In the Republic of Georgia, high in the mountains of the Tusheti region, a community network has been built to bring faster Internet connectivity to those that did not have it. The story is compelling, not only for the determination of people to make sure that the Internet is available in one of the remotest places in the world, but also for their strong belief of what connecting to the Internet could bring to the people of Tusheti. “Tourism is a beacon of hope for us,” said Ia Buchaidze, who owns a local bakery, “and the Internet is very important for that.”
The project was a true collaborative partnership involving many parties: the Georgian Government, the Internet Society and its Georgia Chapter, the Small and Medium Telecom Operators Association of Georgia, LTD Freenet, and the Tusheti Development Fund (TDF). This network did not need a license, but it did need an authorization from the Georgian Government for it to be built and for the spectrum to be used. The objective was to provide access to a remote region through a locally-built and developed community network.
Similarly, in Mexico, a community network has been built in a remote and rural mountainous area – by a local team to provide more affordable local access. The project was initiated by Rhizomatica and the local community in Oaxaca. The project has a “social purpose license” to operate and use spectrum thanks to an innovative licensing approach taken by the Mexican regulatory authority, Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT). The objective of this project was to build and operate a community network in an indigenous region.
Two community networks. Similar objectives; similar needs. Community networks provide for an innovative path to connectivity, and are built and operated by local communities, with local communities, for local communities. Innovative licensing options enable connectivity in hard-to-reach places. At the Internet Society, our goal is to help support these types of projects and to promote innovative policy approaches such as innovative licensing and partnerships in order to fill connectivity gaps that exist worldwide.
There is a profound connectivity gap in many parts of the world and the Internet Society believes that it is urgent that we address it. According to the World Bank and the International Telecommunciation Union (ITU), roughly half of the world’s population is without Internet access. The gap exists in urban, rural, and remote areas of many countries, particularly developing and least-developed countries, and the consequences are well documented. Connectivity and the exchange of information strengthens democratic processes, spurs economic opportunity, and enables sharing of culture and ideas in ways previously unimaginable. Without Internet access, socioeconomic development is hindered. As the pace of technology development continues to accelerate, a growing digital divide may contribute to broader socioeconomic divisions both within and among communities.
The United Nations acknowledges the importance of connectivity, and as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it seeks to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology” and “strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”
Community networks can help close the digital divide. Community networks originate from the ground up. They are the result of people working together, combining their resources, organizing their efforts, and connecting themselves to close connectivity and cultural gaps. They’re fundamentally different from traditional communications networks in that they are bottom up. They are complementary, filling gaps and providing local access where commercial networks generally do not find it economically viable to operate.
Through common-sense regulatory and policy approaches and open dialogue with experts, communities and civil society, governments can assist in unleashing the potential of community networks, thereby enabling unserved and underserved areas to realize the transformative benefits of access to affordable connectivity.
The Internet Society’s Innovative Licensing policy brief demonstrates that innovative licensing approaches and other complementary regulatory action can enable access in places where access has been limited or unaffordable. It complements and builds on “Policy Brief: Spectrum Approaches for Community Networks.
We look forward to working with communities and our partners to continue to identify innovative ways to support community networks. Through collaborative efforts we can close “access gaps,” enable socioeconomic development, and support local innovation. Help us enable community networks by working with your local government to support them, by supporting new approaches to licensing, by building a community network, or by sharing a story about a local community network with us.
Read the policy brief, Unleashing Community Networks: Innovative Licensing Approaches and learn how you can support and even build a community network!
Image © Nyani Quarmyne: Lasha Tunauri (left) and his packhorses wait while Konstantin Stalinsky, Giorgi Kirvalidze and Amirani Giorganashvili complete construction of a tower on Kheki, a mountain peak in Tusheti.