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In 2015, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) started a community-driven process to showcase successful initiatives that address how the next billion people can be connected to the internet. The process, which focuses on four UN Sustainable Development Goals – Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy (SDG 7), Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), Industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9) and Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17) – was the focus of an IGF 2018 session on Day 1: "Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s)". Participants analysed the evolution of the process and showcased successful initiatives, as well as barriers and challenges to the half of the world that is still offline. 

The session started with Mary Uduma from Jaeno Digital Solutions (Nigeria) raising the issue of how many people throughout the world are still left out of the gains of technology, with many still fearing that technology will steal their jobs: "The internet is a disrupter, but the challenge is how can we redistribute the gains of innovation. Fair distribution is the key issue to address. What policies can help reorient legacy skills so that people are not left out and we all grow together?"

Representing APC, Carlos Rey-Moreno reminded the room that half the people on the planet still don’t have access to the internet, and this is due to infrastructure. "The trend is that mobile infrastructure won’t grow much in the coming years, but let's acknowledge all the actors at a local level that are increasing the infrastructure in areas where traditional market players are not investing." He stressed the importance of access to radio spectrum as critical for enabling these actors and the need for regulatory environments that allow them to provide affordable access. He showcased some examples, including the work of APC member Rhizomatica with the Zapotec community in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they provided cellular service to overlooked communities, and the work of Colnodo, another APC member, with underserved communities in Colombia. "Let's remember that community networks are contributing not only to SDG 9, Industry, innovation and infrastructure, but also to SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth. We need to think outside of market terms, think of social development instead of profit only."

Regarding the gender divide, the need for much more work to ensure that women are not left out was stressed. The EQUALS Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age was highlighted as an initiative that has helped bring women to tech and tech to women, improving the lives of people worldwide. “The internet is the most powerful tool for inclusion the world has ever seen, but women are still lagging behind. It’s critical that our work connecting the next billion does not leave women behind,” said Joyce Dogniez, senior director of Global Community Engagement at the Internet Society and vice chair of EQUALS.

Other contributions addressed the issue of network disruptions and the need for providers to be accountable and to notify people, as disruptions affect millions of people and their ability to do their work.

"Access is important, but what is really crucial is meaningful access," was one of the conclusions to the session.

For more examples on the role of community networks in providing meaningful access, come to our 2018 Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) launch tomorrow, 13 November.

Output documents from the first three phases of the process are available here.

Photo: Arturo Bregaglio