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The research applied a multiple case methodology to scope community networks in the global South. The cases studied were selected based on criteria that aimed to provide insights about a variety of different connectivity technologies, services provided, institutional models and sustainability strategies, as well as a roughly even spread across countries in three regions of the global South – Latin America, Africa and Asia. In addition, the networks needed to have been established for a sufficient time to be able to derive useful learning from them.
The initial desk-based research identified 16 initiatives for further study, most of which had been in operation for more than two years. During 2018, in country research visits took place, which provided a snapshot of the technical and operational aspects of cases in Argentina, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Uganda. This data was gathered by interviewing champions, managers and technicians in networks and examining documents they provided and equipment used at different sites. Three further networks, in Indonesia, Peru and the Philippines, were later examined via desk research and direct contact with individuals associated with the initiatives.
The social impact of six cases (in Argentina, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Uganda) was studied in more detail. Over 300 people participated in interviews, observations, focus groups and other data gathering events, which accumulated over 200 hours of recorded data across 60 days. Some 90% of participants in interviews and focus groups were people who inhabit the rural areas in which community networks are deployed. Many of the interviews relied on translation from local languages which included Hindi, Marathi, Luo and Nilotic dialects, Mexican and Argentinian Spanish, isiXhosa, and central Javanese.
In most countries participants lived in close proximity, in the same or nearby villages or very small rural towns; however, in Uganda and India, participants came from villages that were farther apart. Participants’ identities have been anonymised to the extent that is possible, and all data is stored securely. The social impact research sought to ensure a wide range of perspectives were represented, including many users of the networks as well as operators and managers, and additionally people in the community networks’ footprint who did not use the network directly themselves. Women were actively recruited to participate in data gathering.
The social impact research produced mostly qualitative descriptions about how and why people coordinate, interact with and are affected by their local community networks. These descriptions are not statistically generalisable to entire populations of community network organisers, users and non-users. Nor should the cases be considered typical or atypical, since the cases studied are diverse, relatively few, and many are still at early stages of maturity and are rapidly evolving. Rather, the research provides portraits of some of the initiatives at the frontier in the communications revolution, situated in their specific contexts of management, access and use, and uncovers some common characteristics.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL RESEARCH REPORT "Bottom-up Connectivity Strategies: Community-led small-scale telecommunication infrastructure networks in the global South" [PDF]
This report was produced as part of the broader Local Access Networks project that was carried out in partnership with Rhizomatica (an NGO supporting numerous community networks in Latin America) with financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
Short accounts of other community network initiatives can be found in the sister publication also produced as part of this project – Global Information Society Watch 2018: Community Networks – which looks at networks in 43 countries.