddens (Head of the regulatory and market environment, ITU) began her speech by saying that it is ‘politically underwritten’ the importance of connecting the other half’. She agreed with the previous speakers about resolving existing challenges with innovative approaches in terms of partnerships, legal and regulatory frameworks. She disagreed with Bellagamba about community networks having to be licensed, because unlicensed doesn’t mean unregulated. She said that small companies do not have time and resources to go through heavy licensing procedures. She flagged important things about policy frameworks:
- Vision is important and governments need strategies on who and how they want to connect;
- Review policy and regulatory frameworks (licencing, application, clarification, categorisation, fees and other obligations).
Maddens said that they call upon policy makers and regulators for affordable, wide-spread available, and accessible through transparent, stable, predictable, non-discriminatory enabling policies and legal and regulatory environment. They are working on data and research analysis, knowledge exchange platforms, technical assistance, and events and dialogues. They are launching the ‘Last mile’ project with guidelines, solutions, and toolkit as key components, in order to increase access to broadband, last mile interconnection of networks, reduce cost of access, increase development of digital skills, and development of digital solutions and applications. She invited for close collaboration of all stakeholders.
Ms Lilian Chamorro (Colnodo, Columbia) joined the session remotely. She underlined legal and financial burdens and challenges in relation to the practical deployment and maintenance of the network. Despite the challenges, their community worked together on finding solutions for connecting. They have managed to activate local economy as well as to improve quality of life to some extent.
By Aida Mahmutović