The Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) is a collaborative community that is committed to building an open, inclusive and sustainable information society. Recently, the GISWatch has released a report on Community Networks.
The report for 2018 focuses on local access models, specifically, community networks as self-organized, self-managed or locally developed solutions for local access, based on the conviction that one of the keys to affordable access is giving local people the skills and tools to solve their own connectivity challenges.
About 43 countries have been included in the GISWatch 2018 report as they capture the different experiences and approaches in setting up community networks across the globe. Pakistan has also been included in the report. Naveed Haq has authored the article in the report titled Wireless For Communities Pakistan.
The article starts off by mentioning that the main obstacle when it comes to improving internet penetration in rural and remote areas is last-mile connectivity. Furthermore, the author states that community networks are proven to be an excellent way to address the gap in last-mile internet connectivity for underserved communities.
According to him, the Wireless for Communities (W4C) Pakistan is part of a larger community network program that is managed by the Internet Society (ISOC) in Asia Pacific, together with its partner organizations in India, Pakistan and Nepal.
The W4C was established in December 2015, with the pilot community network situated in “Chak-5 Faiz” located 25 km from the city of Multan. The program involves deploying line-of-sight wireless technology and low-cost Wi-Fi equipment to create community-owned and operated wireless networks.
Comparing the traditional the community network environment with the “top-down” commercial approach, the author article reveals that the deployment starts from the end-user or the “last mile”. To keep operational costs to a minimum the community partners with an existing local ISP to build the community network, with their local partner COMSATS Internet Services (CIS) that was established in 1996.
According to the report, the community network is centered on a 55-metre-high tri-pole tower that holds the sector antennas which gives a two-kilometer area of coverage in a community that comprises of several small villages and local schools.
W4C in order to try to maximize the 10 Mbps bandwidth conducted a community survey that gauged the wireless signal strengths as well as the needs of the community. Through the survey a local government school for girls located within the network range was identified. It was found that despite having computers, the school girls could not access the internet due to non-functional internet connection. Where they after getting in contact with the local educational authority they established connectivity for the school and provided the computer lab with internet access.
Another institute that was identified was the local polytechnic institute that offered courses in agriculture technology. According to Naveed Haq, the community network project was warmly welcomed by the institute. But, according to the author the biggest challenge came they connected their third and last site i.e. a nearby village of 20 to 25 households to their community network.
Regarding community training, W4C for the first six months after providing the three clients with internet let them use the internet in any way they wanted to with a team of engineers from our partner ISP would make monthly visits to resolve any technical issues.
To develop the capacity of community members further and to demonstrate the added value of the internet, W4C provided training to the school girls, students at the polytechnic institute and community members in the connected village. The training was designed on the “train the trainer” methodology, i.e. they trained the community members and build the capacity of a local trainer, who then can train others in the community, gradually reducing dependency.
Up till now, the W4C has completed two different training sessions with the three groups and have produced 10 trainers who are ready to deliver their first training sessions in September and October.
The organization has also collaborated with TeleTaleem, a local commercial organization experienced in tele-education. The impact was recorded through a baseline assessment that was carried out before the course started and an end-line assessment was performed at the course end. The results showed an encouraging and a substantial improvement in mathematics and science.
Furthermore, the article also gives action steps to promote community networks in the country. The whole report and article can be accessed here.