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Community Networks 10 August 2018

Community Networks Workshop at CANTO Annual Conference

Shernon Osepa
By Shernon OsepaDirector, Caribbean Affairs and Development

Globally, significant progress has been made in recent years with respect to Internet access, however, much more needs to be done. Presently, 54% of the global community is not connected to the Internet. In the Caribbean region, big disparities can be noted. As measured by Internet penetration rates, while countries such as Barbados (80%), Trinidad & Tobago (70%) are well connected, this is not the case in others such as Haiti (12%) and Guyana (40%).

The challenge in less-connected countries is mainly in their large rural communities.  This is where the Internet Society’s ongoing work related to Community Networks (CNs) hopes to have some impact.

Smart strategies, utilizing the skills, knowledge, and authority of all stakeholders such as government, policy makers, the business community, operators, academia, and civil society entities need to be explored. While governments can play a key role, especially with respect to policies that foster network deployment in rural and underserved areas, telecoms operators are also very important. These operators have well-developed transport networks that can be used as backhaul for community networks developers, to get Internet access to rural communities. Conversations with members of the Internet ecosystem often do not include the operators that are actually deploying the infrastructure.

To change this approach, the Internet Society organized the “Workshop on Community Networks and the Opportunity to Partner with All Stakeholders,” including all stakeholders who can help us to achieve the ultimate goal, which is to get more people connected to the Internet.

The workshop was held at the main annual event of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Operators (CANTO) in Panama City, Panama. CANTO started as a state-owned telecoms operators’ organization thirty-five year ago, and has grown to a full-fledged ICT organization, hosting one of the main ICT events in the Caribbean region.

At the workshop, the Internet Society team consisted of:

  • Jane Coffin, Director Development Strategy at the Internet Society
  • Adriana Labardini, former commissioner at the Regulator IFT in Mexico
  • Nicolas Pace, from AlterMundi
  • Shernon Osepa, Manager Regional Affairs of the Internet Society’s LAC- Bureau

The presentations and discussions focused on:

  • The Internet Society’s role in promoting community networks
  • Real-world cases which showcased the Internet Society’s contribution to the development of community networks
  • The regulatory and legal experiences while deploying community networks in Mexico and other countries
  • Global examples of the challenges, such as technical, regulatory, economic, and social, when deploying community networks
  • Opportunities that community networks can bring to a community
  • Panelists also responded to questions from participants

Approximately 40 people, consisting of high-level policy makers, regulators, operators, and civil society attended the workshop. In addition to the workshop itself, the team also engaged with key people attending the CANTO conference.

As a next step, the Internet Society will continue to focus on a few Caribbean countries such as Guyana, Suriname, Haiti, and Dominican Republic with large rural underserved areas, and to assist them, with local involvement and commitment to deploy community networks.

The Internet Society is committed to addressing the connectivity challenge especially in rural areas, using innovative ways and community networks and invites all stakeholders to support this noble initiative.

You can create or support a community network. Here’s how!

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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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