The Internet Society’s goal is to make the Internet available for everyone, everywhere.
The Internet currently reaches three billion users, meaning that over half of the world’s
population remains offline.
This connectivity “gap” exists in urban, rural, and remote unserved and underserved areas of many countries, particularly developing and least-developed countries. Historically, this includes the challenge of extending connectivity infrastructure and affordable services to end-users (often times referred to as the problem of “the last mile”), and the challenge of attracting and enabling people to be online.
Factors that contribute to these challenges are well understood: lack of affordable access to
backbones, barriers to entry (licensing, taxes, spectrum allocation practices), low population density, high deployment costs, low economic capacities of some populations, limited availability of locally relevant content, and issues with technical skills. The connectivity “gap” needs to be closed. By closing this gap, economic and social benefits can be brought to communities across the globe.5 One way to help close the gap is through community-based connectivity projects , particularly through community networks, network infrastructures built, managed, and used by local communities.
To truly connect everyone, everywhere, community networks must be recognized as a viable way for the unconnected to connect their communities. This is a paradigm shift where the focus is on allowing communities to actively connect themselves. To achieve this paradigm shift, policy makers and regulators should recognize that connectivity can happen from the “village” or “community” out – where the last mile is essentially a “first-mile,” where citizens build their own networks. Community networks are complementary to traditional, commercial telecommunications networks.
Policy and regulatory factors to enable community networks to succeed include innovative
licensing, funding opportunities that can include, but are not limited to, traditional universal service funds (USF), and access to spectrum. The focus of this paper will be on the importance of enabling access to spectrum, including utilization of currently unused spectrum, recognizing that other challenges to community networks also exist.