New Delhi: With a view to exploring synergies between community radios and community networks, Internet Society (ISOC), and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), a non-profit organization has emphasized the importance of community networks in the growth and development of Internet connectivity in India, especially in rural areas.
Community Networks is the use of networking technologies by, and for, local communities providing a sustainable solution to address the connectivity gaps that exist in underserved urban, remote, and rural areas around the world.
Virginia-headquartered ISOC is a global non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet and DEF aims to eradicate information poverty through access to technology.
Information poverty is a situation where individuals and communities do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it and apply it appropriately.
“The Internet service sector is estimated to grow to $124 billion markets by 2022, and it is imperative for policymakers and regulators in India to realize that supportive government policies and better infrastructure are key for the growth of the sector,” said Rajesh Singh, Regional Bureau Director-Asia Pacific, ISOC.
“Policymakers and regulators can play a key role in ensuring innovative approaches to making spectrum available. By supporting initiatives like Community Networks, the government and the nation will be able to fulfill the vision of Digital India and help millions get online,” added Singh.
In India, where connectivity gaps are more prevalent, DEF started pilot programmes this year called ‘Internet in a Box’, which were deployed in Tain village of Haryana and Asoor village of Tamil Nadu.
So far, DEF has established community networks at more than 140 locations across 15 regions, including Baran in Rajasthan, Guna in Madhya Pradesh, Nuh in Haryana, Asoor in Tamil Nadu, Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh and Nagaon in Assam.
Further, DEF and ISOC jointly announced the launch of the Community Network Champions (CNC) which is a certificate programme for community network providers across the globe to gain hands-on experience in the operation and management of community networks.
During CN Champion programme, intensive training on wireless networks and its operations and management will be provided to seven community networks — from Haiti, Bahrain, Nigeria, Krygystan, Philippines, Kenya, and Indonesia.
“As the world embraces greater access to information and services online, the excluded individuals are being further excluded — almost to the level of being disenfranchised. Therefore, we cannot solely depend on telcos or their model of business to connect the 70 percent of the population that is yet to access the Internet,” said Osama Manzar, Founder-Director, DEF.
Importantly, the entire process needs a supportive policy framework such as availability of TV White Space and Liberalisation of Internet Service Providers License at Village Council level, which will help in providing internet access to rural masses.