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Growing the Internet

2013 India Wireless Summit at the Manthan Awards

This year’s Wireless Summit , which I moderated, was structured differently to the ones we did in the past. Instead of having a series of presentations, we set up a dialogue between subject matter experts (covering regulatory, spectrum, policy, technical, business, governance, research) on one side, and practitioners (people from the community who were out in the field running the wireless community networks) on the other, plus a small audience. The objective was to video the exchange of thoughts and ideas and extract from it the successes, challenges faced, and in particular a set of suggestions and recommendations for improvement at all levels.

This proved to be a very interesting format, as it allowed a free flow of ideas and information and gave each participant the opportunity to be highly interactive (including the ability to converse in local languages). For the subject matter experts, it gave them an opportunity to hear from people on the ground who use and benefit from the community wireless networks, and discuss how policy, regulatory and governance mechanisms could be improved.

The participants highlighted a variety of issues that are key to success when it comes to providing access and connectivity, particularly in rural and underserved areas. Primary amongst the identified issues are a harmonised regulatory approval processes and finite approval timelines, appropriate licensing mechanisms to provide last mile access at the community level (using a rural ISP type model or perhaps the highly successful cable TV retailer model in India), deployment and access costs that are affordable to the target community, business and sustainability models and the importance of knowledge sharing between communities and practitioners.

We expect a summary of the session to be available towards the end of this month, and will post a link to that when available.

About the Wireless for Communities Project
In October 2010, the Internet Society and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) initiated a joint project called “Wireless for Communities” (W4C) which utilizes low-cost Wi-Fi based equipment and unlicensed spectrum to connect and empower rural and under-served communities in India. This award winning project employs a holistic approach to community development and empowerment, bringing the benefits of Internet access where it is most needed.