IGF 2018 WS #376 Innovative Approaches to Connecting Underserved Areas

Format: 

Panel - 90 Min

Organizer 1: Bellagama Sebastian , Internet Society
Organizer 2: Peter Bloom, Rhizomatica

Speaker 1: Dada John, Technical Community, African Group
Speaker 2: Ritu Srivastava, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Bill Murdoch, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 6: Peter Bloom, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Additional Speakers: 

Karla Valesco, Redes por la Diversidad Equidad y Sustentabilidad A.C. [profile: https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/users/karlavelascor9898]

Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association (SCTCA) and Director of the Tribal Digital Village (TDVNet) Network/Initiative 

Gonzalo Lopez-Barajas, Public Policy and Internet Manager, Telefonica, S.A

Loreto Bravo, Telecommunications Consultant, Rhizomatica 

Relevance: 

Many rural, remote, and Indigenous communities confront distinct challenges to Internet access. Geographic challenges and/or lack of public infrastructure does not allow for easy access. Many communities have low population densities, making economies of scale difficult and the provision of basic services too costly or less cost effective for operators. Some communities are not able to use their sovereign lands for collateral to secure loans, making it difficult to obtain financing for connectivity projects. Without Internet access, Indigenous communities cannot contribute to the global digital economy, nor can they experience the same socio-economic benefits that those with Internet connection have. To address the challenges that underserved areas face, communities around the world have taken innovative approaches to securing Internet connection. Some, like Rhizomatica in Mexico, have used experimental licensing for wireless connectivity. Others, like the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, address the lack of connectivity by partnering with tribal communities and small service providers to build broadband community networks. In ultra-remote areas, where significant creativity is needed to get Internet access, vans fixed with satellites have been used to bring the Internet to community members, such as in Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India. And, some have become creative in combining local needs to promote women and agriculture projects by enabling connectivity in rural Nigeria. While others have focused on micro-finance and highly attuned local revenue retention for community projects in the poorest parts of South Africa. This panel will serve as an opportunity to discuss the unique challenges communities face around the world and some of the innovative projects currently being implemented to connect them, while working with key partners to amplify local sustainability and empowerment. Participants will hear about convenings, such as the Indigenous Connectivity Summit, existing connectivity projects run by, for, and with underserved people, and best practices moving forward. The panel will focus on how communities are creating an environment in which they can create innovative connectivity solutions, such as community networks, that lead to self-empowerment and sustainability, as well as the inclusion of women and young people for socio-economic development through connectivity and partnerships. We will use advance input from our partners to create a chapter on connectivity for underserved peoples, including Indigenous communities, for inclusion in the Connecting the Next Billion IV report, and we will create a report of best-practices for this session.

Session Content: 

This panel will include men and women from and working directly with remote and Indigenous communities to work together on connectivity solutions and use of open-source and other technologies to solve local problems. Panelists will discuss the unique challenges communities face when attempting to access or build last-mile networks, including unique issues related to financing connectivity and securing loans or grants. They will present the projects they are currently working on to address these challenges, including community network buildouts, and how connectivity can positively impact communities, including access to health, education, and employment resources, self-empowerment, and the preservation of local culture and language. Each panelist will have 3-5 minutes to give background information on their community and the work they have accomplished there. They will then answer questions regarding best practices they have learned, the challenges they face, and how they have collaborated with a variety of stakeholders on their projects. Roughly twenty minutes will be set aside for questions and discussion with attendees.

Interventions: 

Panelists will include rural, remote, and Indigenous community members and individuals working directly with these communities. They will each approach access and digital opportunity differently, with some building infrastructure, some engaged in native culture and language preservation, and others working with local and national governments to address connectivity challenges.

Diversity: 

Panelists will include men and women working with or as members of underserved communities, including rural, remote, and Indigenous communities in four regions. Both men and women will participate a youth will moderate. The panelists are members of civil society and the technical community.

Online Participation: 

The online moderator will monitor the livestream, any online comments, and Twitter to ensure that all relevant online questions are addressed. She will read the questions and comments out loud at the event and ask the panelists to respond.

Discussion Facilitation: 

Moderate will prep all speakers ahead of time and ask meaningful questions. He will encourage audience participation and engagement throughout. The online moderator will actively include online participants by monitoring the live stream and Twitter and answering questions posted there just as we answer the in-person questions. The moderator will leave at least 45 minutes for audience questions.

Onsite Moderator: 

Sebastian Bellagamba

Online Moderator: 

Katie Watson

Rapporteur: 

Katie Watson

Agenda: 

Introductions and background information from each speaker (30 minutes)

Panel discussion (40 minutes) 

Q&A session with in-person and virtual participants (20 minutes) 

Report: 

- Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.):

            Workshop

- Title:

             Innovative Approaches to Connecting Underserved Areas

- Date & Time:

            Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 09:00 to 10:30

- Organizer(s):

            Sebastian Bellagamba, Internet Society

Loreto Bravo, Rhizomatica

- Chair/Moderator:

            Sebastian Bellagamba (onsite)

            Katie Watson (online)

- Rapporteur/Notetaker:

            Katie Watson

- List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):

Ritu Srivastava, Digital Empowerment Foundation (female)

Karla Valesco, Redas (female)

Loreto Bravo, Rhizomatica (female)

Gonzalo Lopez-Barajas, Telefónica (male)

John Dada, Fantsuam (male)

Bill Murdoch, Clear Sky Connections (male)

Matthew Rantanen, Southern California Chairman Association (male)

- Theme (as listed here):

            Digital Inclusion and Accessibility

- Subtheme (as listed here):

            Access and Connectivity

- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion.

1. This panel will serve as an opportunity to discuss the unique challenges communities face around the world and some of the innovative projects currently being implemented to connect them, while working with key partners to amplify local sustainability and empowerment.

2. Participants will hear about convenings, such as the Indigenous Connectivity Summit, existing connectivity projects run by, for, and with underserved people, and best practices moving forward.

3. The panel will focus on how communities are creating an environment in which they can create innovative connectivity solutions, such as community networks, that lead to self-empowerment and sustainability, as well as the inclusion of women and young people for socio-economic development through connectivity and partnerships.

- Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence.

The key themes of this session were as follows:

  • Accessibility and affordability of spectrum and existing backhaul fiber are big barriers to connectivity
  • Community consultation and collaboration are keys to success
  • Education, digital literacy, and training for community members are an important aspect of connectivity
  • Cost of devices are an overlooked barrier to access

There was wide agreement that to connect the hardest to reach areas – from desserts, to jungles, and Arctic areas – innovative approaches must be used. Panellists noted that it is important to consider what assets communities have and to use their uniqueness as an advantage when possible. But there are many challenges to connecting these regions, including lack of access, or high cost of access, to backhaul and spectrum.

The majority of the panellists were engaged in community network deployment and discussed the unique opportunities and challenges that brings. Panellists use mesh networks, fiber, mobile vans fixed with satellite, and other technologies to help underserved communities get access to the Internet. They emphasized that while several successful models exist, every community is different and the solutions in each will be different. For that reason (and many others) consultation with communities is key.

But even “connected” communities face ongoing challenges, including equal access between genders, education about how best to use the Internet, technical training, access to affordable devices, and sufficient bandwidth.

One panellist represented a large private company, Telefonica, and discussed the ways in which the company has used innovative measures to deploy fiber (such as by hanging it from trees instead of burying it underground) in hard to reach areas. This panellist also noted that Telefonica works in parallel with community networks and believes that they are an equal part of the solution.

Panellists emphasized that Telefonica should tell these stories of success to other major providers around the world, who are often resistant to this kind of innovative, collaborative deployment to rural and remote areas.

- Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps.

In order to connect the most difficult areas in the world, there needs to be wide-spread collaboration. Private companies, government agencies, and communities need to work together to share resources and expertise. Policymakers can help this collaboration by encouraging private companies to increase access to backhaul fiber at reasonable costs to communities, increasing the availability of unlicensed spectrum, and reducing the cost of spectrum for private companies, SME’s, and community network operators.

However, regulation is often a burden to connectivity. Policymakers should use their power to encourage the creation and expansion of community networks, not hinder it.

- What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue?

Collaboration was a recurrent theme throughout the session. The IGF can continue to facilitate these discussions between many stakeholder groups.

However, it was noted that there were very few sessions on innovative connectivity solutions, particularly related to community networks, and two of them were scheduled at the same time. This session and a session on financing networks were concurrent, and the financing session was ultimately combined with a session on block chain. It was disappointing to split the audience for this important work, and the panellists (and organizers) hope that the IGF organizers will be more aware of scheduling conflicts like this in the future.

- Please estimate the total number of participants.

50

- Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.

 Uncertain

- To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion?

Minimally – largely in the context of access for particularly underserved groups.

Session Time: 
Wednesday, 14 November, 2018 - 09:00 to 10:30
Room: 
Salle XI

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678