CONNECTING COMMUNITIES

No one can escape from the absolute need of technology in our daily life today.With the development of low-cost hardware for wireless networking-based on IEEE 802.11b, wireless networks are an emerging technology. This technology opens the possibility of building a network without having the problems associated with, and the cost of putting some sort of physical transmission medium in the ground.

In the past five years, increasing penetration of the Internet and digital media, particularity in developing countries, has driven incredible growth in the number of individuals expressing themselves, engaging, socialising and conducting business online. Across the world, there are more than 100 community network models using alternative and bottom-up approach to create community-driven infrastructure as a substitute — or to complement — the classic top-down operator-driven paradigm.

Some of these networks are located in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico), the Africa (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Congo), Asia Pacific (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia, Australia, Afghanistan, etc.) the US, and Europe (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Croatia). They provide Internet services in remotest of locations of their respective countries, utilising varying technology, tools, regulations and socio-economic &cultural conditions.

CNX 2021

Getting online remains a challenge for billions across the globe. In 2020, the COVID- 19 pandemic led to an inevitable surge in the use of digital technologies due to nationwide lockdowns. People and organizations all over the world adjusted to the new normal – with meetings going completely online and office work shifting to the home. At the same time, many rural and low-income communities around the world lack reliable and affordable access. Wireless access rapidly became a basic need rather than a ‘nice to have’. The lack of affordable access was an issue as it prevented people from having access to a range of digital services – from public health and information to education.

Today, nearly half the world still has no Internet access. The majority are in developing and least developed countries, and for them the need to be online is even more urgent. In recent years, community networks have played a significant role in connecting and empowering rural and underprivileged populations and providing them with access to information, education, healthcare and so much more.

In 2017, Digital Empowerment Foundation and the Internet Society (ISOC) organized the first Community Network Exchange (CNX). Since its inception, CNX has played a crucial part in understanding the role, relevance, and evolution of community networks in different contexts. CNX 2020 took place amid a new pandemic-induced reality that explored the need – and significance – of community networks and the various dimensions related to meaningful access.

In 2021, the subsequent waves of the pandemic intensified the fundamental issue of lack of access. Much of the pandemic’s management from vaccinations to movement tracking depends on being digitally connected. As a result, the vulnerability for literally billions of people has increased further. With this in mind, the theme for CNX 2021 is “Community Networks for Social Good”. Within this overall theme, six sub-themes will reflect on the importance of community networks in accelerating reach and providing help to the communities to respond to COVID-19 but as well to benefit from digital opportunities. It will also explore the experiences and challenges faced by community networks during the pandemic.

VOICES FROM THE COMMUNITY

CNX 2020 saw a new segment called “Voices from the Community”, which showcased short videos from different regions where community networks are deployed. These videos highlighted the impact stories, experiences, and local contexts that should be considered in the deployment of community networks. These were the videos and case stories that were showcased through the ten days.

VISION

To constantly empower communities, especially marginalised and information-dark communities throughout Asia Pacific Region, with the power of information and know-how of community networks.

OBJECTIVES

Training & Exchange

To develop a comprehensive and self-contained guide to strengthen grassroots expertise by training community members in basic wireless technology; to enable individuals (barefoot engineers) to not only to run and manage these networks but to also further transfer their skills to others creating a multiplier effect; to organise country-level exchange programmes for learners and barefoot wireless network engineers who can visit and engage in other country networks and learn from their experiences.

Knowledge & Network

To organise annual CNX Summits to engage community network providers across the world to share their learnings, experiences and technological innovations on one platform; to create a consortium of community network providers and social funds for the purpose of sustainability in Asia; to provide support to community network gatherings and hands-on work meetings at regional level for advocating and addressing regional policy issues and challenges; to share recommendations from the summit at other international forums such as Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), among others.

Policy & Advocacy

To discuss sustainable business models around community networks with sound understanding of social and economic challenges; to identify various issues such as spectrum, technological, regulatory, content andlocalisation, among others, that need to be addressed in the national and international framework of policies; to develop a series of policy briefing papers that focus on regulatory issues that need to be addressed; to make community networks visible to policy makers so that they can be considered as an actor within the telecommunications ecosystem.

ORGANISERS

PRINCIPAL PARTNER