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Community Networks Growing the Internet

Enabling the Next Generation of Community Network Builders: A Report on CNXAPAC 2018 and CN Champs

In October 2018, together with our partner Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), we organized the 2nd edition of CNXAPAC (Community Network eXchange Asia-Pacific) with a focus on how two sets of community operators – community radio network operators and community (Internet) network operators – could explore synergies in the work they do.

The event was kindly hosted by UNESCO at their Delhi office, and brought together over 50 participants from around the world to exchange knowledge and best practices, and see how the Internet can improve the lives of underserved and unserved communities.

In many parts of the world, community radio stations play an important role in providing information to the public – particularly in rural communities. The community radio community have expertise in setting up radio communications, as well as creating content relevant to their local communities. This presents a wonderful opportunity for this community to add Internet services to their repertoire, and 12 community radio operators from around India were brought to CNXAPAC to learn about Internet community networks, and how these could be deployed in their local communities.

The Internet Society Asia-Pacific Bureau has been working on community networks since 2010 as part of its Wireless for Communities initiative, focusing on South Asia in particular. Our work has always focused on connecting underserved communities using readily available economical network equipment – and not specialized and expensive equipment.

We also place great emphasis on the local community being trained to manage, operate, and maintain the network. Our efforts have led to hundreds of networks being inspired and deployed in the sub-region providing access to tens of thousands of people.

This year, we piloted the Internet Society’s Community Network Champions project with great success. This brought together fellows from Africa, the Caribbean, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands in a 10-day immersive training and knowledge exchange program in India. The participants were provided with technical training and spent a number of days in one of our rural India project locations, observing first-hand the positive impact community networks can have on the local community.

Over the years we have built a great deal of knowledge and expertise in community networks in India and South Asia, and the Community Network Champions project is one way through which we can share our knowledge and expertise with the rest of the world.

Whilst not all community network deployments are the same, they share the same goal to connect the unconnected, and to empower the community through the Internet and the digital services that it enables.

A report on CNXAPAC 2018 and the Community Network Champions Programme is available here.

We look forward to the CN Champions initiating projects and initiatives in their home countries so that their underserved communities can also benefit from the power of the Internet, and the socioeconomic empowerment it can enable.

When people connect to the Internet, they connect to opportunity. Community networks can help close the digital divide.

Image: Community Networks Champions at the Digital Empowerment Foundation training center in Delhi, India ©Atul Loke/Panos Picture for the Internet Society