Categories
Community Networks Growing the Internet Technology

Build The Internet: Training Barefoot Network Engineers

India is an interesting country when it comes to Internet access.

On the one hand, India has the second most Internet subscribers in the world. There are over 450 million people online here. On the other hand, we also have the largest number of unconnected people. Only about 35 percent of our population is online, including more than 70 percent of women. Between 70 and 80 percent of our landmass isn’t connected, including most rural parts of the country. So we have a severe problem when it comes to connectivity.

I helped found the Digital Empowerment Foundation about 20 years ago, with the aim of fixing these connectivity problems. Our goal is to overcome information poverty and make the Internet accessible to the remotest part of the country, for the poorest of the poor.

One of the core problems is a lack of last mile infrastructure. The “last mile” refers to the final leg of the network, the one that delivers the Internet to people’s homes and businesses. Telecom companies here have been reluctant to invest in the last mile in rural areas because it doesn’t make sense for them as an investment. They say the cost is higher than the return. That’s often where we come in.

There are certain bands of wireless spectrum that are unlicensed, which means anyone can use them for community networks. By using unlicensed spectrum, we’ve managed to bring the Internet into telecom dark areas. If you build a tall enough relay tower, you can easily get a line of sight that will allow the signal to carry for up to 40 kilometres. And you can set up a series of these towers. That’s how we build networks. We started in 2010 when we first started partnering with ISOC. It began with a pilot program in a handful of communities. Now, we’re in over 100 communities, and we’re still growing.

What’s amazing, though, is how the network gets built and maintained. Over the years, we’ve trained hundreds of people to become what we call barefoot network engineers. These are regular people in rural villages, often without much formal education, who we train to be network engineers. With ISOC’s help, we’ve developed a multi-lingual kit and guidebook that explains the technology and equipment at a literacy level that works for them. So local people can maintain and troubleshoot the network themselves. And this is tremendously empowering, not only for the individuals we train but for the whole community.

The access itself gives people a tremendous sense of liberty. Suddenly, they can access government programs, which used to be controlled by middlemen. They can run their own business. They can buy things at better prices. They can access doctors through telemedicine. They can access education. Because it’s a broadband connection, they can do video conferencing, which has an enormous appeal to people who might not have high levels of literacy. Also, they use it for entertainment. That’s important, too.

The biggest achievement is that people aren’t just acting as a consumer of information, but they’re talking to each other. They’re sharing knowledge. They’re talking about their rights, about access to services, about democracy. You see it the most with the women in the community. India is still a very patriarchal society, but in our programs, women play a key role. In many of these communities, the men have to migrate to other parts of the country for work, but the women usually stay put. As a result, they’re often in charge of the community access points and the computers themselves. They’re the keepers of the information, and having that role gives them more leverage to make decisions in their households and communities.

Community networks are one of the most viable, available technology-based solutions for last-mile access to underserved communities. What we’ve been doing in India could become a prototype or a scaleable model for connectivity all over the world. But right now, it’s still seen as a novel idea, not something that could be rolled out on a large scale. Organizations like ours need to work with each other, as well as with larger organizations like ISOC, to advocate for community networks to become a global, mainstream phenomenon. Because when you connect these communities, amazing things happen. I’ve seen it first-hand.

Impressed by Osama’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.

Categories
Building Trust Improving Technical Security Technology

Data Breaches and You – our Global Internet Report 2016 explains the critical steps you need to take now

Data breaches are the oil spills of the digital economy.  Over 429 million people were affected by reported data breaches in 2015 – and that number is certain to grow even higher in 2016.

These large-scale data breaches along with uncertainties about the use of our data, cybercrime, surveillance and other online threats are eroding trust on the Internet.  

This is why the 2016 edition of our Global Internet Report is dedicated to exploring data breaches, their impact on user trust and their consequences for the global digital economy.

These consequences, not surprisingly, can be serious. The purpose of the report is not to emphasize the problem, but to offer solutions and to emphasize the important role that companies and organizations play in building a more trusted Internet. 

A key question raised by the report is:

  • why are organisations not taking all available steps to protect the personal information they collect from each of us? 

The report examines the issues and walks through a number of case studies that highlight the concerns. It ends with a series of five concrete recommendations for actions we need to take.

This video provides a preview: 

We ask you to please read the 2016 GIR, to share the report widely, and to take whatever actions you can to bring about a more trusted Internet.

This issue of trust is so serious that we risk undoing all of the progress we have made over the past three decades. It is time we act together to solve it.

Categories
Community Projects Internet Governance

Bringing Youth to the Internet Governance Discussions

Many young people age 18-25 are the first generation of adults to grow up not knowing the world without the Internet. For those that do not have access, they are some of the people that are pushing hardest for it.

Young people are shaping online culture in so many ways. They use the Internet to meet people around the world, create the videos that go viral, they create art that moves us and start and stand behind online social movements that make us think.

They are building their dream Internet.

And yet when it comes to policy discussions, most of them are not at the table.

We want to change that.

Last year, we partnered with the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI Brasil) to launch a pilot program called “Youth@IGF.”

It saw 120 young people — aged 18-25 — from around Latin America and the Caribbean, go through a series of online courses about privacy, security and Internet governance. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from programming and engineering to law and activism. More than 70 went on to attend one of the world’s most influential meetings in Internet policy, the Internet Governance Forum.

Many of the Youth@IGF participants went on to form the ISOC Youth SIG; our first special interest group focused on how governance issues affect young people.

This year, we’re expanding Youth@IGF to include young people from around the world with NIC México and the Government of México as proud partners. Together, we’ll put 200 young people through online coursework, and send the top performers to the IGF in Guadalajara.

“These young people are among the next generation of Internet leaders. They are the ones who will take up the mantle to help figure out how to preserve the privacy of Internet users, how to make a more secure Internet, and how to connect the next billion users. It’s crucial we get them involved now” says Toral Cowieson Senior Director of Leadership Porgrammes at the Internet Society.” The Youth SIG is already helping start many of these discussions among both their peers and the generation of teenagers coming up behind them.

When it comes to Internet governance, we don’t need young people to be the future. We need them to be part of the present. Youth@IGF is one of the ways we’re making that happen.

If you qualify, we urge you to apply now and build your #dreamInternet.

For more information and application, please visit Youth @IGF Programme pages: