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Photo: Village Base Station Project, University of the Philippines

As corporations and country leaders are propelling the world towards a digital society and information age, a large percentage of the population in the Philippines still does not have access to basic voice and SMS communication, let alone internet connectivity. With just under 70% mobile phone penetration, populations that are isolated geographically and relatively poor are often considered “commercially unviable” within a business and technology model that is fuelled by capitalism.

Seeing the need for an innovative solution, a group of engineers and sociologists from the University of the Philippines have jointly founded the Village Base Station Project. The project is a public-private spectrum licensing partnership between a commercial telecommunications company and the local communities. Through development and deployment of GSM community cellular networks in the rural Philippines, the project delivers basic mobile telephony at a fraction of the capital and operational expenses of commercial cellular networks.

In this interview, Serene Lim spoke with Mary Claire Barela, Thessa Cunanan and Clarisse Aquino from the University of the Philippines. Claire is the lead of the engineering team on the technical implementation of the project, including the development of software in the base stations that support localised pricing. She is also involved in engagement with various project stakeholders, among others, telco providers and research collaborators/partners. Thessa is responsible for the training of the local communities, where she develops the training content and conducts training through the implementation of the community network. She is also an antenna engineer and the main resource person for antenna-related requirements of the project. Clarisse is a research assistant for the qualitative research led by the Department of Sociology. She is also a key team member during site launches and community engagements. Together, they look at some of the observations and insights the team has on the social impact of the community networks through a gendered lens.

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