Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
RightsCon, Manila, Philippines
Manila, Philippines—DEF team, Mr. Shahid Ahmed and Ms. Ritu Srivastava, participated in the interactive session on Broadband For All at the RightsCon conference in Manila, Philippines. The interactive session explored how broadband services and access can be utilized by all populations across world. Mr. Shahid Ahmed offered perspective from India as Digital Empowerment Foundation is working to provide internet access through Wireless for Communities program.
Broadband Access for All
The discussion was mainly aimed at access and in countries like India, either inaccessible services is an issue or where access is available, it is unaffordable—along with many other challenges. Regulation is not transparent, in the Indian case, and significant disparities exist between those who can access and those who cannot. On the technical side, there are many solutions available but the biggest stumbling block is the regulatory regime and outdated regulations. Governments are open to new technology in this regard. Government of India is raising $20 million for 3G spectrum.
In that regards, there are ongoing free WIFI projects being implemented across the world. For example, it was discussed that in New York City, USA, wireless communications and its infrastructure is built by the community, operated and managed by the community, challenges are solved by the community—which is crucial for a democratic society to function freely. In the case of Philippines, it is mandatory to get a license to operate Wifi network.
Cost is another piece of the puzzle to the access argument: for all stakeholders that eventually comes down to the customer. Somebody has to bear the cost. Mr. Shahid Ahmed, DEF explained how the W4C program in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh India, home to weavers and treaders and completely unconnected to the internet world prior to the intervention, reaped benefits of program. The wireless network draws its energy from solar panel and battery. While there is no licensing fee, DEF is operating this program on a commercial basis where it purchases the services from a third-party vendor and then spreads access across the area. There are routers on the rooftop so that connection is spread across 360 degrees.
So what has changed since this program has been in effect for more than 3 years now. For example, 3 years after being connected to the Internet, the Chanderi weavers are now able to see increased revenues for their products with simplicity. They are able to provide quality customer satisfaction. Communities are now better able to access education and health service due to physical infrastructure issues, but now, videoconferencing for health and education is a normal aspect of daily life. The community is trained to build the network.
The positive outcome of the program is that local government and banks want to also connect to the network. So DEF charges a fee to offer those services to the local stakeholders so that sustainability is built in to the project from the very beginning.
- Community engagement is a must for any development project to work. It establishes a rapport, trust and builds transparency and accountability
- Develop and implement local techno-savvy solutions conceived, managed, operated and led by the community for the community