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Access & Diversity

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[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

The session was conducted by Mr Luca Belli, Full Researcher, Center for Technology and Society, Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School, who introduced the workshop as an opportunity to analyze different case studies and stories of people that are building community networks to empower local communities. He invited the audience to check out the declaration and report on community connectivity freely available at Belli spoke about a new paradigm, aimed not to connect the unconnected, but to let the unconnected connect themselves.

Mr Raoul Plommer, Board Member, Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi), served as moderator of the workshop.

Mr John Dada, CEO, Fanstuam Foundation, Nigeria, told the story of his first encounter with regulatory authorities after starting his wireless community network 12 years ago. He was asked to pay for a license at the same price as any other company in the big cities (US$ 5000), so he showed them the work he was doing to explain that it was unaffordable for that community. They introduced him to the Universal Service Provision fund and was given a five-year licence to operate. In his opinion, regulations have not caught up with community networks yet and regulators do not understand the relevance of the needs met by these kind of networks.

Ms Ritu Srivastava, Programme Manager, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India, related her own experience bringing connectivity to underprivileged Muslim communities in her country. She highlighted the way the villages used the networks as a source of information to share their knowledge and produce local content.

Tony Okwonga, Bosco, Uganda, described an organization for a battery-operated system for community outreach. Bosco started its operations way when Uganda was in war, to fill the need of giving people access to valuable information. It had to deal with the literacy level limitation, so they translated the computer system to the local language. He pointed out that people looked at computers as something coming to undermine their culture, so they decided to brand their  slogan as ‘Connecting people and preserving culture’.

Mr Lee Hibbard, Coordinator of Internet Policy, Council of Europe, France, said that community networks are filling a gap by connecting the unconnected. He said that the framework to go forward is given by the United Nation’s resolution on the protection and promotion of human rights on the Internet.

A second round of interventions was started by a question about the tension between community networks and the private sector. With regards to this issue, Belli and other speakers said that it’s not about going against the private sector but about building a different, complementary model.

Mr Osama Manzar, Founder-Director, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India, said that the private sector is unable to understand the necessity and the need of the on-the-ground realities, and they are only looking at it from the financial perspective. He said that the government also has a flaw in this aspect. Therefore, community networks should keep breaking as many rules as possible.

Other speakers, such as Mr Nicolás Echaniz, President, AlterMundi, Argentina, underlined that not all private companies are big telcos, and that small companies such as micro ISPs could benefit from joining forces with community networks.

Mr Roger Baig, Project, Spain, shared with the audience that his network has about 20 ISP operations, which means more than 100 job positions. He highlighted three points of action: knowledge transfer, funding, and institutional acknowledgement.

Mr Mahabir Pun, Creator and Team Leader, Nepal Wireless Network, said that his work is as much about people involved in community networks, as it is about love for their communities, and not about making money. He said that the best practice is to connect the people, but then let them take ownership of their network in order to really empower them.

In addition, members of the Rhizomatica network, (from the local mobile network in an indigenous community in Oaxaca) shared the results and challenges of their project, which operates on an experimental concession granted by the Mexican government.

by Agustina Callegari, Internet Society Youth Obsevatory