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.

Community Projects Internet Governance

We have to continue working on building an Internet of opportunities!

This blog is based on the speech held by Raúl Echeberría at the opening of the 5th African IGF in Durban, South Africa, on 16th October 2016. 

My colleagues at the Internet Society and myself have already attended many of the national and regional IGFs that are being organised across the world. And it is amazing to see all the energy around those initiatives and how we have created a new way to discuss and to deal in an open and multistakeholder manner, with things that are very important for our societies.

I have been involved in IGF since its inception. In particular, I was involved in the work in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) from where the recommendation of creating this forum came up, and the negotiations at the Summit in 2005.

Eleven years later, we can say that the IGF has been very successful; we have created something very useful, a real innovation in international governance. This is impressive. What is even more impressive is the large network of national and regional IGFs that have been created. This is very important because most of the policy making happens at the local level, so the closest we can bring the open and multistakeholder discussion to where the policies are discussed, the best to ensure that we take advantage of all the expertise and knowledge that it is available across all stakeholders groups.

Taking advantage of that diversity is the only way to be sure that the outcomes of the policy debates will fit the needs of our societies.

There are two things that impact our discussions:

One is the adoption in 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not new for most of us that the Internet is the vehicle for achieving other goals, goals that are the human, social and economic development. But the SDG offer a sound basis for a common understanding about that.

Now it is much more visible that Internet development is a horizontal issue to all the SDGs, that it is impossible to achieve the SDGs without taking advantage of the new technologies. We are not talking just about increasing the number of people connected, but about how to use the Internet for accomplishing the goals of education, healthcare, creating jobs, etc.

This gives us a much more tangible framework for a meaningful discussion.

The second thing is the successful transition of the IANA functions oversight.

This is important for two reasons: 

  1. Because it was a very successful example of how we conducted community-based, open, transparent and bottom-up processes and we produced the expected outcomes . . .  and we did it on time.
  2. We can now focus on other important matters that are the ones related to continuing promoting meaningful access to all the people.

Those who are here today, spending a Sunday on Internet Governance discussions, we are here because we share something. We care about what we do.

We care about the Internet, but we also care about people.

This is our work.  We have to connect the unconnected because this is essential, but we also have to continue to build an Internet that contributes to reducing inequities, to give opportunities to those who have not had enough opportunities, an Internet that helps to improve people’s lives, an Internet of opportunities.

This African Internet Governance Forum surely will be one important step forward for achieving that objective.

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Africa focuses on building an inclusive Internet

The 5th African Internet Governance Forum – AfIGF2016 kicked off on October 16, 2016 in Durban, South Africa. Under the theme “Inclusive development and the Digital transformation of Africa”, the forum will run through 18 October 2016. 

Raul Echeberria, Vice-President of the Internet Society, made an opening remark during the opening session of the Forum followed by presentations from Dawit Bekele, Director of the Internet Society African Regional Bureau, on “ How to shape the future of the Internet in Africa” and “Connecting the Unconnected”. 

The Internet Society’s presence at the AfIGF2016 was also marked by a bilateral meeting held with Prof Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize, Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services of the Republic of South Africa.

About the Internet Governance Forum 

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a platform for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue on prevailing and emerging issues on Internet governance ecosystem. The IGF mandate was extended for ten years by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 2015. IGF aims at fostering the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and the development of the Internet, thus facilitating content development and access to information and knowledge. 

About the African Internet Governance Forum 

Presently, there are regional Internet Governance Forum initiatives in all the five regions of Africa. In order to bring together the national IGF initiatives together with the regional ones and to promote IG related issues on the continent, there was a strong need for the establishment of an African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF). Accordingly, AfIGF was convened by the sub-regional IGFs in cooperation with the African Union Commission (AUC) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) at the 6th IGF in Nairobi, Kenya. The AfIGF was formally launched on 30 September 2011.

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Two Busy Weeks of Internet Governance Activity In Africa: African Union, AfriSIG2015, AfIGF

Africa has made huge strides in improving access to Internet connectivity in the past 6 years. Internet penetration grew from 6% in 2009 to more than 22% in 2015. This week, at the African Union Commission meeting in Addis Ababa, policymakers from across Africa are looking to harness this growth in connectivity to address a range of socio-economic challenges facing the African continent. We see a major emphasis on regional cooperation and unity to create an integrated e-economy across Africa that enables the region to meet the goals set out in “Agenda 2063, The Africa We Want”. Importantly, the AUC recognises the need for Africa to be more engaged in Internet governance and in participating in decisions about the future of the global Internet.

Over the next two weeks, in Addis Ababa, African policymakers, civil society and stakeholders are coming together to make progress on these issues.  It is an honor for the Internet Society to be included as a sponsor and participant in these important discussions about the future of ICT in the region and how they can be used to support the development of the region. These events are happening in the next 2 weeks:

– AUC STC-CICT experts meeting
AUC STC-CCICT Ministerial meeting
African School of Internet Governance (AfriSIG)
African Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF)

This is a great opportunity for the Internet Society to further its mission by engaging with policy makers, civil society and other stakeholders to insure that Africa benefits from the extraordinary growth that we see in the Internet’s infrastructure and its use.

We’ll be writing more about these activities here on this blog – watch our Africa Bureau page. You can also follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on Twitter (@InternetSociety, @ISOC_Africa and @ISOCpolicy), Facebook and Google+.