Categories
Community Networks Community Projects Growing the Internet

The Fight For Telephony

When I first moved to Mexico, I started working with a really cool organization called Palabra Radio, which is a community radio organization here in Oaxaca. I was really impressed with how communities were operating, owning, and sort of dealing with everything that comes with operating their own low power FM radio station. That gave me the idea to try and do something similar with mobile communication, which is how Rhizomatica came about.

Before coming to Mexico, I’d been working in Nigeria, where I’d done some work on small scale, DIY rural mobile networks. What we wanted to do here is that, but on a larger scale, so to make a system that was replicable and relatively easy for communities to set up.

We got our first network up and running in March of 2013, but it took a lot to make that happen. We put up the first network, but that was sort of a test; can we do this? Will the community actually like it once it’s up? But we got really good feedback from people, and then more and more communities kept asking us to do help them do a similar thing. Communities get in touch with us, we go through a bit of a diagnostic with them: do you have the money? Do you have the capacity? Do you have support from the whole community? And if we see that all that is in place, we move forward with them. In the last three-and-a-half years, we’ve helped 19 communities set up networks.

Communities now have the technological means, have the legal pathway to set up their own Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) networks, as well as a set of different organizational models for how the networks can be run. So, with our help, they set up their own base station, which gives signal to the community and connects to other equipment that we help provide to them, but that they pay for and own. We help out by providing some ongoing technical support, legal support and so on. But the community then has their own little network, which can cover about 500 users before it starts getting saturated, at which point we can install more equipment. They run the service themselves, and it costs about two or three dollars a month per user.

The networks we’ve helped set up have made a huge difference for people in these communities.  It lowers the cost of communications tremendously, so you’ll see savings of close 98 percent over other options. Something that cost a dollar a minute now costs one or two cents per minute. That changes how much and how often people communicate. It also makes things easier, having a mobile phone as opposed to having to walk to a payphone somewhere. It costs less and you can do it more. It also changes how people do business, it makes it easier for people to buy and sell things. It makes emergency services easier for people to access. These are mostly agricultural communities, so if someone has an accident in the fields, they can call for help.

We’re trying to build off this success in a couple ways. One is we’re starting to look at building hybrid networks, so networks that can handle both telephony and Internet. That way people can start doing VOiP calling and things like that. That’s still a few months away. The other thing we’re doing is looking at ways we can export this project. We’re looking at opportunities in Columbia, in Brazil, in Nicaragua, in Botswana, countries that have organizations that are trying to do similar things to what we’re doing here. If things have to get modified a bit, that’s fine too. But we have the experience and expertise and willingness to help those places get going and build their own local infrastructure organizations.

There’s a lot of activism around the Internet, but there’s very little activism around telecommunications networks and telephony,  and what there is very localized, but when you make telephony available to people it can make a tremendous impact.

Categories
Growing the Internet Human Rights Improving Technical Security Internet Governance

Day 4: Here Comes The Future

It’s closing day at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum and it’s time to wrap up with some great sessions, best practices, and a look towards what’s next.

As you pack your bags or your laptop, let us know what you think is next. What were your take aways from the sessions. What did you learn from the Best Practice Forums. More importantly, what will YOU do to implement what you discovered.

Tell us!

Here’s what’s on today

Day 4: Friday, December 9

WHAT WHEN / WHERE ISOC REPRESENTATIVE
WS97: How to create relevant Internet Governance Content 9:00-10:30
Workshop Room 1
Olga Cavalli speaking
WS212: Promoting Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the Global South 09:00 – 10:30
Workshop Room 10
Joyce Dogniez speaking

(in partnership with SEED Alliance)

IGF Best Practice Forums (BPFs) and Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion(s) 10:00 – 11:30
Main Session Room
Constance Bommelaer speaking
WS240: Building trust and confidence: implement internet standards 10:30-12:15
Workshop Room 1
Olaf Kolkman speaking
Shaping the Future of Internet Governance – An Open Dialogue between Pioneers and Young Leaders 11:30 – 13:00
Main Session Room
Raùl Echeberrìa speaking
WS109: Analyzing the causes and impacts of Internet shutdowns 12:00 – 13:30
Workshop Room 4
Nicolas Seidler speaking
An Open Dialogue between Pioneers and Young Leaders 15:00 – 15:30
Main Session Room
Raùl Echeberrìa speaking
Categories
Community Projects Growing the Internet Internet Governance

Day 3: Human Rights, Cyber Security, and Standing Up for Inclusiveness.

Today looks like it’s going to be a really interesting day the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Talks on human rights, cyber security, and how to stand for diversity and inclusiveness in discussions around how the Internet grows.

Day 3: Thursday, December 8

WHAT WHEN / WHERE ISOC REPRESENTATIVE
BPF Cybersecurity

9:00-10:30
Workshop Room 9

Hiroshi Esaki speaking
Human Rights: Broadening the Conversation

10:00 – 13:00
Main Session Room

Sally Wentworth speaking
WS 37: Internet Fragmentation: Getting next 4billion online

12:00 – 13:30
Workshop Room 4

Karen Rose speaking
DC on Blockchain Technologies

12:00-13:30
Workshop Room 8

Walid Al-Saqaf speaking
WEF Open Forum: Internet for All working group

12:30 – 13:30
Workshop Room 3

Raùl Echeberrìa speaking

WS99: Multicultural and Multistakeholder Capacity Building

15:00-16:30
Workshop Room 1

Olga Cavalli speaking

WS165:  Fostering Digital Capacities for Decent Life in MENA

15:00-16:30
Workshop Room 2

Walid Al-Saqaf speaking

Quick Links

Categories
Community Networks Community Projects Growing the Internet

Wanted: Community Builders

I’m a lawyer by training, but my day job is to develop applied research that may allow people to enjoy the benefits of the Internet. There’s a lot of people involved in this field, and my part is to look at where technology and regulation meet.

I came across community networks a couple of years ago. I’d been working a lot on Internet access, human rights and connectivity issues and net neutrality.

One of the hot topics in that debate is zero rating. What these practices mean is a provider sponsors a given app, like Facebook, or a type of apps, making it possible for you to access for free only the specific applications, while billing the rest. And while this is talked about as a way to bridge digital divides, I don’t agree. The greatest thing about the Internet is that it allows every individual to access but also create and share content and applications, freely, with all the other connected individuals. I think if you can only access certain services, well, you become simply an app consumer.

So I was looking for an alternative way of providing sustainable connectivity. Sustainability is critical. We need to make sure the Internet stays open and allows everyone to have the possibility to do things. To use the Internet to make their life better, to learn, to be entrepreneurs to communicate and associate. The may many of us start to use the Internet is you buy Internet access from a provider. Like you are a consumer who’s buying bread. But that is not the Internet. The Internet is about opportunities and connecting people. With community networks, you have members of local communities building their infrastructure. It is like realizing that you can bake your own bread locally, meeting the needs of your community, rather than paying a supplier that is frequently not interested in coming to your area. That is an amazing thing. People aren’t simply consumers of community networks; they build them! They become real key players in connectivity. It’s the Internet as its founders envisioned it, a network of networks, and you can create your network. So actually, it’s one of the most extraordinary, empowering things we could have.

The problem is that not a lot of people know how to build these networks There are a lot of legal and regulatory issues that could hinder or prevent a network. For example, in France, copyright law states Internet users have an obligation to secure their Internet access connection. This way, users are responsible for any copyright infringement that happens. So that means that users cannot freely share their connection. The purpose of this is to protect copyright, but the collateral effect is that it makes it hard to build community networks.

Helping people work through issues like this is why I co-founded the Dynamic Coalition for Community Connectivity (or DC3) at last year’s Internet Governance Forum. The goal of this Coalition was to have people interacting. You have a lot of smart, brilliant people, researching or doing things, creating community networks, but they don’t ever meet. So, when they stay in their silos, maybe they are doing cool things, but they could be doing even cooler things if they knew each other’s and interact and collaborate with each other. They could be an example for other people that can learn from them and do the same things or even better. I have personally met a lot of really clever and passionate people in this field that are also becoming good friends.

Part of what we’re doing is starting with simple things. For instance, we prepared a report that could serve as a manual for people interested in creating their networks or for organizations willing to promote them. A further step will be to elaborate detailed instructions, like a model, so that people in unconnected areas can start looking at it and build their own networks. Even in rich countries, rural areas tend to be underserved by traditional Internet Service Providers because it is not lucrative for them to expand the network out there. But when people in local communities and local administrations know that they can create their network, and they have guidance on how to do it, then connectivity becomes a lot more possible. There are lots of these examples among DC3 members. In India or Colombia, people are using TV white spaces — unused spectrum bands that were allocated to TV stations — to create wireless community networks. Altermundi, in Argentina, and Guifi.net, in Spain built wireless community networks exploiting what they called “cantennae,” which were just repurposed Pringles cans, to make wireless antennae. Guifi.net is now one of the largest community networks in the world and covers the entire in Catalonia region, in Spain.

This year, for the IGF, we’re going to be pretty active. We are organizing four different events, we are promoting our report and our Declaration on Community Connectivity, and most importantly, we’re going to be connecting people. We’re just excited to get all these people who are interested in community networking in one room. We have a so much to learn from each other.

mpressed by Luca’s story? Tell your local policy maker. Share this and the Policy Framework for an Enabling Internet Access and help make access possible. Keep watching our blog throughout the week for our Community Networking Series.

You can also meet Luca as part of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum. Here’s how to take part .

Categories
Community Projects Growing the Internet Internet Governance

Day 1: Be A Part of Opening Day (IGF2016)

It’s here! The official opening of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Today is packed with more discussions on things like closing the gender gap to new initiatives in cybersecurity.

This is, without doubt, one of the most important global events of the year when it comes to how Internet policy develops. It happens once a year and is open to anyone who wants a voice in how the Internet grows.

This means you can take part too. And the time to do it is now. The world is changing. A new political context potentially pulls us closer toward the trends that we are already seeing – concerns around online security and people are losing trust in the Internet. You need to be a part of the solution. If you’re not, what matters to you may not be included.

Join online and tell world leaders that your voice must be included Internet policy discussion.  The IGF is a great place to start.

Take Part Online

Understand what happened yesterday on Day 0

Day 1: Tuesday, December 6

All times are Central Standard Time, CST (UTC-6)

WHAT
WHEN / WHERE
ISOC REPRESENTATIVE
Internet Core Values Dynamic Coalition 9:00-10:30
Workshop Room 8
Desiree Miloshevic attending
WS 15: An ‘Internet of Women’ by 2020: WSIS Vision Into Reality 09:30 – 11:00
Workshop Room 1
Noelle de Guzman speaking
Cybersecurity – Initiatives in and by the Global South 09:00-10:30
Workshop room 3
Olaf Kolkman speaking
ISOC Open Forum on Future Internet scenarios 10:45 – 11:45
Workshop Room 8
Multiple ISOC staff
Outcomes of G7 Ise-Shima Summit and Ministerial Meetings 12:30 – 13:30
Workshop Room 4
Kathy Brown speaking
SEED Alliance Awards Ceremony 13:00 -15:00
Workshop Room 1
Raul/Joyce Speaking tbc
Setting the Scene: Orientation 15:00 – 16:00
Main Session Room
Constance Bommelaer speaking
Opening Ceremony 16:00 – 18:00
Main Session Room
Kathy Brown speaking
IGF Gala dinner 20:00 – 22:00
Offsite
Multiple ISOC staff

More Quick Links

Categories
Community Networks Community Projects Growing the Internet

DIY Internet in Cacahuatepec: The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

I do a lot of different things. I’m a university professor, a sound engineer, I do public policy work, I advise telecommunications councils on things like net neutrality and connectivity, but mostly what I try to do is solve communications problems. And that’s not always sexy. Often, that’s something like going into a community to help them set up a low-power community radio station, but the difference that the low-power station can make is huge.

Lately, I’ve been working in a place called Cacahuatepec, which is in Guerrero State here in Mexico. It’s not that far from Acapulco regarding distance, but it’s very cut off from the rest of the world. Until quite recently, it didn’t have a radio station, television, or newspapers. There is one priest that comes in once a month. He does marriages, baptisms, first communions and prayers for the dead in one mass. Most of the men in Cacahuatepec leave to work in other Mexican cities or the United States. The government has no presence in Cacahuatepec, there are no police. It’s in an area that’s mostly controlled by the drug dealers and drug producers. On the road in, you pass a checkpoint that is controlled by the army or the marines, and after that they just kind of wave goodbye. It’s like the Wild West. There’s no electrical grid. If you forget a screwdriver, that’s it; your day is lost. You can’t even buy sellotape.

It’s also in a floodplain. That’s how I first got involved in the community. Back in 2013, two hurricanes clashed over Guerrero State. One coming from the Pacific, and one from the Gulf of Mexico. A dam about 10 kilometres up river from Cacahuatepec broke as a result, and 20 people died. The only reason more people didn’t die was that some fishermen working on the river managed to warn people so that they could run to the hills. So that’s how we got interested in bringing communications to these people so that they could get warnings about the weather. And, so that they could also get on the Internet, have email, all these things that could help make it a wealthier community, or a less poor one.

This is a hard place to work. With no government support, you’re only working with the protection of the community. If someone doesn’t like you, it’s dangerous. A member of my team got into a conflict with one of the local drug kingpins and got killed. He fell in love with a girl who was connected to a drug family. One stupid mistake was all it took. The stakes are high, but also that’s why I keep coming back. Because the stakes are even higher for the people here.

Internet connectivity is changing people’s lives here. It’s changing how families work. It used to be that when your father or brother or husband went away to work in the States, the only way you had of remembering he existed was a photo. That, and occasionally someone would say ‘Hey, your husband sent you $1,000. You have to walk four hours into Acapulco to pick it up at the Western Union.” And the men would come home, and people would say “Oh, while you were in cropping the fields in Alabama., your mother died and we buried her, and now she’s happy in heaven with God.” Now, they can be in contact every week, with VoIP or over Skype. They can say “Hey, your mother’s not doing well, come home,’ or “We know you can’t get back, but we’ll put her on so you can talk to her.” We take these sort of things for granted, but here they’re life changing.

On a less emotional level, people are learning how to build things from the Internet. One of the villages is building an aqueduct built from bamboo. They have to bring water from the river, into the town. It uses a positive displacement pump, and they learned how to do it from the Internet. The women there make a lot of embroidered products, and they’re learning new patterns from the Internet.

Right now, things are on hold a bit, because the situation on the ground has gotten more dangerous. We’re hoping things settle down soon because we have so much work to do. We still have a lot of communities left to connect.

The key is not to go into that area and say “Well, here I am, the magician of communications, now you have the Internet, bye bye”. You want to build capacity; you want to give these young people that still live there a chance to start a business that is not drug related or crime related, or tourist related. You want these people to build a new society using communications as a tool.

Impressed by Luis’s story? Tell your local policy maker. Share this and the Policy Framework for an Enabling Internet Access and help make access possible. Keep watching our blog throughout the week for our Community Networking Series.

You can also meet Luis today as part of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum. Here’s how to take part .