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Growing the Internet 13 June 2017

ISOC’s Policy Statement at the WSIS Forum: Support Your Local Heroes

By Raúl EcheberríaFormer Vice President, Global Engagement, and Former Trustee

On 13 June 2017, Internet Society Vice President, Global Engagement, Raúl Echeberría, and Senior Director, Global Internet Policy, Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, participated in the Opening Ceremony and the High-Level Policy Session on Bridging Digital Divides at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS) 2017. Here are their reflections.

The WSIS +10 Review made explicit the link between the WSIS process and the 2030 Agenda. A link that highlights the unprecedented ability for information technology to support human progress, and to reduce the world’s geographic and social barriers. A link that clearly demonstrates that connectivity enables socio-economic development. 

The Sustainable Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals focus on change and action.  They recognize multi-stakeholder solutions.  At the Internet Society we strongly believe that everyone has a role to play in the implementation of these objectives.  For example, the ITU through its membership and mandate has a leading role to play in examining key barriers to connectivity and together – from local to global levels – to find the solutions to overcome them.  With partners, we can amplify change. 

But change will not happen if we look to the past.  We must look forward. We must take risks. To achieve the Sustainable Develop Goals and connect the next billion, business as usual won’t work.  

We know that the answer is to do things differently, and to take our lessons from the core ingredients: A bottom-up approach and collaborative exchanges that have allowed the Internet to flourish in so many parts of the world. 

None of us here this week, whether we are from government, the private sector, or from an NGO, can ever achieve our ambitions to support sustainable development if we try to do it alone. We can only do this through collective efforts, and by supporting more local connectivity solutions and access to information, markets, healthcare, and opportunities. We must recognize that the success of the Internet is inherently linked to building the capacity of those it connects.  And, without connectivity, communities are disconnected.  

We need to connect unserved and under-served communities.

Part of change we need to see is to make it possible for people to connect themselves through local solutions. Solutions like Community Networks, where anyone, anywhere – regardless of background – can connect as long as they have the right tools and support.  Regular people – local champions – local – heroes – who do not think twice about what they are doing.  Let’s be inspired by these everyday heroes. People dedicate themselves to local connectivity.  And, they work from within communities to build connectivity.  They are part of a bigger connectivity puzzle, and they are a compliment to other efforts under way to connect people.

So where do we start?  What can we do to promote local connectivity solutions – to support community networks?

The answer lies in partnerships.  Support your local heroes who are developing these local connectivity solutions.  Understand their needs.  Because they need your support and they are part of your solution to connect more of your citizens, to enable social and economic growth and to enable opportunities. 

For example:

  • If you are a regulator, consider Community Networks as a legitimate alternative form of local connectivity. Recognize them as a sustainable means to connect people “from the village out”.  Where local people build, develop, and manage a community network, where many traditional networks do not reach.  And, where sustainable development is strong as the community network has been developed By, For, and With the Community.
  • If you are a policy maker, consider ways that existing or new funding programs can support Community Networks, and make sure that they are recognized as a solution to your ambitions to develop an information society with more digitally literate citizens and future innovators – who can support economic and social progress. They are a partner for your development ambitions.  
  • If you are from the operator community, consider partnering with local community networks. See them as a complimentary means to empower the unconnected to connect, and consider what you can do to support their development through equipment donations, training opportunities, or through back-haul provision to reach the global Internet.  

All of us need to take inspiration from these everyday heroes who are building connectivity by, for, and with local communities, because development, innovation, and solutions are always local.  

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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