[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]
The idea behind this session was to look at the findings of various National and Regional Internet Governance Forum (NRI) initiatives regarding digital inclusion. Internet access in rural areas is difficult - new disruptive models are required to connect these areas in a sustainable and efficient way. The NRI’s shared common goals, such as identifying the needs of the communities, strengthening ICT processes, and bringing high-speed and quality connectivity to help retain young people in rural areas.
It is important to facilitate access to fiber-optic infrastructure and to guarantee interconnections with other networks. About one-fourth of people in Portugal have never used the Internet, even though there is very good coverage all over the country, said Ms Ana Neves (Director, Department of Information Society, Science & Technology Foundation I.P., Ministry of Education and Science). Having the potential to be connected to the Internet is one thing, but to actually be connected to the Internet at all times is another. This should drive the improvement of Internet infrastructure all over the world.
The prices and models of Internet mobile operators need to be improved in the near future as affordability is still a crucial factor in many countries. The use of free and open-source software, spectrum allocation to connect rural areas and to maximise social benefit, emerging technologies, and different alternatives for the supply of electricity can go a long way in enabling Internet access.
How do we build synergies and learn from each other and from best practices? Synergies are always very difficult, even if they are at the national, regional, or global level. The user comes first. The Internet belongs to the user and policies should reflect that. Individuals become better users of the Internet once they understand how it works. There should be a clear commitment to educate the youth about the Internet and how it works. One day, these users will be the ones responsible for its regulation.
As for operational and technical solutions on access, it was recommended to consider renewable energy, the use of free software that allow its deployments, and the construction of local services that are designed and implemented by the communities.
The construction of community networks is considered as an alternative to bring quality connection to rural areas. In addition to greater connectivity, community networks allow communities to empower themselves and prepare new technologies, build their own path of participation in the digital world, adapt technology to solve local needs, and, in particular, to allow marginalised populations to strengthen and establish their own sustainability models to ensure lower costs of services, in addition to the investment of resources in their own country.
Kenya is building communication hubs such as the Last Mile Communications programme, led by the government to ensure that local actors and marginalised groups are connected. The government is pushing connectivity in schools, public institutions, and hospitals to ensure access to the Internet.
Funding models such as community networks could also help to reduce the digital divide. This includes investing resources in capacity development and new technologies. Other projects include implementing a spectrum-sharing mechanism, lower tax charges toward equipment for the deployment of community networks, and more flexible regulation for community operators.
All actors in society need to work together for this. Universities place an important role in providing technical views and in solving access issues. The operators and the private sector need to utilise different pricing models and to expand their infrastructure. The government plays a key role in providing incentives to the private sector for such initiatives.
By Mili Semlani