Community Networks Growing the Internet

The 2020 Indigenous Connectivity Summit and Trainings: Register Now

People around the world are relying on the Internet to keep them connected to everyday life, but Indigenous communities in North America are being left behind by companies and governments. Lack of connectivity means many are unable to access even basic information and healthcare. And while COVID-19 has hit Indigenous communities especially hard, lack of access means they can’t use services that connected populations consider critical, such as remote learning and teleworking.

We must address this critical gap.

For years, the Internet Society has worked with those very communities, along with network operators, technologists, civil society, academia, and policymakers – bringing them together to discuss what can be done collectively to narrow the digital divide. We do this through our Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) and the pre-Summit Trainings: Community Networks and Policy and Advocacy.

This year, though we can’t meet in person, we’ll hold a virtual event.

We’re excited to announce that registration is now open for the 2020 Indigenous Connectivity Summit.

The Summit will take place October 5-9, 2020, with training sessions beginning the first week of September. Those who register for the Summit before Friday, September 11th will receive a swag bag and materials for hands-on training prior to the Summit. (Training registration will be open until August 28th.)

The 2020 Indigenous Connectivity Summit
Though we won’t be able to gather together in Winnipeg, Canada, as we had hoped, we are looking forward to gathering virtually to continue these important conversations. The venue is a bit different than we anticipated, but many aspects of the 2020 ICS will be the same.

We’ll still talk about many of the pressing issues Indigenous communities in North America face as they work to access the Internet on their own terms:

  • Sovereignty and creating a virtual nation
  • Access to resources such as infrastructure, spectrum, and backhaul
  • Capacity building
  • The Tribal Priority Window for Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum and what 2.5GHz spectrum can be used for

We’re also working hard to include the features that make the ICS a must-attend event, including networking, team building, and unique experiences. The Indigenous Connectivity Summit has always been and will always be a place to foster human connections.

Pre-Summit Training
Following last year’s success, we are also offering two pre-Summit trainings: Policy and Advocacy and Community Networks. Participants of these trainings will hear from experts in the field about how to build, maintain, and operate community networks. They’ll also be equipped to fight for the policies that impact their community’s ability to deploy connectivity solutions on their own terms.

Each course will last six weeks, consisting of one hour-and-a-half long session per week. Sessions will begin the week of September 1, 2020 and run through the week of the Summit, culminating in a virtual hands-on training and the creation of this year’s policy recommendations, which will guide the community’s advocacy work for the next year.

We hope these courses and the Summit itself will equip participants with the skills and network they need to take advantage of emerging opportunities for connectivity as a result of COVID-19 – and to connect their communities on their own terms.

Please  join us for this year’s Indigenous Connectivity Summit and Trainings – and share the word with your partners and community!

Image of a community networks training program participant in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories ©Angela Gzowski

Community Networks

Tribal Priority Window Extended to September 2 – But It’s Still Not Enough Time to Connect Indigenous Communities to a Critical Lifeline

While Indigenous communities across the US battle some of the most brutal COVID-19 mortality rates in the country, they’ve simultaneously raced against the clock to take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to access and manage their own broadband.

The Tribal Priority Window is an unprecedented opportunity for eligible US Tribes to apply for 2.5GHz spectrum leases ahead of the federal auction. Targeted at the most digitally underserved communities in the US— where only half of housing units have access to broadband— the Window is intended to enable rural Tribes access to Internet service and the development of services to narrow the digital divide. The application process posed significant challenges to Tribes who already struggle with poor connectivity. The digital format, coupled with COVID-19 realities, has hampered their ability to file applications within the deadline.

Due to the insurmountable obstacles posed by the pandemic, Tribes and nearly 100 organizations have called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress to extend the Tribal Priority Window by 180 days.

In response, the FCC has granted them just 30 additional days to file their applications. In its order, the FCC says that this extension is due to the unusual challenges presented by the pandemic. However, the pandemic is expected to worsen in the next month, not improve.

This extension only gives the portion of Tribes already engaged in the process some extra time to wrap up applications. It does not provide nearly enough time to boost overall awareness and enrollment. The spread of COVID-19 has not slowed, and Tribes continue to battle high infection and mortality rates. Tribes that have not previously engaged in the Tribal Priority Window will continue to encounter immense barriers to collect all the materials necessary, pass Tribal resolutions, engage their community, and submit applications within the new 30-day window.

As Public Knowledge writes in a recent statement, the FCC’s order cites T-Mobile’s comments that suggest that an extension would be necessary. T-Mobile called for a 90-day extension. Even the Window’s critics recognized that a 30-day extension is not enough time for Tribes to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity for urgently-needed access to broadband.

So many crucial aspects of Tribal life directly and immediately depend on their communities’ ability to apply for spectrum licenses within the Tribal Priority Window. The initiative will allow Tribes the ability to connect their homes, workplaces, hospitals and schools. Tribal students’ educations and futures currently depend on reliable connectivity, and so does the functionality of life-saving telehealth services. Broadband access and stewardship is a necessity for the future of Tribal life.  Tribal communities are long overdue the opportunity to access what is now an indisputable and vital public resource.

Granting Tribes only 30 days to apply for the Tribal Priority Window will leave Tribes that have not been previously engaged in these conversations struggling to connect, and — in a COVID-19 world — struggling to carry out crucial functions of daily life.

At the Internet Society, we believe that the Internet is for everyone. By working alongside Tribal communities in recent weeks, we have been able to spread the word with our partners to many of the 574 federally-recognized Tribes — over 100 of which have successfully submitted applications. We will continue our commitment to making the Internet available to all by pushing for tribal access and empowering communities with networking solutions to fit their needs.

For more information on the Tribal Priority Window and how to apply, visit our site:

And to get engaged in these important conversations, learn more about how to use your license if granted, and build relationships with other Indigenous advocates and community networkers, join us at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit from October 5 – 9 or join a pre-Summit training. Learn more here:

Image credit: © 2019 Elyse Butler. The photo is from a Community Network training program with Nation of Hawaii as part of 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit, leading to the build of Hawaii’s first community network in Pu’uhonua o Waimānalo.

Community Networks Growing the Internet

A Narrow Window of Opportunity for Rural Connectivity in the U.S.

As COVID-19 continues to shine a spotlight on the vital role the Internet plays, a short window of opportunity has opened for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to do their part in connecting rural Indigenous communities in the United States.

The Tribal Priority Window is currently open for federally-recognized tribes, Alaska Native Villages, and Hawaiian Homelands to apply for Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum, but it closes on August 3rd. Access to the EBS spectrum would enable Indigenous communities to build their own Internet networks.

The FCC set this deadline before the pandemic, but Tribal governments are now overwhelmed by handling the Coronavirus with limited resources. The FCC must give them more time to apply to the priority window. COVID-19 will not simply disappear from tribal lands in time for tribal governments to pull together applications.

The need for reliable, affordable Internet access is more pressing than ever.

Need proof? One only has to look at the fact that Indigenous communities in the US face the lowest rate of broadband access and the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 infections. The need for access to accurate information and telehealth is at an all-time high. Tribal communities are at serious risk without the Internet as a lifeline.

If the FCC truly wants to close the digital divide, it must act immediately to extend the Tribal Priority Window. Gaining EBS spectrum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Tribal communities. The FCC will effectively exacerbate the lack of connectivity if it does not act fast. They’ve already done the work of creating the chance for tribes to get connected, but they will throw away the opportunity if they don’t do more to accommodate Indigenous communities, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

The Internet Society is working to provide resources and support to tribes looking to apply for EBS spectrum.

Learn more about the Tribal Priority Window.

Community Networks Growing the Internet

U.S. Tribes Have until August 3rd to Apply to Help Bring Internet to Their Communities

See how the Makah Tribe launched an emergency network on EBS spectrum during COVID-19

The Makah Tribe has lived around Neah Bay at the northwest tip of what is now Washington State since time immemorial. It is a breathtaking landscape of dense rainforest and steep hills, far removed from any major urban center.

But for all its beauty, the hills, forests, and remoteness have made it difficult for the community to access quality high-speed Internet – and even cell and radio service.

In some areas, cell service was so poor that only certain spots worked: one community member had to go outside and stand beside a rhododendron bush to make a call or send a text. While Facebook is the main way people stay connected, many couldn’t access it. The local clinic struggled to use electronic records – it sometimes took upwards of 40 minutes just to get into the system. Even emergency responders, such as police and the fire department, couldn’t rely on the dispatch system that required Internet connectivity to operate.

And then the coronavirus began to sweep the world. The Makah closed the reservation to outsiders to protect the community. And its connectivity challenges became even more problematic. Students couldn’t get online to do schoolwork. Health workers couldn’t provide online consults or counseling. People confined to their homes under physical-distancing protocols couldn’t connect with one another. Like many other communities around the world, the lack of Internet access was an emergency within an emergency.

The Makah Tribe found a solution, almost overnight.

Educational Broadband Service, or EBS, is a band of spectrum (a space to transmit information over radio waves). Long ago, EBS was set aside in the United States for purposes that further the public good, primarily education. It has always been under-utilized and recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced intentions to drop the educational requirements and auction off the spectrum to the highest bidder.

But before selling it off, the FCC agreed to establish a window during which rural Tribal communities can get licenses to the unassigned EBS spectrum over their territory. This allows some of the most underserved regions to obtain the spectrum required to build their own Internet networks, become Internet Service Providers, lease the spectrum to other ISPs or use it as leverage in negotiations.

EBS is uniquely suited to remote locations, requiring fewer towers and less extensive infrastructure to reach hard-to-connect locations.

The Tribal Priority Window expires on 3 August, 2020, after which remaining spectrum will be sold off, likely to large telecoms.

The Makah Tribe partnered with MuralNet. Within days, the community had gathered the equipment – about $5,000 worth – required to launch its own network over EBS. They applied for a Special Temporary Authorization (STA) from the FCC, which would allow them to begin using the spectrum immediately and could later be expanded to a permanent license. It was granted on 27 May.

By 28 May, Makah had completed testing of the network, proving the network viability and speed that will provide high-speed Internet. It will also give them the ability to offer cell service even in the toughest-to-connect areas of the reservation.

The network is keeping people connected during the COVID-19 crisis – and it will provide long-term, sustainable, community-owned and operated Internet into the future.

Other Tribes across the United States can use EBS spectrum to make the same strides as the Makah. The Tribal Priority Window is closing soon and with it, a rare opportunity.

Want to apply? Find out how!

Community Networks Growing the Internet

For Tribal Lands Ravaged by COVID-19, Broadband Access Is a Matter of Life and Death

This opinion piece was originally published in Arizona Central.

If anyone doubted the importance of the Internet before the COVID-19 pandemic, those doubts have vanished like toilet paper at Kroger. During this time, the Internet has proved to be a lifeline, delivering the latest coronavirus health and emergency updates, connecting people to coworkers and bosses, and facilitating online classes.

But this is only the case for those lucky enough to have access. The American Library Association says seven in 10 residents on rural tribal lands remain without access to fixed high-capacity broadband. Making matters worse, massive swaths of tribal land don’t even have a cellphone signal, much less a broadband Internet connection.

No Internet access means no access to the economic opportunities the Internet holds. In 2018 alone, the Internet sector accounted for $2.1 trillion of the U.S. economy. But during this pandemic, many residents of rural Indian Country don’t have the luxury of dreaming up online business plans.

They are instead fearful for their lives and the lives of their loved ones who lack access to solutions like telehealth or online counseling during this time of isolation.

A lack of access leaves us behind

The Internet was always important, but COVID-19 is illuminating the colossal crevasse between the connected and the unconnected, those in the life raft and those left in open water.

The Internet is critical for indigenous communities to leverage economic, health and educational opportunities. Today, connectivity is a necessary tool for tracking data and sounding the alarm for missing and murdered indigenous women, transmitting timely Amber Alerts, providing resources for physical and emotional healing, growing the number of indigenous language speakers, and cultivating a robust and diverse economy in some of the country’s poorest communities (financially speaking).

Yet indigenous communities remain among the least connected in North America.

The coronavirus is showing us why this is a problem. Students sent home from colleges and schools are encouraged to continue their studies online. But many native students return to homes without an Internet connection capable of playing videos and uploading assignments.

Many can’t work from home or sell goods online while waiting this out. These same tribal communities are also the last to receive important updates on health and emergency procedures, which are important for prevention.

Telehealth? Don’t even think about it.

FCC has dragged its feet on access

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has repeatedly admonished the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for making radio waves called spectrum (a natural resource) and other telecommunications necessities almost completely inaccessible to tribal nations. In 2018, the GAO said the FCC “has done little to promote and support tribes’ access to radio frequency spectrum that can be used for such wireless service.”

Now, amid this global pandemic, the reality of the situation looms, as connecting Indian Country can mean the difference between life and death. Connectivity is urgent and we need decision-makers to do more.

Anyone can point out the problems, but five months ago some of the brightest minds in Indian Country telecommunications came together to create solutions. They gathered in Pu’uhonua o Waimanalo, a small Native Hawaiian community in O’ahu where Internet connection was so bad, parents often took their children into town to use the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s to do research and submit homework assignments.

In the days that followed, experts assisted the Nation of Hawai’i to establish a sovereign community broadband network, with much higher speeds and lower rates than their former big telecom service-provider. A group of up-and-coming tribal leaders also deliberated over how to tell the FCC that native communities should be first on their list of priorities.

The group transformed their frustrations into policy recommendations.

Finally, we have access to spectrum

In line with those recommendations, on Feb. 3, the FCC opened a 180-day tribal priority window, extending an opportunity for native nations in tribal areas to apply for a license to a small slice of spectrum over their lands – a historic first. Holding these licenses will make it possible for tribal nations to set up their own community broadband networks or make it easier to contract established service providers.

Lately, telecommunications companies have taken steps to make the Internet more accessible to many, removing data caps, expanding public Wi-Fi access and offering free broadband to unconnected students. These are nice gestures that will help many, but the benefits will not necessarily extend to rural, tribal areas where data and backhaul infrastructure may not exist.

At best, they offer a temporary bridge across the widening digital divide.

A few weeks ago I traveled through Navajo Country to deliver telecom equipment and assist Navajo schools in setting up community networks. It was at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

If you’re wondering why my colleagues and I did not choose to self-isolate during this time, it’s because there was no choice. Because of COVID-19, policies suddenly changed. Tribal spectrum opened up and it was suddenly possible to bring these students and teachers online. They needed access to information more than ever.

This step forward could save lives

As I drove, I focused on not letting my bitterness consume me. It shouldn’t take a global emergency for tribal spectrum policies to change, and indigenous telecom workers like me shouldn’t be putting ourselves and others at risk. We will go wherever we are asked to go by tribal leaders, as safely as possible.

But policy changes leading up to this point could have prevented such risk, and made this time much safer and easier for thousands of tribal citizens. The FCC needs to act on tribal access every day, not just when the world is in a crisis.

Indigenous telecom experts have been making suggestions like these to the FCC for decades. Policy recommendations such as those made in Hawai’i are the beginning of a sustainable solution.

They call for consent and meaningful communication before the FCC takes actions affecting tribal nations. They indirectly ask the FCC and Congress to better understand how the government’s trust responsibility to native nations applies to connectivity. And most of all, they call for inclusive indigenous broadband and spectrum access.

This is urgent. The FCC’s implementation of these recommendations are an important step toward connecting Indian Country to services that will save time, money and stress.

But most importantly, it could save lives.

Image of Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park by Stéphane Paul via Unsplash

Community Networks Growing the Internet

Indigenous Connectivity Summit Policy Recommendations: Helping Policymakers Make Inclusive Decisions

As billions of us move into self-isolation, one thing is crystal clear: Internet access is critical. If anyone of us took it for granted before, COVID-19 has changed everything and rocketed the world into a new era. So it’s even more critical we build an Internet for everyone.

But we’ll only get there if we bring more diversity to the table when it comes to building infrastructure, developing sound policy, and creating the communities needed.

A lot of our work involves bringing people together. Network operators, policymakers, advocates, community members, and more. That’s because the Internet is built by people, and new ways to bring infrastructure to the world only come from what can happen when people come together.

In 2019, the Internet Society held the third annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) in Hilo, Hawai’i.

Among the delegates were five Indigenous advocates from across North America who trained to become 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Policy Advisors.

Based on conversation and outcomes from the Summit, they developed a set of recommendations to help policymakers in the United States and Canada make more inclusive decisions. These recommendations build on those developed at the previous Summits in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

These recommendations were then discussed and agreed on by everyone at the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit. Collaboration at its best.

We would like your help on getting them out. Please help make your local policymakers aware they’re out there. Share them on social media, raise them in meetings, include them in reports, and more:

2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Policy Recommendations

You can also find the full report from the 2019 Summit here, detailing the sessions and conversations held over the two-day event.

Group photo of the Pu’uhonua O Waimanalo Internet Society training session on Oahu © Elyse Butler

Community Networks Growing the Internet

‘These Are Our First Roadways’: Internet Access and Self-Determination in Pu’uhonua O Waimanalo

The establishment of Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo in 1994 was a significant milestone in the native Hawaiian movement to regain independence from the United States, which overthrew its kingdom in 1893. The United States formally acknowledged its role in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in a law adopted by Congress in 1993 known as the Apology Resolution. A quarter of a century later, the Nation of Hawai’i is levelling up with a new effort in the push for sovereignty: community-led Internet access.

The Nation of Hawai’i is excitedly gearing up for the upcoming build and launch of Hawai’i’s first independent community broadband network in our village of Pu`uhonua O Waimanalo on the island of O’ahu.

As an early adopter of the Internet, the Nation of Hawai’i quickly recognized its potential to support sovereignty and self-determination efforts.

In 1995, the Nation of Hawai’i launched as a way to share its history and updates about current initiatives with the world. The website housed extensive primary-source historical documents, including the constitutions and treaties of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It hoped that by providing access to lesser known parts of history, Hawaiians and supporters around the world could learn and make up their own minds about the true status of Hawai’i as an independent country under occupation.

The vision of our village and Nation still holds true in 2019: to achieve self-determination and self-sufficiency, with a harmonious balance of traditional Hawaiian practices and innovative modern technologies.

Self-determination means a lot of different things to different Indigenous groups and in Hawai’i and across North America. For Nation of Hawai’i, it’s about people having the right to control their own political, economic, social, and cultural futures, free of any outside jurisdictions. Just like it did 25 years ago, the Internet still plays a vital role in that goal.

Access to the Internet also gives us opportunities to explore and engage with the world outside of our oppression – and the limited views of what we were taught. It allows us the freedom to find the solutions we need to ensure a prosperous future for our people.

The Internet also enhances our communication, which is essential to connecting our people within and outside of Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo to resources. Communication is one of the three main pillars – along with transportation and energy – that comprise the hallmark of sovereignty in the 21st century: connectivity. In order for our sovereign Nation to evolve independently, it is critical that we have control over our connectivity. We consider this national infrastructure, and in many ways, these are our first roadways.

The community network project is very important to helping us achieve our goal of total independence. We currently have some Internet service in our village but it is slow and expensive. Most residents and visitors use data from our cell phones and hot spots to use the Internet, which lags and is unreliable. Having a community-run broadband network will greatly impact our village and the surrounding community because we’ve never had affordable and reliable access to the Internet and the limitless opportunities it can provide.

Having our community become its own Internet provider will generate job opportunities for our people, and also help us build a self-sustaining solution to create more independence for our Nation.

Although the community network project isn’t due to launch until the hands-on technical training immediately after the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Hilo, Hawai’i this November, it is already a success. The Internet Society’s training program is creating real excitement in the community and already linking us to unbelievable resources and partnerships.

I believe that once our network goes online, the impacts will be immediately amplified throughout our village. For instance, our video teleconference meetings with community network project partners will be more productive without lagging problems. But the benefits will go even further when you consider that our kids will no longer need to travel outside the community to find a McDonalds or Starbucks with Internet access to finish their school projects.

With the gracious support of the Internet Society and all of their resources, this project is catalyzing an important and timely communication transformation in our Nation. We are grateful for this new and productive partnership that is – like everything we do – rooted in Aloha.

NOTE: While Native Hawaiians are not federally considered Indigenous, the Nation of Hawai’i got its accreditation as an Indigenous Peoples’ Organization during the 16th Session of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Want to learn more about how Nation of Hawai’i and many other rural and remote Indigenous communities are connecting themselves to affordable and reliable Internet?

Register to attend the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit in person November 12 to 13 in Hilo, Hawai’i. Can’t make it in person? You can also register for the livestream event.

Want to take your participation a step further? Consider sponsoring the event and joining the movement of people working to ensure Indigenous and Native Hawaiian communities can connect themselves to affordable and reliable Internet.

Community Networks Growing the Internet

Beyond the Palm Trees: Local Action Key to Fast, Affordable and Reliable Internet Solutions in Rural Hawai’i

To many North Americans, Hawai’i is a place of beaches, resorts, surfing, rainforests, and volcanoes — it’s a vacation destination.

But despite its tourism infrastructure and economy, Native Hawaiian communities in the far-flung chain of more than 130 islands face many of the same Internet connectivity challenges as Indigenous communities in Canada and the continental United States. And for a variety of economic, policy and geographic reasons, it is often excluded from efforts to improve access for Indigenous, rural and remote communities.

The Internet Society believes the Internet is for everyone and works with underserved communities to find and create local access solutions in some of the hardest-to-reach places on earth. What’s exciting is that despite the different geographic landscapes, the same community-led solution underway to improve Internet access in the high Arctic could also help Native Hawaiians carve their own path to better connectivity.

That’s why, in 2019, the Internet Society is holding its third annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) in Hawai’i.

Including Indigenous voices in the planning and solutions that shape the Internet is a vital part of closing the digital divide. Previous summits in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2017, and Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, last year highlighted critical perspectives on connectivity in Indigenous communities. One thing that always stands out is that while these locations may seem very different, people in each place are tackling many of the same issues.

Areas of low population density lack the number of potential users necessary to lure large telecommunications companies to invest in expensive infrastructure, and funding opportunities often exclude Indigenous communities.

This problem is compounded in Hawai’i, where the roughly 300,000 Native Hawaiians lack the legal status of Indigenous people on the continental United States. But like their Indigenous counterparts in the Arctic and in the deserts of the American southwest, Native Hawaiians face poorer health and educational outcomes, more loss of culture and language, and lower incomes than other Hawaiians. And, like those in Canada and the continental United States, they have less access to high-speed, affordable Internet, especially those living outside major cities like Honolulu.

As Colin Kippen of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement recently described it, Internet connectivity is a powerful tool for self-determination. Access is vital to participate fully in the world: in educational pursuits, economic activities, social interaction, even access to fundamentals like medical care. It is particularly important for Indigenous communities, as it plays an important role in revitalizing cultures and languages driven to near-extinction by colonialism. It brings people together, allowing Elders to share knowledge, language to be preserved, stories to be told. 

The Internet has shown us time and again that we can achieve great things when we work together. When it comes to closing the digital divide, we have to approach solutions in the same collaborative way. The 2019 Summit welcomes everyone who plays a role in bringing Internet access to Indigenous communities: Indigenous leaders, community members, network operators, service providers, researchers and policy makers.

The event will give participants a better understanding of the connectivity challenges faced by Indigenous communities in all parts of North America, as well as an opportunity to share successes and find solutions to bring home to their own communities.

Native Hawaiians are already leading the way to establishing better connectivity. In addition to leading innovative local programs, several participants have registered for the Internet Society’s community network training program that will teach them how to build their own Internet access solution. We can all learn from their successes and do something to support faster, more affordable and reliable connectivity solutions for those who need it most.

Register for the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit today!

Want to take your participation a step further? Learn about our sponsorship opportunities.

Growing the Internet

Preserving Native Cultures: Vote Now for the Internet Society’s Panel for SXSW 2020

What benefits can Internet connectivity bring to Tribal and Indigenous communities – especially when it comes to language and culture preservation? That’s the topic of our panel proposal for South by Southwest (SXSW) 2020: “How Internet Access Can Preserve Native Cultures.”

And we’re excited to announce that you can now vote for it!

SXSW, is an annual conference held in Austin, Texas, USA. The conference’s many events include a music festival, networking opportunities, and panels that focus on technology, governance, film, culture, and music. The panels featured at SXSW live within tracks that range from health and medtech to innovative applications of new technologies. All panels at SXSW are chosen through a public vote so that participants can decide what they want to discuss at the event.

That’s where we need your help!

SXSW is a platform for bringing important policy issues and initiatives to light, which is why we’ve applied. It’s an ideal forum for exposing the impact that technology can have on culture.

If accepted, our panel would discuss specific issues that Tribal and Indigenous areas face when it comes to broadband deployment, the lessons that communities can learn from one another, and how they can use connectivity as a way to preserve their local languages. We recruited two of our partners — Matt Rantanen from the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association and Madeleine Redfern from Nuvujaq — to serve as panelists. They’ll offer perspectives of Native communities’ issues from two distinct and harsh terrains: the deserts of California and the tundra of the Arctic Circle.

The Internet Society works with Tribal and Indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada to ensure they have the opportunity to access education, create local content, and preserve their languages. After centuries of U.S. and Canadian policies and programming that suppressed natives and their cultures, we’re partnering with them to champion their right to connectivity.

Tribal and Indigenous communities can form partnerships despite their different geographies. This idea echoes the spirit of our Indigenous Connectivity Summit, where local leaders come together to share their challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned from advocating for access.

Vote for the panel here! (Voting closes Friday, August 23 at 11:59pm PT.)

Community Networks Growing the Internet

Ulukhaktok: Community Networking in the (Far) North

In June of this year, I had the great privilege of traveling to Ulukhaktok, NWT, Canada to talk to community members about the possibility of building a new, local Internet service network. As a result of these meetings, and the incredibly driven individuals I met with in Ulu, this time next year, Ulukhaktok will be the proud owner of the far-most Northern community network in the world.

I left Washington, D.C. in the throes of summer – upper 80-degree weather and so humid you’d feel wet the second you stepped outside. Two days and five planes later I was in Ulukhaktok, a community of about 400 people on the 70th parallel. Summer there is a little different, and I explored the community amidst summer snow and 24-hour days.

I spent four days getting to know the community, and it wasn’t hard to understand the deep sense of community pride right away. Ulu is a beautiful, U-shaped town on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. It’s filled with people who will stop when they see a stranger, smile, and ask who you are and what you’re doing. And every time someone stopped, I told them about the Internet Society, community networks, and what we hoped to help the community do.

On my third day there, I hosted a meeting in partnership with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) and the Community Corp. at the community hall to talk more about community networks, and the resources the Internet Society has to help Ulu get their own up and running. I was thrilled to see the seats full of community members from all walks of life. Some of the strangers turned friends I’d chatted with were there, as well as Elders, the mayor, students, and representatives from the Hamlet Office and Community Corp.

We spent the evening together over bannock and stew, talking about what Internet connectivity is like in Ulukhaktok and what the community could build to improve it.

The meeting participants agreed – the satellite service they have now is far from adequate. On a good day, you might be able to get 5Mgbs, but only up to your 40Gb data cap per month. But even at these slow speeds, the cost can be incredibly high. What’s more, the current provider only offers a bundled package in Ulukhaktok, meaning community members must pay for phone service too if they want Internet access.

The real kicker? Phone service isn’t available in the area through that provider. If you want Internet in Ulu, you have to pay for a service that is literally impossible to access.

Needless to say, the appetite for a higher-speed, lower-cost option is fierce. And so is this community’s spirit.

Ulukhaktok is incredibly remote, with vast landscapes on one side and even more vast ice and ocean on the other. For hundreds of years these people have largely fended for themselves and overcome incredible odds. They are smart, resilient, and they operate as a community unit. They have adapted and innovated with the rise of all new technologies – from improvements for hunting tools and housing, to the applications of electricity. This town has had no problem integrating their traditional way of live and modern resources.

There is absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be able to use their skills and traits to learn a new trade and become network operators.

For an area like this, a community network makes complete sense. These networks are “DIY” solutions to connectivity and they bring power, resources, and new skills to the communities that build them.

That is why the Internet Society is creating a new community networks training course along with our partners and experts in the field. This course will help teach community members, like those in Ulukhaktok, the skills necessary to build, operate, and maintain a network.

Over the course of eight weeks, trainees will participant in a series of online webinars, led by individuals in the United States and Canada who have already built or assisted with community network builds in some of the hardest to reach areas of the region.

Participants who complete the course will receive a two-day, hands-on technical training, culminating in the deployment of an actual network.

This course is for anyone interested in building a network. We really believe that everyone is capable of playing a role in the deployment and maintenance of Internet infrastructure.

We are excited to offer this course, but we’re even more excited that a pilot program in 2019 will be in Ulukhaktok.

The people of Ulukhaktok are determined to take control of their digital futures, just as they navigated their community’s fate for hundreds of years. We know their story and the network they build will serve as inspiration to communities across the region, and the world.

Register for the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Hilo, Hawaii!

Community Networks Growing the Internet

2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit Training: Empowering Communities to Create Connections on Their Own Terms

Indigenous communities across North America are working to bridge the digital divide.

Each year the Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) brings together community leaders, network operators, policymakers, and others to talk about new and emerging networks and the policies that impact them. During the two-day Summit, people from across the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world share best practices, challenges, and success stories – and learn how they can work together when they return home to solve connectivity challenges in Indigenous communities.

This year, we’ll be in Hilo, Hawaii from November 12-15.

But that’s not nearly enough time to cover everything, especially with close to 1,000 amazing participants (200 in-person and 700 online) ready to share their stories and create new connections.

So we’re trying something new. As we’ve done before, the ICS will still be split into two parts: a two-day training and a two-day event. Now participants can also attend a series of two distinct virtual training sessions before the event in Hawaii: Community Networks and Policy and Advocacy.

These sessions will allow participants to spend time over the course of several weeks getting in-depth information about two of the topics we spend the most time on at the Summit. They’ve been specially designed by experts in the field, most of whom have also participated in at least one ICS before. Their first-hand knowledge about what it’s really like to build, maintain, and operate a network and to advocate for policies that will reduce the barriers to connectivity that Indigenous communities face is invaluable.

The Policy and Advocacy Training is a six-week course that will include weekly webinars and curated resources on a variety of topics. It is intended for anyone interested in learning more about the ways in which existing policies can impact communities’ ability to get access to the Internet, and how they can make their voices heard and create change at a national level.

The Community Networks Training will have two parts. The first is a virtual, eight-week course via webinars (similar to the Policy and Advocacy course). Participants who complete the online portion of the course will have the opportunity to come to Pu’uhonua O Waimanalo, Hawaii after the ICS during November 14-15 for a two-day, hands-on technical training and launch of a community network. They’ll learn about the technical and soft skills – including funding, project management, and community engagement – necessary to build and run a network. They’ll also work closely with networking experts to learn best practices and create a new interpersonal network of networkers.

Each weekly course will be led by a different set of experts representing a variety of backgrounds: rural and urban, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, Canadian and American, etc. We hope these training sessions will help ICS attendees learn new, practical skills and that they’ll create an opportunity for deeper conversation for years to come. These new networks of training alumni will be ready to build and defend networks for themselves – and to teach their communities to do the same! (After the Summit, these trainings will be made publicly available so that alumni and their communities can continue to learn.)

Indigenous people have a right to high-speed, secure Internet on their own terms. When we meet in Hawaii for the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit, alumni and other participants can build on these new skills, as well as their newly-formed networks of networkers, to help make that happen!

Register for the Indigenous Connectivity Summit!

About Internet Society Community Networks Growing the Internet

Community Dispatch: New Hawaii Chapter Says the Internet Still a Force for Good

My first exposure to the Internet Society was back in 1995 when they held the 5th Annual INET International Networking Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was a time when accessing the Internet was a new experience, at least for the public. Terms like hyperlinks, HTTP, FTP, Pine, and the World Wide Web were exciting and the innocence of connecting the world was full of potential.

Fast forward 25 years and the Internet is truly a worldwide resource. With the advent of smartphones, high-speed Internet, wireless technologies, and robust web protocols, accessing and communicating has become a rich experience. But within a quarter of a century, the innocence of the Internet has also tarnished. Not a day goes by without a story in the media about security breaches, privacy lost, horrible things broadcast over social media, online bullying, surveillance, hate speech, and the list goes on.

It is in this environment that we’re launching the Internet Society Hawaii Chapter. The mission of the Internet Society still rings true today: to bring the Internet of opportunity to everyone everywhere, an Internet that is open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy. These principles apply whether you live in an urban center or rural community. And despite misconceptions people may form based on access in Hawaii’s popular tourist destinations, many nearby communities still lack fast, affordable, and reliable Internet.

I look forward to working with Hawaii Chapter members and the community to tackle issues like digital inclusion, privacy, and security, with rural access being front and center. Having a direct connection to the Internet Society will be an important part of establishing Hawaii as a communication hub of the Pacific.

One of the upcoming ways the Hawaii Chapter hopes to shed light on both local access issues and Internet success stories is by co-hosting the upcoming 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit November 12-13 in Hilo, Hawaii.

The first two Indigenous Connectivity Summits have already proven great things happen when we work together. We look forward to connecting with Native Hawaiian community members, Indigenous leaders, community network operators, Internet service providers, researchers, and policymakers with a common goal of connecting Indigenous communities across North America to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet. If you are interested in joining us, you can register now.

Despite the gloomy narrative increasingly portrayed in media, the Internet is still a powerful force for good. The Hawaii Chapter looks forward to participating in the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit and many other opportunities to highlight how connectivity can support health and wellbeing, economic development, education, and innovation.

Want to get involved? Join the new Internet Society Hawaii Chapter today! If you haven’t already done so, you can also become an Internet Society member and join a global community that believes the Internet is for everyone.

For event updates and information about exciting sponsorship opportunities, please visit the 2019 Indigenous Connectivity Summit website.

Learn about the Internet Society’s work with community networks to support Internet access solutions around the world.