The focus of Series V is Community Network- Local Ecosystem and Social Entrepreneurship. Four live-recorded cases covering the CNs from the four different states of India. The first case was of the Community Network of Indigenous Tribes of Tea Gardens from Assam. The second case was of the Fishermen Community Network of Chirala, Andhra Pradesh. The third case was of the Apatani Tribes Ziro Valley Community Network from Arunachal Pradesh. The three cases covered how the Community Internet Library has been set up by the local people of Assam, Chirala, and Ziro Valley to provide internet connectivity and digital literacy to their communities. Since this was the last part of CNX, we added a fourth case. The fourth case is CR Bolo: IVR Enabled CN Mesh with Community Radio Bolo in Odisha. Responding to the cases and the presentations by the representatives of the Community Network, the panel was expected to broadly contribute to a discussion on the policy gaps in addressing the last mile connectivity at local, national, and regional levels.  

The panel included Ritu Srivastava (Director, Jadeite Solutions), Jane Coffin (Chief Community Officer, Connect Humanity), Dr. Syed S. Kazi (Director, Council for Social and Digital Development), Mohd. Niyaz (Founder, Development Institute for Scientific Research, Health & Agriculture (DISHA)), Sree Divya Vadlapudi (Digital Communication Strategist, Digital Empowerment Foundation), Fauziya Nasim (Network Engineer Specialist Trainer, Digital Empowerment Foundation), Nani Monya (Ziro Wireless), Amir Rahman (Project Manager Network, Digital Empowerment Foundation), Austin Macklin Kawa (Senior Project Officer, Digital Empowerment Foundation). The discussion was moderated by Rajnesh Singh, Regional Vice-President, Asia-Pacific, Internet Society and Osama Manzar, Founder-Director, Digital

Osama Manzar Digital Empowerment Foundation)

Osama 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, Osama 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. Osama writes a weekly column in Mint and tweets at @osamamanzar.

Rajnesh Singh

Rajnesh 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.

Ritu Srivastava (Jadeite Solutions)

Ritu Srivastava is a Director at Jadeite Solutions. She closely works with Community Networks, understands their challenges, engagement of communities, and designs specific learning methods/frameworks for Barefoot women wireless engineers to sustain these models and further takes to policy-level discourse. She has 12 years of experience and expertise in project and process management, monitoring & evaluations, project design and implementation, program development for bilateral and multilateral funding for NGOs, strategic alliances; fund-raising, policy-level discussions and research.

Jane Coffin (Connect Humanity)

Jane Coffin is the Chief Community Officer at Connect Humanity. She has previously worked with the Internet Society (ISOC) for seven years, leading their Internet Growth project teams focused on Community Networks, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) & interconnection, peering, and community development, and a new critical project on measuring the health of the Internet. Her work also focused on access and development strategies for expanding Internet infrastructure, access, and related capacities in emerging economies with partners. Prior to joining ISOC, Jane worked on Internet and telecommunications policy issues for the Office of International Affairs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – U.S. Department of Commerce. She was an active participant in Internet discussions in the ITU, OAS-CITEL, and OECD, working closely with the five regional Internet registries (RIRs) and other Internet technical community stakeholders.

Dr. Syed S. Kazi (Council for Social and Digital Development)

Dr Kazi heads Council for Social and Digital Development (CSDD) as the Director & Chief Executive Officer. He has experience working in the development sector since 2002. He was associated with the Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development, One World South Asia and Digital Empowerment Foundation. He has worked in key programmes of ITU, NISG, UNDP, BMGF, EU, NASSCOM Foundation, Govt. of Telangana and others. He has also founded the North East Development Foundation (, a not-for-profit society, working for sustainable development in North East India. He has founded ‘eNorth East Award’ (, a regional platform for digital innovations and practices in North East India. He has a masters, an MPhil and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.

Mohd. Niyaz (Development Institute for Scientific Research, Health & Agriculture (DISHA))

After a Post Graduation in Management with a specialisation in HR & IT, Mohd. Niyaz’s passion for social work and the dream to bring positive changes in the lives of the needy drew him to the development sector. Niyaz has worked as Project in Charge with Digital Empowerment Foundation. As the head of Talent Acquisition, at Digital Empowerment Foundation he has won wide acclaim for handling the Manthan, Asia’s biggest award for Information Communication Technology. He has also worked with Smile Foundation as Assistant Manager (HR), Prognosis Capital Advisors as Assistant Manager and Micro Clinic Private Ltd also as an Assistant Manager. He is one of the founding members of DISHA and is now its Secretary. Niyaz’s background as an IT and HR personnel is helping DISHA understand the changing job market requirements and the right training and education to be imparted to children in order to ensure a bright future for them.

Sree Divya Vadlapudi (Digital Communication Strategist, Digital Empowerment Foundation)

Sree Divya Vadlapudi  is the Digital Communication Strategist at DEF. A researcher by heart, an advocate of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and entrepreneurship by passion, and an entrepreneur by choice, Sree Divya has over 14 years of research and development experience in Power systems/Power engineering. She has been awarded the Limca Book title of India’s “Undergraduate researcher with the most number of International Research publications”. Current area of research is Demand Side Management in power systems and conservation studies. Her areas of research interest include Demand Side Management in power systems and conservation studies, design of non conventional units for production of energy, load balancing, voltage stability, minimization of I2R losses and service restoration in electrical distribution systems using ANN, Fuzzy logic and non conventional energy resources.

Fauziya Nasim (Network Engineer Specialist Trainer, Digital Empowerment Foundation)

Currently the Network Engineer Specialist Trainer at DEF, Fauziya Nasim has previously worked as Innovation Engineer in Nex-G Exuberant Solutions in Noida, Production Engineer at Bhagwati products Limited (Subsidiary of Micromax Pvt. Ltd.) and also the Technical Support Engineer at the Phoen Support, Jaipur. She is a BTech graduate in Electronics and Communications and also has received training in automation in Allen Bradley and Siemens. 

Nani Monya (Ziro Wireless)

Nani Monya is the coordinator of DEF at Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh. She has been spearheading the activities in the village for a long time now, setting up an Internet centre at the village and connecting schools in the region.

Amir Rahman (Digital Empowerment Foundation)

Amir Rahman is a Project Manager Network at DEF, and had been a Network Engineer with the organisation since 2013.  

Austin Macklin Kawa (Senior Project Officer, Digital Empowerment Foundation)

Austin works with DEF, under the project Internet Roshni (BOLT). The project he works with intends to work with the Adivasi Community residing in the Tea Gardens of Assam in order to leverage the existing limited mobile data networks in the garden, data to be boosted by booster devices and channeling in concentrated Community Internet libraries (CILs) with access to network, information and resources.

Case 1: Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh

Life in the scenic village named Ziro has been going on, almost completely forgetting that the Internet exists. Airtel is the sole internet service provider in the region the use of which is not spread to all areas. They have to travel to the main town of Ziro to use the internet for any official purpose. The Digital Empowerment Foundation has set up an office at Ziro which is also a centre for giving basic computer training to students of the age group 7 to 25 years. They also use digital literacy kits by DEF such as START and NETU, using which students can experiment. DEF has reached out to five schools to install free WiFi connections which made blended learning possible through the use of audiovisuals, supporting the learning of various subjects. 

The discussion further explored the benefits to students who use the Internet not only in a controlled environment but also for their own purposes along with teachers and parents. The team elaborated on how they had faced challenges in accessing the remote locations on top of irregularity in power supply. They also grappled with convincing the villagers and faced cultural constraints that added to the challenges they faced. The backhole provided by Airtel which is being transmitted from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh is also not very reliable. The discussion brought into focus the lack of flexible business models from the part of most of the ISPs, leading to failure in providing network facility to marginalised communities. This raises the demand to develop and deploy new networking technologies and models. Even though many challenges resonate across lands, a model with the approach “with the community, by the community, for the community” only will ensure sustainability.

Case 2: Chirala, Andhra Pradesh

The Internet centre by ISOC at Chirala, 7 km from the main town towards the coast, is widely used by the villagers for purposes such as Aadhar enrollment, obtaining caste and marriage certificates, bank transactions, educational resources, entertainment and so on. The coastal area faces poor connectivity that forces the residents to go to the next town for availing internet facilities. The implementation of the project is located in internet dark zones which lack access to education, information, entitlements, and rights, and have successfully deployed wireless networks in Chirala Fisherman Community. Now, around 200 customers come to the Centre for these needs while 60-70 people use the computer systems and the WiFi at the Centre every day. Our major interventions were in the field of governance, finance, health and education. Placing receivers at various locations, the Internet is also used by the panchayat office and schools. Most significantly, a receiver is placed in the Chirala fishing village especially aiming at the fisherwomen. Using the Internet, they have learnt from ways to clean and cut fish in a better manner to update themselves with the latest market price and thus carry out the business profitably. It can be said that Chirala village is now well aware of the scope of the Internet. 

As this case also highlights, digital economy-based policies are implemented in India without the required ground support. Making use of the existing infrastructure and skilled local human resources, permutations and combinations of methods, etc. are ways to overcome this, as the COVID time has shown us multiple possibilities to connect with each other. Financing these networks needs perusal since turning the benefits into profit and returning it in the form of investment will take time. 

Case 3: Internet Roshni, Assam

Assam has been providing India and the rest of the world with high quality tea for the last 150 years now. Any visitor going to Assam will experience the aroma and savor the unique malty flavor of Assam tea. The Internet Roshni project aims at digitally empowering tribes working and living in 50 gardens across the five districts of Tinshukia, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Cachar, and Hailakandi in Assam, regions where more than half of the world’s tea is produced and communities that do not have a script to their language. A Community Internet Library is set up in each tea garden, with WiFi service, envisioned as a digital access point. It is run by local youth and the fact that it is located within the premises of the tea gardens ensures better accessibility for the plantation workers. The project runs in a method where a community member, preferably a woman with a flair for entrepreneurship, is chosen in the first stage who would be the leader to digitally empower around 2000 members of the community in a year. 

During the discussion, it was emphasised that along with good governance policies, government schemes such as PM-WANI should be utilised for last-mile connectivity at subsidised rates. Again, spreading awareness in the community that the Internet can help ameliorate a lot of the problems that they face is a step as important as building a strong case in front of the government and enabling efficient use of the Internet at the government’s end. This can lead to the holistic empowerment of the community. Internet Roshni is also exploring the scope of promoting the community’s scriptless language through audio and video forms. Translations to their language would facilitate knowledge transmission and acceptance in the community. 

Case 4: Community Radio, Odisha

Radio Bulbul in Odisha is born under the entrepreneurship of a previous DEF member who went back to his village with the determination to bring some change over there. Apart from a village school, he set up the community radio and also brought a community network to Bhadrak village of Odisha with the help of others. The Radio is broadcasting from their small office various content on agriculture, youth, education and also some special programmes, aiming at spreading the right information. An elaborate dial-in system has been developed where people can enter specific numbers and listen to content on any of the above with many subtopics, in either Odiya or Hindi. Basically, the radio programmes are converted into a portal on the IVR platform. This IVR is also running on a local network within 5 km of the radio station, which people can call through a webpage or the IVR number. Simultaneously, the community network established with the partnership of a local NGO is bringing people closer and enabling schools to access online resource materials. The interesting case of the person who was a school dropout but now manages the radio station and gives training to teachers on the use of the Internet itself is an instance of the empowering impact of the organisation. 

The discussion further emphasised the need to maintain an alternative infrastructure to support any community network. The question was put forth for deliberation, how to scale up the widely dispersed regional innovations and networks across the globe to cover every possible community. For that, policy regulations need to be supportive while on the other hand proper funding also should be sourced. 

  • Especially in a country like India, various sociocultural constraints may obstruct activities in the community. In the case of networks, the only remedy for this in the context is to spread awareness about the benefits of the Internet and thus address the constraints.
  • Language is another barrier. Work in the villages becomes challenging when they do not have a common code to interact with.
  • It is time to take forward the activities at the regional level. This would require partnerships with the government and/or various NGOs.

The Internet has become an unavoidable tool for knowledge acquisition, skill development, availing basic facilities provided by the state and so on. Making every citizen of the globe aware of these possibilities that can significantly change their lives for the best, overcoming socio-cultural as well as linguistic barriers, and establishing locally supported sustainable systems are inevitable stages of community networking. CNX 2022 Series V ended with the contemplation on how to take forward the regional initiatives to a global scale while empowering access to the digital at the localised Indian level.