Categories
Community Projects Development Growing the Internet Human Rights

Experiencing the Internet’s Role in Community Empowerment

Taking advantage of the fact that Internet Society’s CEO, Kathy Brown, and I were both in India last month, we visited one of our Wireless for Communities (W4C) sites in Tilonia, located in Rajasthan state.

Located some 380km from Delhi in a rural location, the W4C Tilonia site is based at the Barefoot College campus, and is a self-reliant model village – from generating their own solar electricity to sustainable water harvesting. They also run a community education programme teaching people from around the world skills to help them empower their local communities.

The W4C programme has been running since 2010 and it adopts a holistic approach to empowering rural communities with digital skills and tools. Establishing W4C in Tilonia was a natural meeting of the two programmes.

The impact was plain to see. Both the old and new campuses of Barefoot College in Tilonia are now linked to each other by point-to-point WiFi, and each campus has a local WiFi network that connects everything from schools to community radio stations. The administration of the campus has now gone paperless – with all work being done online. The community education programme uses Internet and ICT technology extensively and it was amazing to see tablet computers and large screen TVs being used to teach electronic kit assembly to the ‘Solar Mamas’. These Solar Mamas keep in touch with family back home using Internet messaging apps. The Internet truly permeates through everything at Barefoot College.

One of the most touching scenes was seeing a classroom full of young girls during their midday break all queuing up in an orderly fashion to get their 10 minutes each at a computer. The wonder and curiosity in their eyes – and their patience waiting for their turn – was truly remarkable. And all the more reason, that we must make the Internet of Opportunity available to everyone, everywhere.

You can follow Kathy and my journey to W4C Tilonia on storify here and there is a video of our visit here.

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
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
Community Projects Growing the Internet

How You Can Help Connect The Planet

Be it high into the Himalayas, deep into the country side of India or the hills of Mexico, incredible people are helping to bring connectivity to some of the world’s forgotten places.

We want to you to a part of it.

Yesterday we held an online forum where some of these incredible people shared how they are connecting the world by connecting communities.

They talked about how they helped build community networks and how hard it can be to get equipment.

We heard about different network models, ways to fix common problems, links to resources for new projects and to help train others.

Here is who spoke:

Rajnesh Singh, ISOC Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau Director: Raj gave us a high-level overview of ISOC’s Wireless for Communities Project (W4C) in APAC that has been running since 2010, and the impact he is seeing in the communities we work in with our partners.

Osama Manzar, Director/Founder, Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF):  ISOC has forged a partnership with DEF to support their W4C efforts. In collaboration with DEF, we have connected over 13 Indian villages in rural India. Osama described how he built communities, and the impact connectivity has made in high-mountain villages.  From the development of micro-enterprises and health centres to schools brought online, and trainers “trained” to build and roll-out community networks.

Mahabir Pun, Nepal Wireless Networking Project, ISOC Hall of Fame and Jon Postel awardee: Mr. Pun’s work provides connectivity to villages in Nepal through community wireless projects and the opportunities for tele-health and online learning that these projects help make possible. Mahabir has helped ISOC’s APAC team by training local people to become trainers for W4C efforts in the region. In late 2015 his team helped expand the W4C project to Nepal by connecting eight villages in earthquake-affected areas.

Roger Baig Vinas, Guifi.net project, and ISOC Catalan Chapter member: Guifi.net is an award-winning Commons-based wireless for a community projects in Catalonia, Spain. Roger described how the Guifi network works and the importance of collective contribution from all partners across urban and rural communities to sustain the entire network.

Mike Jensen, Association for Progressive Communications (APC):  Mike is an active supporter of community-based networks and innovative radio spectrum use. He worked to raise awareness of the potential for TV White Space technology in reaching the unconnected.  Mike shared views on the importance of innovative uses of spectrum and the issue of equipment costs related to project implementation.

Peter Bloom, Rhizomatica:  Peter Bloom founded Rhizomatica in 2009 to address a need to transfer photos and videos between human rights defenders in Nigeria without passing through the networks of large telecommunication companies. Peter provided a snapshot of the GSM-based community-operated network in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the local people built and now run the network.

Jane Butler/Sebastian Beuttrich – part of the Wireless Networking in the Developing World (WNDW) volunteer team:  Jane described how the WNDW book was created and what you can find on its website. She also talked about a really great online University – WirelessU. Sebastian described key training issues and factors involved in building out community infrastructures and the importance of the case-studies in WNDW and online!

Watch the video and learn more!

 

Stay tuned in to this blog space as we plan to provide more snapshots about Community Networking projects!

Got a great idea to build connect the planet? See if you qualify for support from Beyond the Net!

Categories
Growing the Internet

Connecting the unconnected: Experience from the First Phase of our W4C Project in Pakistan

Coming from the urban part of Pakistan, the Internet is nothing new for me and not as novel anymore, as I have been using it every day for the past many years. However, for many who don’t have access, it can indeed be a thing of wonder that can be used to connect, communicate and collaborate. This is something I realised during the first phase of our ‘Wireless for Communities’ (W4C) pilot project in Pakistan.

Today, wireless technologies are an excellent alternative, especially in countries that are lagging behind regarding getting the Internet to rural communities. Embracing Internet Society’s vision that the Internet is for Everyone, W4C is the Internet Society Asia-Pacific Bureau’s award-winning project that follows a holistic approach to community-based wireless networks which provide much-needed connectivity in rural and underserved environments in South Asia. The project has been running successfully in India for the past five years and has very recently made an entry into Pakistan and Nepal.

In Pakistan, the W4C pilot project was carried out with COMSATS Internet Services, which is our local partner. Structured in four phases, the first phase of establishing connectivity was completed in December, when together with a team of network engineers, we spent two eventful days at ‘Chak-5 Faiz’,our project site, located near the city of Multan.

This ‘180 feet tri-polo tower holding Sector Antennas’ (base station) provided a decent 2 kilometres coverage area in a scattered community comprising several small villages. The most immediate ‘to be connected’ need came from a girls and a boys school situated closer to the base station, and there were sheer moments of both delight and gratitude in these schools. The computer lab teacher (video) at the girls’ school told us about the struggle to have a working Internet connection and that the W4C project will enable students to learn about and be part of the online world. The situation at the boys’ school was similar; we saw both smiles and anxiety on faces while we installed the Internet connection and a computer in the school – both teachers and students were energised to use the Internet in their teaching and learning.

Our next task was to connect the community (client) side that brought even more worth to our work. We first needed to secure an elevated position to install our client antenna, and without any hesitation, a local villager offered his property when told that we were there to offer the Internet. News of our work spread like a wildfire to nearby villages, and we had several asking if we were able to offer a W4C site to them as well – I wish we had a Magic Internet Stick which we could just wave to make it happen!

The day passed with us working to configure the client side with the base station, speaking with villagers and listening to their need for reliable connectivity. Not surprisingly, one of the most valuable uses of the Internet we heard from them was to make calls over the Internet to be able to communicate with their loved ones abroad. This person told us (video) how he feels about W4C coming to his village.

Access to the Internet is still a dream to many – some half of the world’s population remains offline – and our W4C project is a small effort to help connect the unconnected, and provide a best practice example that others can replicate.

Categories
Growing the Internet Technology

Access in India and the Digital India promise

I recently attended the 24th edition of Convergence India, the ICT and Broadcast expo in Delhi.  The theme of the exhibition and a conference track was the much talked about Digital India. This topic, like the project, has filled the 1.25 billion Indians with pride and evoked much emotion at the same time.

In the words of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India: “Digital connectivity should become as much a basic right as access to school … under Digital India, IT will be used to drive government processes to improve service delivery and programme implementation and provide broadband connectivity to villages. “  

Digital India is government-led with a government service provider as the custodian.  Other special initiatives launched include Make in India (to foster innovation, enhance skill development, conceptualise and promote manufacturing in ICT), Skilling India and Smart Cities (establish 100 smart cities across India).  In the words of the Minister of Communication and IT, this $18 billion programme ‘sets India for a digital revolution’.  

Our Wireless for Communities (W4C) project, which we started six years ago, connects remote communities to the Internet using unlicensed free spectrum, and low cost Wi-Fi equipment.  We built local expertise by training barefoot engineers, and made it sustainable through community ownership and revenue generating models.    The project also empowers the community for digital knowledge-based transformation.  Through the project, we pretty much do it all -  create digital infrastructure, help deliver services digitally and, develop digital literacy.

Were there any experiences and findings we could share with the Digital India programme? We learnt much from our project, and these would indeed be relevant. These include:

·  The level of Internet connectivity can be affected by wider government policy, prices of services and devices, overall level of infrastructure and backhaul availability etc.

·  Infrastructure sharing should be promoted as much as possible; these include towers, ducts and radio spectrum

·  Devices like mobiles should be made more affordable and with a basic set of features which allows people to use it as a means to access the Internet

·  Applications and content should be designed such that they take into account the local context, including local needs and relevance

·  Liberalise the last mile and make it commercially viable for different kinds of players such as rural ISPs.  Explore new models eg. Have municipalities invest in the network and look at PPP models to operate i

·  There needs to be more holistic spectrum allocation to take into account public interest  

·  Streamline and harmonize licensing procedures such as for obtaining a leased line or putting up towers etc

·  Accelerate mutual recognized arrangements (MRAs) that simplify and speed up import certificates, particularly to allow low cost device availability

As the Internet of Everything is on its way – and promises to further change the way we live and work – the Digital India project is an acknowledgment of the power of the Internet and all its benefits.                         

 

Categories
Growing the Internet Human Rights Technology Women in Tech

Wireless For Communities (W4C) – Best of a breed

It isn’t everyday that I get to sit on a panel to talk about our favourite development project in the Asia-Pacific region – the Wireless for Communities (W4C) project in India.  So I jumped at the opportunity when this opening came up at the Aid & Response Summit Asia in Bangkok this week.

W4C is a project that we are particularly proud of at the Internet Society Asia-Pacific office – not only because it has won two international awards namely the ITU/MCMC (International Telecommunications Union – Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission) Connecting at the Roots Award for Broadband for Communities/Schools and the Gold Standard Internet for Good Award by Public Affairs Asia – but also because of how the Internet was able to empower and transform peoples’ lives for the better.  This project totally democratises the availability of connectivity, enabling access to information in rural parts of India and allows for content and services to originate from rural areas. 

The brainchild of the Internet Society Regional Bureau Director for Asia-Pacific Rajnesh Singh, W4C began its pilot in 2010 in collaboration with our partner the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) at Chanderi, a small municipality in the Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh, India. Chanderi is renowned for Chanderi silk which had Geographical Indication (GI) status.  In Chanderi we began by providing basic connectivity and access to content and services and saw first-hand social innovation evolve, using the Internet to meet the social needs of the local community.

Thanks to various ICT interventions, average household incomes more than doubled.   A variety of ICT-related programmes enabled new vocational skills to be gained, which in turn have helped people establish their own micro-enterprises. Internet access helped preserve local heritage, digitised local knowledge and assets, linked patients at the local health centre to the district hospital using telemedicine and helped children improve digital learning in school.  All this originating from a base population where very few were digitally literate, had poor access to advanced health facilities and had no computers in schools.

Fast forward to the present time, and for the record, we have brought Internet connectivity to more than 200,000 people in 10 rural locations across India.  Many that we have worked with are minorities, marginalised and from migrant communities. We have made more than 4,000 rural youth, children and women digitally literate and provided telemedicine facilities to several communities that had no access to advanced health care.  More than 50 panchayats (local village councils) and 50 rural schools, several non-government organisations and a number of micro and SMEs have been linked to the Internet enhancing their productivity and operational efficiency.

W4C is both self-sustainable and replicable and our basic model relies heavily on local communities. To keep things simple, we used unlicensed spectrum bands and low cost WiFi equipment.  Infrastructural sustainability was enabled by training grassroots barefoot engineers in basic wireless technology, enabling them not only to run and manage the networks but also pass on their skills to others. Digital skills for the community was facilitated and nurtured.

Notably, the latest phase of the project focuses on the empowerment of women in these rural communities through the Wireless Women for Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (W2E2) initiative. This part of the project took on 40 women across the 10 W4C locations and provided them with training on using ICTs and the Internet to set up micro-enterprises providing digital services within the local community. This helps improve their social standing as well as provide a livelihood. The women also are encouraged to train and encourage others in the community, thereby further democratising the availability of information to the wider community, and helping navigate cultural and social barriers.

More information on the project may be found on the W4C website.

Categories
Growing the Internet

Rural ISPs needed to expand Internet access in India

The Net neutrality debate currently raging in India has brought to light a broader underlying concern: the low—currently below 20%–Internet penetration in the country.

A major rationale used by network operators in justifying a non-neutral network is the need to expand Internet use in India, particularly in low-income areas. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose Internet.org initiative has been taken up by Reliance Communications, in a recent piece argued that free—albeit selective–access to the Internet will bring more people online, particularly those who are not yet able to afford it. Meanwhile, the telecom industry has implied that charging content providers for carriage will enable it to deploy the infrastructure needed to widen broadband coverage to unserved and underserved regions.

Triggered by the rise of zero-rated schemes and a draft consultation paper released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on differential pricing for over-the-top services and applications, the issue has prompted a number of Indian Internet firms to pull out of recently signed deals with carriers, following a massive public backlash in which more than 1 million petitioners voiced out support for Net neutrality.

But the contention also highlights a deeper challenge that neither Net neutrality alone—nor the lack thereof—can fully solve.  In December 2014, the Internet Society  at its 4th Wireless and Open Spectrum Summit sought to flesh out persisting barriers to rural connectivity, and found that a diversified ISP sector, along with local loop unbundling, is integral to ensuring equitable and affordable Internet access in India. The annual summit, organised by ISOC and Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation, is part of our ongoing Wireless for Communities programme, which enables rural communities around India to build and operate their own wireless networks using low-cost technology and unlicensed spectrum.

Central to the recommendations made by participants at the forum is a policy framework and licensing regime that makes possible the establishment of rural ISPs as a legitimate business entity. Such village-level enterprises will not only facilitate the development of new models for universal access, but would also reduce users’ dependence on bigger players. This can be complemented by rules that mandate telecom firms to share their infrastructure, such as their points of presence, to new entrants, and a streamlined system for the acquisition of required government permits, which remain costly and time-consuming.

At the same time, district panchayats or self-help groups in India can invest in village level infrastructure, using funding from such sources as the Backward Region Grants Fund. This is already being done in towns like Sabarkantha in Gujarat, which has appointed an ISP to run its community network on a revenue-sharing agreement.

These and other success stories around the world show that measures to increase Internet connectivity should not be bound by traditional approaches. With the Internet’s fundamental principles—decentralised, open, and interoperable—in mind, stakeholders should cultivate an environment that is more accommodating to emerging and novel setups, particularly those which seek to address gaps that established models have found difficult to fulfill, and those that enable existing and future users—in cities, towns and remote villages–to become innovators, too.

You can download the 4th Wireless and Open Spectrum Summit report here

Categories
Development Growing the Internet

Diversity the Key to Connecting the Last Mile

Building upon the progress from its third edition last year, the 4th Wireless and Open Spectrum Summit, held in conjunction with the 14th Manthan Awards in Delhi, India, brought experts and practitioners from the telecommunications, government, foundation and research fields together to collaborate on solutions for bringing Internet connectivity to India’s offline and underserved populations.

The Internet community in India is all abuzz this year with the announcement of a comprehensive strategy on Digital India, which has been identified as a priority area by the new Prime Minister. Backed by a $17-billion budget, the programme aims to create the necessary infrastructure, service delivery platforms and human capacity to turn the country into an online powerhouse. Amidst the flurry of big ticket projects, however, participants at the Summit lamented what they perceived as an failure to address to the challenges faced in connecting the last mile.

Among the group’s recommendations is the cultivation of rural ISPs, which along with aggregate online services can not only provide affordable broadband access to far-flung villages, but also energise small-scale entrepreneurship in marginalised communities. Indeed, attendees concurred that liberalising the last mile market is key to both optimising the use of existing, and at times underutilised infrastructure, and to filling in coverage gaps left by commercial providers.

Such possibilities are, however, constrained by a number of barriers. One of them is the arduous and expensive licensing procedure for ISPs, in part due to various permits which need to be secured from different state agencies. Restrictive regulations, which currently mandate that those without class A, B or C ISP licenses cannot sell bandwidth without becoming a franchisee, impose additional burdens not only to small aspiring ISPs but to organisations who want to pilot new broadband technologies which could better serve the marginalised.

But even with an open ISP market in place, one fundamental question remains: Who should shoulder the costs of last mile network rollout? Summit participants agree that this requires mutual support and coordination between the government and the private sector. Operators attending the roundtable suggested, for instance, lowering telecom firms’ universal service obligation fees—currently at 5% of their revenues—by one or two percent in exchange for them deploying the necessary infrastructure in areas that are not commercially viable. Another is to tweak the existing spectrum auction guidelines, shifting the focus away from profit maximization towards cost considerations for operators, as the high price paid for spectrum may be contributing to the lag in network investment. Civil society representatives, for their part, encouraged a more user-oriented public policy to drive the allocation of scarce resources.

Participants appealed to the both government and the private sector to consider gains above and beyond direct revenue, pointing to the positive economic impact of broadband access particularly for disadvantaged sectors of society. Projects like Wireless for Communities have enabled disenfranchised women to set up independent e-commerce businesses, like chanderiyaan.net, along with other social enterprises owned and managed by local people in their own communities.  

Overall, attendees concurred that bringing a diversity of smaller players into the fold, from ISPs to community-based digital service providers, can only do the industry good, enabling the development not only of different business models and approaches to last mile connectivity. By doing so, not only will all players be able to benefit, but more importantly, we can get closer to creating a more inclusive, and truly global, Internet. 

Categories
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.
Categories
Growing the Internet Human Rights

A journey through digital empowerment in rural India

A small team of seven made up of Internet Society and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) staff, two camera men and a future project site contact set out for a 48 hour journey to capture the stories and key learnings that currently live inside the Wireless For Communities (W4C) project across rural India.
Covering roughly 1500 km by train and car over the two days, the trip began on Saturday morning at the train station in Delhi to reach Baran, some 10 hours away. The goal of the trip was to meet and talk to the local people who are benefiting from the W4C project that the Internet Society and  DEF are sponsoring. DEF’s Lead Engineer, Shahid Ahmed, has developed this “barefoot wireless network” in Baran, which is now maintained by localmembers of the local community support that he has trained himself and who have gone on to become multipliers, training many others. We learned first-hand about how this project is directly impacting over 50,000 lives that are now connected to the Internet.
Following our six hour train ride to Kota, we arrived at Sindhu Hospital which acts as the main tele-medicine center where doctors connect with 10-15 patients a day live over a web cam to diagnose illness and prescribe medication. Sindhu Hospital is part of a government funded NGO program and now services the several wireless sites in Baran as a result of the W4C project which is saving the local folks time and cost to travel to the nearest major town, Kota, which is 50 km away.
Our second stop in Bhanwargarh, a village three hours away from Kota, is where the first network tower was built accompanied by solar panels to generate the needed electricity to run the network. Shahid has set up the technical infrastructure and solar energy at this location and continues to train others localsly so they can learn how to maintain the network.
This center provides food, shelter and education to girls whose families cannot provide the financial support needed to advance their education. Also, at this location, kids can take advantage of e-learning opportunities online in a computer room with four computers, access a physical library with books, science equipment and health information and even become part of the live radio broadcast show that was created onsite and is now reaching other villages in Baran managed by the children.
One teenage girl who was trained and educated at this location has moved on to continue to spread her Internet knowledge at our third location and is considered the local “Internet Activist”. She now teaches others about using Facebook and other online tools to help develop a presence online. Currently she has 15 Facebook friends across the entire network that services the Baran villages, which is amazing considering this has been a largely unconnected community till W4C arrived.
Our third stop in Khadela included a small center where locals can gather and use this online learning facility. This location has one computer and leverages the Internet to process and track government subsidized wages and address labor issues such as payment problems, unfair treatment and timely processing. As online information is helping to educate the village, the process of managing local wages has become faster online and the time and cost to travel to the government facility located more than 50 km away is no longer a factor. This site is also used as a monthly meeting place for the village to discuss and work together to address labor issues within the community.
In addition to the online collaboration, one young man decided to branch out and start his own “shop” where he offers document services to locals such as printing birth and death certificates as well as licenses and other legal documents. Using the wireless network, a workstation and his phone, he is able to access the Internet for profit and makes roughly $200 a month USD offering these types of services.
Our last stop in Mamomi included visiting a children’s learning center which was made possible also through the new wireless network and now offers online education opportunities to those that visit. Many stop in for a few weeks sort of like “camp” like to get exposed to using a computer, learn Hindi online and how to use Google and other tools for online educational purposes.  The center Manager was trained by Shahid just as in the other centers so he can not only maintain the network tower and IT equipment, but also repair the solar panels and address electricity issues if they arise. In addition this facility also produces packages and ships the locally known gooseberry candies to nearby markets and other villages.
As this work continues on the ground across a total of seven centers in Baran, new project sites are being targeted for 2014 in Indonesia and Burma. The dedicated staff of DEF and the project promoters likeother project sponsors like the Internet Society will not only help India get connected, but changes thousands of lives in the process through online education and holistic community development.