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The Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme in India

In 2010 the programme was piloted in the traditional weaving village of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. Today, W4C has established 146 access points in 38 districts of 18 states in India.

Overview and approach

The W4C programme started in India in 2010, in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation.

The programme in India was piloted in the traditional weaving village of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. Today, W4C has established 146 access points in 38 districts of 18 states in India.

The programme uses line-of-sight methods, wireless technologies, low-cost Wi-Fi equipment and unlicensed spectrum – 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz – to create community-owned and community-operated wireless networks in rural and remote locations of India to democratize Internet access and make it available to all.

Photos by Digital Empowerment Foundation

To develop the capacity of community members, W4C in India provides training to “Barefoot Engineers” to set up and manage the wireless networks, and also to train others in their community. W4C in India also offers training on digital literacy and content development to community members.

Inspired by the W4C’s wireless ecosystem, several initiatives have emerged, including the Wireless Women for Entrepreneurship and Empowerment initiative that promotes Internet-based social enterprises and entrepreneurship among women, as change agents for social and economic empowerment.

In India, the Wireless for Communities and Open Spectrum Summit was organized in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, bringing together policy experts and field practitioners to discuss ways that wireless technologies and unlicensed spectrum can be used to extend connectivity to India’s remote regions.

View Wireless for Communities in India’s website for updates.

Achievements and impact

The W4C programme in India is comprised of six phases.

Phase 1: Pilot in Chanderi village, Madhya Pradesh (2010-2011)
  • Developed a model wireless community network that is replicated in the future phases of the W4C programme.
  • Enabled communities’ access to the Internet through the Chanderi Weavers Information Resource Centre, which has helped to create new weaving design patterns and enhance the Chanderiyaan e-commerce platform to market local produce and handicrafts of Chanderi.
  • Provided Internet connectivity in schools, local government offices, business premises, a health centre and a community radio station.
  • Conducted training of trainers workshops in establishing and operating wireless networks, and in using the Internet for community development. Some of the trainees became trainers in the subsequent phases when the programme was expanded to other villages.
  • Weavers have reported 20-40% growth in their income.
  • Completed an impact assessment and impact analysis of the first phase.
Phase 2: Programme expansion and South Asia outreach (2011-2012)
  • Introduced the W4C to Bangladesh and Bhutan through training of trainers workshops.
  • Deployed wireless networks in Tura in Meghalaya, and Baran and Tilonia in Rajasthan.
  • Connected 10 community information resource centres in Baran.
  • Connected Barefoot College and the community radio station in Tilonia.
  • Organized the first W4C Summit in 2011 during the 8th Manthan Award South Asia Annual Digital Festival in New Delhi to raise awareness and share experience on wireless community networks in India and South Asia.
Phase 3: Further expansion of the W4C programme and focus on capacity building to develop relevant online content and services (2012-2013)
  • Deployed wireless networks in another three communities – Giridih in Jharkand, Mandla in Madhya Pradesh and Nangaon in North Tripura.
  • Conducted 24 training workshops in targeted communities from previous and current phases on digital literacy, e-health, e-learning, and information and communication technology (ICT) for rural entrepreneurship.
  • Published a casebook to share the W4C experience in India.
Phase 4: Wireless Women for Education and Empowerment (2014-2015)
  • Supported 50 women in five communities to create Internet-based social enterprises that are owned and managed by women.
  • Five communities selected include Baran in Rajasthan, Chanderi and Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh, Ranchi in Jharkhand, and Tura in Meghalaya.
  • Women participated in a six-month training to develop their online skills to run their enterprises. They were also provided with hardware, software and wireless Internet access for their enterprises.
  • Developed a website to document the women’s stories.
  • Many of the women established and managed their own community information resource centres.
  • Many women also became trainers and trained women and girls in their own villages. In Chanderi, 4,000 women and girls were trained this way.
  • Published a second casebook to share the W4C experience in India.
Phase 5: Inter-networking of networks (2015-2016)
  • Connected three separate community networks to each other through the intranet to share local content with each other.
  • Target locations included Baran in Rajasthan, and Guna and Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Leveraged backhaul Internet connectivity from one location to connect other locations.
  • Built technical capacity of local community in wireless networking.
Phase 6: Smart Village Programme (2016-2017)
  • Selected Tham in Jharkhand and Narayanpet in Telangana to implement this Smart Village Programme.
  • Established a Digital Smart Village Resource Centre in each location with broadband connection. These centres are managed by the local community.
  • Enhanced the capacity of local government operations and developed the entrepreneurial skills of the local community through the use of ICTs.
  • Connected schools, local government offices and self-help groups to broadband.

Partnerships

Other partners that have contributed to W4C in India include Ericsson, Ford Foundation, Microsoft, Media Lab Asia, Nokia, Tata Trusts, Vodafone Foundation, the Government of India’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, and other organizations.

Videos and articles on W4C in India

Experiencing the Internet’s Role in Community Empowerment
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Build The Internet: Training Barefoot Network Engineers

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A journey through digital empowerment in rural India

A small team of seven made up of Internet Society and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) staff, two camera men and a...

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