Series III of CNX-2022 was held and broadcast live on 29th August, presenting three case stories. These stories take us to two ends of the CN spectrum, mapping Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan. At one end, we heard the narratives of the Kapal Community Radio and Common Room Networks in Indonesia. And the other end, a regional Internet Service Provider of Suusamyr, a village of 4000 people tucked away in the high mountains in Kyrgyzstan.

The panel included Sylvia Cadena (Head of Programs and Partnerships, APNIC Foundation), Halil Ibrahim Bilgich (Internet Society), Indri Sri Sembadra (Institut KAPAL Perempuan), Gustaff H. Iskandar (Founder, Common Room Networks Foundation), Amrita Choudhury (Director, Cyber Cafe Association of India), Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur (Asia Regional Coordinator for Association for Progressive Communications), and Rajnesh Singh (Regional Vice-President for the Asia-Pacific at the Internet Society). The discussion was moderated by Osama Manzar, Founder-Director of Digital Empowerment Foundation.

Indri Sri Sembadra
Indri has been working at Institut KAPAL Perempuan (Women’s Alternative Education Circle) since 2008 when she joined the organisation as part of the administrative and Management Information System (MIS) staff. From 2010 to 2012, she was a member of the Gender and Pluralism staff team. Since 2015, she has been the coordinator of the Resource Centre, including coordinating the implementation of the Women’s Community Radio Development Programme.

Before joining the staff of the organisation, she completed the Feminist Education training offered by Institut KAPAL Perempuan in 2003 and then became a facilitator for education on gender equality and justice for students and grassroots women at the Women’s School. Since her days as a college student, she has had an interest in gender and pluralism issues. A graduate of the Faculty of Ushuluddin and Philosophy, State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta, she chose her vision of life to make social change, especially for women and minority groups.

Gustaff H. Iskandar

Iskandar graduated from the Fine Arts Department, Bandung Institute of Technology, in 1999. After finishing his study, he ran Poros Art Management and actively curated, wrote, and organised visual art exhibitions until 2000. Furthermore, he initiated the publishing of Trolley Magazine (2000–2001), a local independent magazine that focuses on art, culture, music, and fashion. By the end of 2001, he co-founded Bandung Center for New Media Arts together with Reina Wulansari, R. E. Hartanto, and T. Reza Ismail and strongly engaged with the development of media arts and multidisciplinary artistic practice in Indonesia. By the year 2004, he developed the Common Room Networks Foundation (Common Room), an open platform for art, culture, and ICT/Media. Later on, he initiated an urban/rural platform for collaboration to ignite creativity, innovation, and social transformation in 2013. Working together with his wife, Reina Wulansari, and other colleagues, Iskandar currently lives and works in Bandung, where he continues working on his art and develops the organisation to manage certain projects and initiatives that integrate arts, science, and technology. He also writes and speaks at discussions and symposiums, besides running a small farm in Sukabumi, a small town in West Java, Indonesia.

Halil Ibrahim Bilgich

Bilgich joined the Internet Society in April 2019 as a Project Coordinator of Community Network. As Project Coordinator, he organises and leads aspects of the Internet Society’s work in advancing the development and deployment of open standards and promoting the Internet’s collaborative development and operational management model. Furthermore, Ibrahim helps to install wireless internet in highly remote areas. Prior to joining the Internet Society, at 17, Ibrahim installed radio receivers for the wireless internet on his own in the most remote area in Kyrgyzstan, Suusamyr.  He is a young genius who studies at the Kyrgyz State Technological University.

Sylvia Cadena

After ten years of managing the Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF Asia) at APNIC, Sylvia was appointed Head of Programs at the APNIC Foundation in December 2016. As Head of Programs and Partnerships, Sylvia works on the management, design and implementation of collaborative programs and projects to expand APNIC Foundation activities in the region, including the ISIF Asia program, one of the region’s most established Internet development programs, as well as the Seed Alliance, which supported innovative Internet development across the global south. Over her 25 years of experience in Internet Development in Latin America and the Asia Pacific, Sylvia’s work has focused on the strategic use of the Internet for development with an emphasis on capacity building and infrastructure deployment. Since her early years as a UN Volunteer, she has worked across the multistakeholder spectrum of organisations with technical, training and advisory roles, mainly about information systems, access provision and innovation coordinating projects and teams across the global south. She has served in many selection committees and working groups focused such as the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group of the Internet Governance appointed by the UN Secretary-General, the ICANN CCWG on new gTLD auction proceeds, the APrIGF Multi-stakeholder Steering Group and the Policy Network on Meaningful Access among others

Amrita Choudhury
Amrita serves as the Director of CCAOI, Treasurer of Internet Society India, Delhi Chapter and the APAC Lead of SIG Women.  She is also part of the organising team of the India School of Internet Governance (inSIG) Her work focuses on a wide range of issues which includes empowerment of the Public Internet Access providers (Cybercafés and CSC‟s), assisted internet users and non-users; promoting Internet awareness through Digital Literacy and vernacular Internet; Safe surfing, at the grass root levels of India. She is involved in conducting studies and research on issues related to Internet Governance (IG), capacity building among communities, conducting events and seminars, etc. Besides, she keeps the community updated on events, initiatives, policies and opportunities related to IG through a monthly newsletter on IG, which is the only one in India and South Asia.

Dr. Sarbani Benerjee Belur

Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur is currently the Asia Regional Coordinator for Association for Progressive Communications (APC) for the CNs Connecting the Unconnected project. She is a Senior Research Scientist hosted by the Spoken Tutorial Project at the Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai, India. She has been working in the domain of rural connectivity for the past six years and has been associated with the Gram Marg project in the Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay. She holds a PhD in Demography from the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Her current work involves increasing digital outreach to remote and rural areas of India, deployment of new technology alternatives for the middle class and last-mile internet connectivity, development of sustainable models supporting Public-Private Panchayat-Partnership (4-P model), seeding the growth of CNs, gender and access developing community technologies and impact assessment studies of connectivity in the lives of people.

Osama Manzar

Manzar is a global leader on the mission of eradicating information poverty from India and the global south using digital tools through an organisation he co-founded in 2002. With over 25 years of experience, Manzar has worked in the areas of journalism, new media, and software enterprise before he established DEF to digitally empower the masses (so far 20 million directly) with a footprint of 1000 locations and 9000+ digital foot soldiers across 130 districts in 24 States. Manzar writes a weekly column in Mint and tweets at @osamamanzar.

Rajnesh Singh

Singh is the Regional Vice President for the Asia-Pacific at the Internet Society. In this role, he works with a broad range of stakeholders, including governments, civil society, academia, the private sector, the technical community, and influencers in the Asia-Pacific region to promote technologies, policies, and best practices to keep the Internet open, globally-connected, secure, and trusted for the benefit of people all across the world. Prior to joining the Internet Society, he played founding and leading roles in several technology and private equity investment firms. He has extensive experience in business management and strategy development across multiple industries, including telecommunications, power infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, and real estate.

Case 1: The ‘KAPAL’ Community Radio of Indonesian Islands and Mountains

The first network was presented by Indri Sri Sembadra from islands in the Jakarta region, Indonesia, to share their experience of community radio and the community network they operate. Kapal Perempuan is an Indonesian women’s organisation which was established in 2000 and stands for Alternative Women’s Education Circle. Originally, it was established to develop women’s empowerment in various regions and was expanded into developing two women’s community radios to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since women are more vulnerable to COVID-19-related effects because of existing gender inequalities, the radio was developed as a medium for empowering women and minimising the impact of the pandemic on women and marginalised groups in remote islands and mountains.

The Radio Nina Bayan is a critical example of a grassroots, bottom-up community radio station which was established in 2015 to prevent occurrences of child marriage. The radio is located in a mountainous location with listeners reaching nine villages, and the distance from the studio to the farthest village is approximately 15km. The implementation of the broadcast in the community also looks at protecting child rights and empowering elderly people with disabilities and other marginalised groups through radio networks. The broadcasting administers education about gender issues in order to promote equality in education and ensure that boys and girls will have equal opportunities to realise their full human rights and contribute to and benefit from economic, social, cultural and political development. The challenge that the community faces is that the sound quality is sometimes unclear and unstable because the antenna is not high enough. In addition, the weather is also an obstacle.

The second, Radio Sipurennu, is located on Sabutung Island. The radio can reach listeners in 6 villages across six islands and 3 villages on the mainland, with about 5,000,000 listeners. This radio is utilised as a communication tool that can reach the most vulnerable people of the community and connect the members who do not have access to the internet. Putting entrepreneurship in the limelight, the broadcast also helps businesses by giving them a platform to promote their products, promote education by providing school tutorials, provide the correct information and practices about the pandemic and spread awareness about child marriage and violence against women. In Radio Sipurennu, there is a new theme, namely weather information for fishermen, so they are very helpful for weather information so that they can anticipate if they will go sailing if the weather is bad.

Taking away the key aspect of information dissemination, the radio uses local languages other than Indonesian to maximise reach. Cases like these help in getting a deeper feel about what CN means and aids in more practical ways of networking and co-learning. While talking about the need for a broadcast station like this, Indri says, “This radio is very useful, especially for communities that are difficult to reach. In addition, this radio is easy to understand for the community because it uses local languages other than Indonesian.”

Although these case stories appeal emotionally, a business model that would attract more investors who are looking for a more structured framework hasn’t been fully developed. Prompted by Sylvia’s question about challenges that hinder the plans for the community radio’s future, Indri explained that this radio must obtain a licence from the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information. When the licence has not yet been issued, this Community Radio tries another way, namely using the podcast platform. The broadcaster records and then uploads it to major podcast channels. The broadcaster sends the recording to the listener through the mosque speaker, visiting the listener’s point. When the licence from the ministry has been issued, the broadcast continues in the radio studio. Constraints in accessing the internet are unstable in the islands where the internet is very difficult. Indri gives the example of Lombok, where the internet is relatively stable, but it is still limited because not many people have smartphones and internet data packages. Indri further explained that KAPAL Perempuan first received funding from the INKLUSI Program, a cooperation program between Indonesia and Australia. There are seven priorities in this program that will run for five years.  In addition, broadcasters and radio managers take the initiative to pay dues and support from APC in the form of adequate equipment and certificates.

Looking specifically at the way in which the radio tackles cases of violence against women, Indri adds that the radio is also a “Complaint Post” or Pos Pengaduan, where people can come forward and complain about violence experienced by women and children. After the victim reports, the broadcaster and manager will process it with Sekolah Perempuan, a forum for women’s communities at the grassroots.

Case 2:  Nurturing a 21st Century Community Through Common Room Networks in Indonesia

The next case story is from a Ciptagelar village in the southern region of the province of West Java in Indonesia. The location of the centre in Ciptagelar village is on the border of West Java province and Banten province. Geographically, it is located in the hinterland of Mount Halimun Salak National Park. While showing the view of Kampung Ciptagelar on Google Maps, Iskandar was able to highlight Leuit, or the rice where the Ciptagelar people used to store the rice they grew for daily consumption. While explaining the history of the development of the community radio program in Ciptagelar, Yoyo, another coordinator mentioned that the internet development started in 2014, and when the Common Room program came to Ciptagelar, there were only 153 houses with 500 people in the area, but since the Ciptagelar village is at the centre of Kasepuhan Ciptagelar, it oversees 568 villages and around 40,000 indigenous people. They stated that the community network development started in one village with experiments in around 2016 and 2018 and succeeded in developing an internet network together with AWInet, an ISP company based in Banten. After that, they started to conduct a series of workshops, training and capacity-building activities with the aim of empowering the community members to manage the internet independently.

When asked about the motive behind setting up the internet in the community, Iskandar explained that telecommunication operators had started to provide internet services in Ciptagelar village in 2011. However, at that time, the company was developing an internet network with subsidised funds from the Indonesian government. When the subsidy was withdrawn, the internet service was automatically no longer available. When they studied internet networks using government subsidy funding, they discovered that government internet networks were unsustainable and unstable. This prompted the group to hold a discussion with Abah Ugi, the Leader of the Ciptagelar Indigenous Community and discussed developing a better and more efficient internet network. In the initial stages, the community would lose connectivity since the electricity infrastructure in Ciptagelar is also limited. Owing to this, a topological study was conducted to understand the geographical conditions in the area and build internet infrastructure independently. The Ciptagelar community experimented with radio technology until, finally, the internet was available. This model was also later modelled and developed in other villages, especially those that did not have an internet network at all.

In order to provide the community members with an internet network at an affordable price, the members collaborated with ISP companies to build a safe network in legal accordance with government policies and regulations. Since the internet could not be accessed all the time, 24/7, an internet voucher business model was adopted. This internet voucher provided people with the internet at an affordable price and with sufficient bandwidth capacity.

The CN developed the community internet using 5L principles. The first is low-tech, or what they usually call ‘tepat guna’ technology. This technology must be affordable and easily accessible in Indonesia. The second is low-energy; because many areas in Indonesia have limited sources of electricity. Then it’s low-maintenance, easy to maintain and easy to manage. Fourth is the low-learning curve;  technology must be easy to learn by the villagers. The last one is local support. They explain that local support is the most important thing. Building community network infrastructure requires support from traditional leaders, communities, and the community itself.

While initially, the network was bringing ease to everyday activities, information dissemination, access to public schemes and inclusion, setting an example for linking connectivity in a meaningful way by integrating it with community development, the Ciptagelar community has started to produce digital content related to their traditional culture and traditions. This makes them increasingly recognized in Indonesia. The Ciptagelar community even has a Youtube channel and a community TV station that has been operating since 2000. They also have a radio managed by the community since 2008. When asked if the television content is created and produced by the community itself, Yoyo mentioned that the main content is usually the documentation of daily activities at Ciptagelar and that there seem to be a lot of television users because the parents want to show and teach the legacy of the community to their family. It was also highlighted that the community network is used by the indigenous people to preserve their cultures and traditions while also making space for new technologies such as the community network, internet and digital media platforms. Ciptagelar shows us that preserving culture can go hand in hand with technological developments and can actually add uniqueness and diversity to the culture itself. Talking about this further, Yoyo states, “The culture of the Ciptagelar Indigenous People is oral. Even many elderly people are not able to understand written language. Knowledge is passed down orally and directly. Television is quite important because it uses visuals and audio to convey any information that is happening at Ciptagelar. Voices and audio also help to convey the information to the people outside.”

Since 2020, they have started to develop the School of Community Network program in Indonesia together with APC and the Digital Access Program. In this program, they not only encourage capacity building of villagers and knowledge transfer regarding the development of community internet networks but also enhance productive and meaningful internet use. Currently, they’re developing the program in 9 provinces in Indonesia. Some of them are indigenous people groups since Indonesia has a very wide area with diverse cultures and conditions of society. Therefore, the need to explore various scenarios so that community networks can be developed, built, managed, and utilised by people who have various situations and challenges is being addressed effectively.

Case 3: CN by the Suusamyr Community of Kyrgyzstan

The digital era expects the internet to be made available as a basic need. Hence, it is no longer a functional advantage but a necessity and is very much interlinked with community development. Halil points out that they faced a lot of problems starting and running this project since their project is in Suusamyr, high in the mountains. The earnings of the people are low in the village. Their internet service is very cheap for local people to set up an account. They pay for one account, and then the whole family uses it. Bilgich further elucidates that community businesses also rely on the community network for their functioning. He reported the systemic functioning of the CN live from a small cafe where Bilgich’s team was fixing the internet connection. The community is 150km from Bishkek and in the high mountains.

When asked about the business model to sustain the ISP run, Bilgich commented that businesses pay them $6/month for the infrastructure, such as cables, routers and maintenance. The internet provided is bought from bigger ISPs that the clients pay for, and the ISP returns 10% of what they make at the end of the month.

The Suusamyr CN serves 1000 people in the village and has been successful in connecting 100 of them. When asked about their challenges, Bilgich mentioned that one server they installed could handle up to 200-250 clients.

The CN has four main lines spread around the town. Covering west, east, north and south Suusamyr. The towers are divided to ensure connectivity in all directions. In the Suusamyr community, since the families are large in number, it is normal for people to have 5-6 children in this village. Due to this, the families feel that the CN is money-saving if they connect to our network and just pay for one account.

When Indri asked how sustainable and accessible the model is for the community, Bilgich stated that 4G had reached Suusamyr, and most of the villagers have access to some kind of service. Because of access to the internet, the competition between ISPs is high, and consumers get the internet at cheaper prices. Bilgich pointed out a small town of 100 people where a new ISP was installed despite there being no electricity. They access the internet through portable solar chargers, and they send their smartphones to their relatives in locations where there is an internet connection, who then download content on their devices and send it back so they can consume it over a longer period of time. Singh further added that when they start building at a local community level and start sustaining themselves, it becomes obvious that people are being brought to the centre of sustainability policies and implementation practices. Iskandar agreed with the panellists and added that while viewing the geographical challenges that Kyrgyzstan faces, digital connectivity and internet structures have to be thought out while keeping the topology at the centre; he adds that starting small allows for constructive and more efficient growth.

There were three main takeaways from the third series of CNX-2022.

  • The community radio model can be a channel of learning and information dissemination because the broadcasting range is higher and voice-based, but integrating the internet into the community network in a way that can provide connectivity even in unconnected areas.
  • Relevant stakeholders like NGOs, nonprofits, organisations, and SHGs have to come together strongly and translate the CN cases into a toolkit that can be used in communities elsewhere as well.
  • There have to be more deliberations on the sustainability of community networks as it often relies on government and non-governmental funding. It is important to develop methods of community contributions so that the networks can scale up and cover more populations.

The “Walk the Talk” mode of discussion helps in understanding CN along with its challenges which are hard to spot when we are away from the communities. As Iskandar pointed out, the need to explore various scenarios so that community networks can be developed, built, managed, and utilised by people who have various situations and challenges is being addressed innovatively and efficiently.

With the hope of providing more such real time examples which would make those at the other end of the spectrum understand the essence of CN better and help in connecting initiatives from the government and the public sector, we look forward to the next series on 29th September 2022.