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The digital divide is a persistent problem that demands innovative and bold solutions. Its persistence demonstrates that a complementary approach is needed, since the current economic and regulatory models have not been able to overcome structural socioeconomic barriers for digital inclusion, exacerbating inequalities.
Innovative community-centred access models, such as community networks, complement existing commercial efforts to provide meaningful connectivity, while cultivating sustainable approaches to communication technology and strengthening self-determination.
Within the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition (P2C), APC was invited to be part of the “Empowering Communities” focus area lead. In that role, we have been highlighting the importance of commitment to policy, regulation and financial mechanisms that enable bottom-up and rights-based initiatives.
This year, the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) is featuring commitments to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally through the Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtables, happening from 7 to 9 June 2022 and following the launch of a Pledging Portal and a Focus Areas Action Framework by P2C on 16 March this year. While APC called on all stakeholders to support pledges to empower communities and enable local solutions in March, we are now announcing our own commitments to work in collaboration to foster:
1) Training and mentoring of community network facilitators
The pledge: “APC, in partnership with the UK Government's Digital Access Programme, and together with key partners and stakeholders in each country, commit to train and mentor at least 105 community network facilitators from 35 communities in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil by March 2023, to promote inclusive and sustainable digital transformation.”
Why: Around 35 communities are joining the national community networks schools, the first of their kind, taking place in Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. By sharing knowledge and thinking together about how to build and strengthen community networks, grassroots communities are promoting digital inclusion while reinforcing their autonomy.
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The "Supporting Community-led Approaches to Addressing the Digital Divide" project being implemented as part of the Local Networks initiative*
2) An open, sustainable and accessible internet for digital inclusion and social, gender and environmental justice
The pledge: "We advocate for an open, sustainable and accessible internet whose governance should be inclusive, transparent and participatory. Towards this end, we commit to support women and gender-diverse people and vulnerable groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America to safely connect themselves in ways that respond to their lived realities. We also commit to promote a rights-based, intersectional framework to standards, regulations and policies and to support policy makers in finding solutions that ensure digital inclusion and social, gender and environmental justice."
Why: APC’s mission is to create a just and sustainable world by harnessing the collective power of activists, organisations, excluded groups, communities and social movements, to challenge existing power structures and ensure that the internet is developed and governed as a global public good.
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3) Investing in Digital Equity: Mechanisms for funding locally-owned internet infrastructure
The pledge: "Connect Humanity, Connectivity Capital, the Internet Society and the Association for Progressive Communications commit to undertake research on innovative financing mechanisms to connect the unconnected and to use this research to advocate to relevant audiences to unlock additional funding for community-based networks to connect the hardest to reach communities."
Why: Across the world, a growing number of community-based networks are successfully connecting those who have historically been unserved or underserved by traditional internet service providers. The research is designed to help those who build and fund broadband infrastructure to identify the sustainable financing mechanisms and strategies that can expand connectivity and accelerate digital equity.
Find out more:
APC at the World Telecommunication Development Conference: Advocating for bottom-up and rights-based connectivity models
Expanding the telecommunications operators ecosystem: Policy and regulatory guidelines to enable local operators
Bottom-up Connectivity Strategies: Community-led small-scale telecommunication infrastructure networks in the global South
Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) 2018: Community Networks
Routing for Communities: an online collection of short videos about community networks and people decentralising the internet for change
GenderIT.org edition "Infrastructures of resistance: community networks hacking the global crisis"
Feminist Principles of the Internet
Reduce, reuse, recycle: A guide to circular economies of digital devices
* The Local Networks (LocNet) initiative is a collective effort led by APC and Rhizomatica in partnership with people and organisations in the global South to directly support community networks and to contribute to an enabling ecosystem for their emergence and growth. Community networks cultivate bottom-up, sustainable approaches to communication technology and meaningful connectivity that strengthen autonomy and self-determination. To keep up to date on this topic, subscribe to the Community Networks and Local Access Monthly Newsletter.
Photo: Daniela Bello