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How can we overcome barriers to support communities to connect themselves? Although there is not a unique answer to this question, supportive policy and regulation are fundamental factors in building an environment that encourages the emergence and growth of community networks. To that end, multistakeholder collaboration has been a fruitful path, as a recent event launching three new resources in Brazil has shown.

The online event Building an enabling environment for community networks in Brazil took place on 20 October, featuring the launch of recommendations from a policy brief, a manual and a video introducing what community networks are and how people who are interested can start one. The materials shared are the result of a project carried out by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), with the collaboration of Brazil’s National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel) and a varied committee of experts who work with communities on universalisation of internet access in the country. The project also received support from the UK government’s Digital Access Programme.

The project identified barriers, challenges and opportunities to facilitate the emergence and sustainability of community networks in the country, based on extensive research in the Brazilian and global contexts, and on the latest innovations from small non-profit actors. It was also rooted in the discoveries and experiences of more than 40 people who were interviewed or who contributed directly to the preparation of the materials, all of them related in some measure to the field of community networks in Brazil, internet access, spectrum management, digital exclusion or research in information and communication technology projects.

Multistakeholder collaboration

The launch event gathered different stakeholders who reflected on the importance of community networks and on how to advance an enabling environment. "Community networks are innovative solutions to connectivity gaps, empowering people to develop the model that best applies to their reality. They represent a paradigm shift," highlighted Melanie Hopkins, the Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy in Brazil, adding that this approach is empowering individuals and communities to manage their connectivity as a common good all around the world.

On the side of the Brazilian regulator, Ronaldo Moura, head of the President's Office at Anatel, pointed out that "community networks bring a possibility to build access networks in regions with low financial return." Making a commitment to a complementary approach for digital inclusion was also expressed by the Director of Sectorial Policy in the country’s Ministry of Communications, Nathália Lobo: “Faced with the great geographical and income challenges of the country, we celebrate the launch of products and recommendations that aim to build an environment to encourage community networks in Brazil and that bring light to another form of digital inclusion to the Brazilian population."

The links between access and other fundamental rights, such as the right to communication, were also an important argument in favour of fostering community networks in the country, considering the diversity of contexts lived in Brazil and all the inequalities faced by its population. "We have an extremely unequal country and during the COVID-19 pandemic this inequality was magnified. Internet access has proved to be very important for this moment that we are experiencing. It was necessary, for example, for online schooling or access initiatives such as emergency financial aid,” stated Daiane Araujo, coordinator of the Base Comum community network of the Casa dos Meninos Association, speaking as a representative of community networks at the event. She recounted that civil society has been mobilising for a long time to find alternatives so that quality access and the right to communication can exist for all.

Representing APC, Carlos Rey-Moreno, the co-lead of the Local Networks initiative, expressed the hope for multistakeholder collaboration to build concrete steps in terms of overcoming the issues expressed by Daiane Araújo. “The purpose of the policy brief is to provide Anatel with concrete ideas about how to create a more enabling regulatory environment for community networks by taking into account national contextual factors around connectivity barriers, geographic and demographic challenges,” he explained. “In other words, the policy brief is not a generic document, but rather one that has emerged from multiple consultations, interviews and conversations with a wide array of relevant actors, leading to concrete and hopefully realistic suggestions and recommendations.”

The resources launched

Within the online event Building an enabling environment for community networks in Brazil, three new resources were launched:

  • The executive summary and main recommendations from a policy brief focused on regulation and formulation of public policies that will be delivered by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) to the Brazilian telecommunications agency Anatel, in order to contribute to the advancement of initial steps taken by the agency in the country.

  • The publication Manual de Redes Comunitárias (Community Networks Manual), which brings together basic technical information, implementation tips and reference materials, aimed at communities and local organisations that wish to start their own community network.

  • A set of two videos produced to complement the manual, highlighting some of the main aspects of community networks for people who are not yet familiar with the concept or the field.

While they are the result of a long process built with many hands, the launch of the materials also represents an initial step towards making their recommendations a reality.


Watch the launch event recording below (available in Portuguese) to learn more about the resources, presented by the team of women involved in their creation: Adriana Lambardini, Bruna Zanolli, Luisa Bagope and Raquel Gatto. You can also find out more about the Brazilian context in the question and answer session, where they replied to community network members and builders comments alongside Anatel team members Taís Niffinegger (Head of International Affairs) and Eduardo Jacomassi (Manager of Universalisation and Expansion of Access).