‘If broadband is to be, it is up to me.’ How community broadband is reshaping digital access

noun_265788_ccIn the past few years, community broadband has emerged as a response to the limitations of large  telcos in servicing
commercially non-viable regions, providing higher speeds and offering  consumers and businesses more choices in cost-effective plans. Community broadband is an  innovative, localized solution to address the gaps in market based service and bring better and more inclusive Internet coverage. In such a model, broadband investment is usually done collectively by local residents of a municipality, town or city in collaboration with the public authority who
oversees regulatory issues such as right of way, licensing and infrastructure support.

These efforts have met with considerable levels of success in cities and towns in Europe and the US. Reggefiber in the Netherlands for example is an open fiber network that connects over 200 municipalities. The Community Broadband Network in the United Kingdom aims at providing first generation network services to rural areas in Britain through local broadband projects. In the US, municipalities in Tennessee, Kansas and North Carolina have successfully been running high speed, optic fiber affordable Internet services to businesses and homes despite large telcos such as
creating legislative challenges for them.

First Nations Youth build their own community broadband

Young people in the Ochiichagwe’Babigo’Ining Ojibway Nation in Ontario, a First Nations community in Canada are addressing the lack of broadband access in their area head on. In 2013, young people from the community, some in their teens got together to formed a youth council with an objective to bringing high speed Internet to their town. The youth council drafted a business plan, contracted the building of a telecommunications tower and purchased bandwidth and started offering high-speed, unlimited broadband to the 60 homes in the community. Ochiichagwe’Babigo’Ining Ojibway is one of several First Nations communities in Canada that after finding themselves uncovered by big service providers, have started their own ISPs.

In India and most developing economies, community broadband efforts are yet to take off in a substantive manner. Lack of capacity building and orientation along with more awareness on community based technology solutions are some significant challenges. However, there have been notable initiatives such as the Wireless for Communities project helmed by the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Digital Empowerment Foundation. Started in 2010, the W4C project works at connecting rural area using unlicensed band and wireless technologies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the north east.