IGF 2016: Notes and links around community networking

Pangea, a Barcelona-based independent non-profit organisation that promotes the strategic use of communication networks and ICTs for development and social justice, has been an APC member since 1995. Pangea’s Leonardo Navarro participated at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum, and shared the following insights:

Community Networks have emerged at IGF as “the other” way to develop connectivity.

Terms such as empowering the unconnected, connecting the unconnected, connecting the next billion(s) floated around. The discussion was on many aspects such as policy, regulation, human rights, economics, sustainability, governance, participation, infrastructure, access, technology, software, spectrum.

The IGF

The “Internet Governance Forum 2016“igf2016.mx/ was this year in Guadalajara, Mexico, on December 5-9 2016. There were lots of events: pre-events, post-events, lots of conferences, workshops, booths, tents, side-meetings, parties. Most of the events are recorded as transcripts and videos and here.

The UN Agenda for Sustainable Development (Sustainable Development Goals or SDG) identifies information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the Internet as horizontal enablers for development. Paragraph 9c sets an important goal for the international community:

“Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”.

Community Networks

The expression “crowdsourced computer networks’” refers to a network infrastructure built by citizens and organisations who pool their resources and coordinate their efforts to make these networks happen. “Community networks’” are a subset of crowdsourced networks that are structured to be open, free, and neutral Baig et al. (2015) Belli (2016). In these communities the infrastructure is established by the participants and is managed as a common resource Ostrom (1990).

Community networks have flourished around the world as complementary models for enabling sustainable, locally-driven infrastructures to provide connectivity, access to the Internet and its services.

During the last 12 months, the discussions in last year’s IGF developed into a Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity (DC3). IGF2016 was full of direct or indirect references about the lack of infrastructures and lack of access and therefore about community networks.

Relevant sessions

In the opening talks Internet Society President & CEO Kathryn C. Brown mentioned the goal of an Internet everywhere and everyone. That implies a significantly increase of access, universal and affordable access to the Internet, particularly in the least developing countries, and therefore to all. Community networks were mentioned as part of the solution.

On day 0 we had the following events:

  • Workshop: Community Networks: How to Build Connectivity?. A DC3 preparatory session to introduce what community networks are, and the participants, that some of them met for the first time. A draft of the joint declaration was discussed. Summary notes from Digital Watch.
  • Workshop: Linking connectivity, human rights and development. A broad coalition of member organizations from across Civil Society, public and private sectors, combination of research, advocacy and direct country engagements. The A4AI works with national multistakeholder coalitions to enable affordable equal Internet access for everyone everywhere.

In the evening we had the Disco-Tech, an informal event designed to bridge the gap between technical and political solutions to attacks on internet rights and freedoms. The topic for this event, organised by APC, IFEX and ISOC, was “Community Networks: Civil society’s efforts to improve connectivity in local communities”.

On day 1 we had the following events:

  • Workshop: Initiatives connecting the unconnected: where’s the data?. According to their notes, ICT are cross-cutting enablers of development. In particular, universal access to broad band and mobile services. Goal number 9 in the SDG is about building resilient infrastructures (mentioning explicitely ICT), promote inclusive and sustainability development and foster investment but those are the not only ones. The aim was to contribute to the debate on how to expand Internet access to the unconnected and how to design effective policy based on data to enable access, in particular for those in remote areas, rural areas, and also to bridge the existing gaps and disparities in many countries in the global south.
  • Workshop: The right to access the internet in Latin America. A discussion about Internet as a right, as recognized by several countries, the importance of internet access for individuals and society, the relationship with other rights, obligations of states, role of other stakeholders. Concepts such as Availability, equality, accessibility.

On day 2 we had the following events:

  • Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity. Report launch, featuring the authors of the papers included in the DC3 Report outcome document. Summary notes from Digital Watch.
  • DC3 Workshop: Empowering the Unconnected. Community networks around the world presented their experiences, results, lessons learned, challenges, around letting the unconnected connect themselves, and letting them build their own connectivity.

On day 3 we had the following events:

  • Open Forum: UNESCO. A human rights oriented approach, related to a previous conference called “Connecting the dots” where the R.O.A.M. principles were defined: “Internet Universality points to four fundamental principles that can be summarized in the acronym R.O.A.M.: that the Internet should be (i) human Rights-based (ii) Open, (iii) Accessible to all, and (iv) nurtured by Multi-stakeholder participation.”
  • Workshop: Markets, communities & public policies for access and HR. About policies, market forces and community efforts for the billion(s) still unconnected, about real access from a human rights perspective. A discussion on evaluating policies in each region, what is missing and to be done, guidance about work to do regarding regulation, policies according to the reality of Internet infrastructures. For instance recommendations from the ITU-D 19 about supporting small non-profit or community operators to provide access to infrastructure and spectrum to provide broadband access in rural and remote areas.
  • Workshop: Content Delivery Alternatives: Intertwining of IXPs and CDDNs. Interconnection and content are key parts of affordable and efficient local and global connectivity and access to content. IXP commonly are local cooperative organizations to facilitate interconnection among local ISPs in a region and attract content reducing transit costs and providing shorter and less expensive network paths between end points.

On day 4 we had the following events:

  • Workshop: Public Wi-Fi/Open access models in developing countries. A discussion of whether open access/public Wi-Fi models are an effective new form of providing access. It examined various public, private and public private interplay models being deployed to provide public access, success factors, considering also the policy and regulatory environment.
  • We attended one post-IGF event: the “Community networking workshop” in the University of Guadalajara Library, with APC as co-host with ISOC. The workshop was kindly facilitated by Steve Song and focused on the outcomes of the IGF. The main topics were a) Structural (sustainability, organization, business, governance, models, funding), b) Regulation (Spectrum, backhaul access, peering, licensing, etc.), c) Knowledge sharing and training, and d) DC3 growth and future (alliances/partnerships, meta-organizations).

Some of the outcomes

A few of the many outcomes that resulted from that intense week in Guadalajara:

  • Lots of excitement, ideas to discuss, knowledge and experience to share, opportunities for collaboration, and many plans to develop.

Thanks a lot to all the participants, supporters, contributors for an extremely intense, exciting, productive and exhausting week. I would not like to miss anyone, all count a lot!

Related

  • The summary notes by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) talks about The rise of community networks with the main issues identified across all IGF being access and digital divide.

Future events

References

  • Baig, Roger, Ramon Roca, Felix Freitag, and Leandro Navarro. 2015. “Guifi.net, a Crowdsourced Network Infrastructure Held in Common.” Computer Networks 90: 150–65. doi:10.1016/j.comnet.2015.07.009.
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