Since early 2015, the Local Action to Secure Internet Rights (LASIR) project has focused on empowering national and local actors in their defence of human rights on the internet, in countries as diverse as South Korea, Brazil, the Philippines, India, Jordan, Uganda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bangladesh, Kenya and Tunisia. All LASIR partners are strong local organisations, with ongoing work on internet rights. They are developing, together with APC, integrated strategies of policy research, context analysis, coalition building, media outreach and popular engagement.
Now that the project has reached its final stage, APC is sharing a series of interviews to highlight the participants’ experiences and conclusions. Today, we want you to meet IT for Change, an India-based NGO working on information society theory and practice from the standpoint of equity, social justice and gender equality.
What was your goal when you decided to be part of the LASIR project?
Our goals revolve around two main issues: net neutrality and community connectivity or broadband networks. To understand these issues, it is important to know that they have become very topical in India because of strong policy/programmatic work currently underway in both these areas.
Tell us more about this.
Source: IT for Change
The telecom regulator recently floated a consultation paper on net neutrality which led to quite a storm in terms of public and activist response. The government of India subsequently set up a committee to frame its policy. The committee has now submitted its report, which is under the consideration of the government. On the other hand, expanding connectivity across rural India – in fact, providing it as a utility to every citizen – is a key plank of the Indian government’s “digital India” flagship project. Universal Obligation Service (USO) funds are being used to install fibre in close vicinity of all villages in India. This immediately makes the issue of last-mile provision or retailing models very important and urgent to begin discussing. This also provided a very good opportunity to promote the community broadband idea. So our strategy revolves around helping build a larger coalition which spans “liberal internet activists” (who are more easily attracted to the net neutrality debate) on one side and those involved in community development work (who instinctively respond to the community broadband advocacy) on the other. Such nuanced positions, solidly situated in contemporary Indian contexts, are also expected to appeal more to government officials who have to take into account all the different genuine concerns in the national society.
What have the outcomes been so far?
We have done an article on net neutrality for the top social studies journal in India. We held a workshop in New Delhi on net neutrality, which helped a lot of new actors understand
the issue and contribute to the debate. We sent a joint letter on net neutrality with other divil society groups even before the issue exploded in the media after the release of the regulator’s consultation paper. On the community broadband side, we had three meetings with the USO administrator, who is keen to explore the various last-mile options, including community-led ones. It is in close collaboration with the Office of the USO Administrator that we have evolved a workshop, “Taking Internet to Rural Communities: Last Mile Models for the National Optical Fibre Network”, that will be held in the first week of September. We have received a very enthusiastic response for this workshop, including from the net neutrality committee.
What would you highlight about the process?
The fact that we are, on the one hand, supporting the mainstream, more liberal internet activism stream, where the main work has been on the net neutrality issue, while also working simultaneously with development actors who are more interested in social and economic rights issues. This has meant that we have been able to build bridges across different groups, and situate our work in India’s development needs and context. This is what has given us and our views so much more traction.
In terms of the difficulties, community broadband is proving to be a much more difficult area for typical internet activists to get interested in, because they mostly do not come from a community development background and agenda. On the other hand, development actors, while keen to pursue this issue, need both capacity building and orientation, as well as resources to be able to engage in this issue. This is the biggest challenge.
Further, the government seems to have closed off even more than earlier about its internet-related policies and decisions, which makes it difficult to get a whiff of what is happening and to influence it.
Where can we follow your work and activities?