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 organisations all over the world adjusted to the new normal – with meetings going completely online and oﬃce work shifting to the homes. At the same time, many rural and low-income communities around the world lacked reliable and affordable access. Wireless access rapidly became a basic need rather than something 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 of the people who lack access are in developing and least developed countries. For them specifically, 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 access to information, education, healthcare, and much more.
In 2017, DEF and ISOC organised the ﬁrst 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 second wave of the pandemic intensiﬁed the fundamental issue of inaccessibility. Much of the pandemic’s management, such as vaccinations and movement tracking, depends on being digitally connected. As a result, the vulnerability of billions of people escalated. It is in this context that the theme for CNX 2021 was decided as – community networks for social good. Within this overall theme, session sub-themes focussed on the importance of community networks in accelerating reach, expanding Covid-19 related support and popularising the beneﬁt of digital opportunities. It also explored the experiences and challenges faced by community networks during the pandemic.