Beginning October 8th, The Internet Governance Forum will convene. DW Akademie's Nils Brock is co-organizing an event focusing on connecting the billions of people who still lack reliable internet access.
If you are reading this article from the comfort of a laptop computer over broadband internet, you are part of a global minority. Most people in the world must access the internet over unstable connectivity and on small-screened mobile devices.
Yet despite this fact, the global digital divide has been reduced tremendously. When the United Nations (UN) measured online connectivity for the first time in 2002, only one billion people worldwide had access. Today this number has quintupled, but experts agree that it will still be a difficult task to provide "the other half of humanity" with meaningful connectivity. This includes trustworthy and diverse sources of information, as well as the possibility to express oneself online. The overproportion of occidental male content creators keeps the internet a quite biased place. In other words, digital inclusion remains a challenge and solutions are urgently needed.
The most important annual gathering to tackle this global agenda is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). After being mandated by the UN in 2005, representatives of governments, private sector and civil society met for the first time the following year in Athens, Greece. Since then, the IGF has met regularly. On October 8th the IGF will come together once again, this time in Kyoto, Japan. The question of how to create inclusive online environments has not lost relevance over the years.
"Top-down corporate solutions to roll out connectivity in rural areas have failed in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America," says Mike Jensen, an ICT expert from South Africa working for the Association for Progressive Communication (APC). "Companies also struggle to respond to the needs of marginalized groups - especially refugees or displaced persons - because their economic revenues do not fit business models for large scale centralized telecommunication systems."
This is why many communities and local initiatives have taken things in their own hands. So called "community networks" have emerged as interesting bottom-up approaches. They can be imagined as collectively owned internet providers or local digital networks, who connect diverse environments. These can range from remote villages in the Amazon region, to informal townships in Cape Town, to Myanmar refugee shelters in India.
The outlet REDES A.C. is one of the hosts of the "Agents of Inclusion" meet-up and supported the development of the open-source software Colmena
Community media initiatives, formerly more attached to analogue broadcasting, have also started to produce digital content in local languages and have successfully adapted formats, such as podcasts and digital storytelling, to encourage and preserve cultural diversity.
"It is community online media and local services that make connectivity meaningful for the local population," confirms Sarbani Belur, a researcher and advocate of inclusive internet technologies from the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA). "We have to show what matters and that things can be done in a different way," she explains.
The IGF will be a grand stage to show such community-focused ideas. Together with the Mexican NGO REDES AC and the (ISEA), DW Akademie will host the meet-up "Agents of Inclusion" on October 8, 2023 in Kyoto.
The hybrid session will highlight contributions toward an inclusive internet, including local solar powered servers, feminist podcasts, indigenous social media tools and Colmena, an open-source newsroom app for community and local media organizations, designed to work both on- and offline. DW Akademie is part of the emerging Colmena consortium and will facilitate the use of the digital newsroom for collaborative coverage of the IGF. So, stay tuned for more news, produced with inclusive tools for a more inclusive internet.
Nils Brock is a program director and a trainer with DW Akademie for Colmena, an open-source software developed for portable news rooms around the world that does not require reliable internet connection. Colmena is a digital toolbox which allows local and community media to record, edit and broadcast their stories, for instance via cell phone. The free software was developed for various end devices, it works offline and is available in six languages.