Indigenous Connectivity Summit Participants Share Their Stories

Madeleine Redfern, the mayor of Iqaluit – the largest and only city in Nunavut, Canada – has a colorful way of describing how sparsely populated the territory is. “The seals outnumber the people.” With a population of just over 35,000 people spread out over an arctic 1,750,000 square kilometers, Internet access is a challenge. In fact, according to Redfern, her most favorited tweet was that she couldn’t tweet… because the connection was too slow.

Madeleine Redfern participated in the first ever Indigenous Connectivity Summit last November. She and other participants shared their experience and expertise to help close the connectivity gap in Indigenous communities. Many also sat down for brief interviews with the 1st-Mile Institute, a New Mexico nonprofit that has initiated a local “Broadband for All” program. The videos are now available to watch on the 1st-Mile Institute’s website.

You can also find the videos on the Internet Society’s Indigenet page, which includes resources from the Summit including the presentations, the policy brief Spectrum Approaches for Community Networks, and other ways to get involved!

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Community Report: Indigenous Connectivity

The 2017 Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) was the start of a critical conversation about how Indigenous communities can connect themselves to the Internet on their own terms. But it was just the beginning.

An extraordinary community of people came together: Indigenous-owned Internet service providers, community network manager/operators, researchers and policy makers, and Indigenous leadership. Their conversations outlined the benefits the Internet can bring to Indigenous communities, including self-determination, culture and language preservation, economic development, health, and education. These conversations are captured in the Indigenous Connectivity Summit Community Report, which also describes the unique challenges Indigenous communities face to gain sustainable connectivity and recommendations to address those challenges.

We hope that this report serves as a springboard to further Indigenous connectivity in North America and beyond. You can take part by visiting the Indigenous Connectivity page!

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ISOC hosts successful inaugural Indigenous Connectivity Summit

If U.S. Senator of New Mexico Tom Udall’s call that “we must do better” to ensure connectivity in Indigenous communities set the tone, delegates of the Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) in Santa Fe this month left with little doubt in our ability to do so.

Whether it’s a pueblo at the top of a mountain or a fly-in region in the Arctic, Internet access in many Indigenous communities is characterized by high costs, low speeds, data caps and poor or non-existent service.

At the Internet Society, we work to make sure the Internet is open and accessible to everyone, everywhere. The ICS was the first event of its kind to focus on ensuring Alaska Native, American Indian, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities have access to affordable, high-quality and sustainable Internet access. We heard from several Indigenous community network operators in North America and abroad about their experiences and the impact it’s had on their communities.

Perhaps the most resonant and inspiring message at the ICS was the potential of Indigenous community networks to provide access where commercial networks do not reach or serve, or areas where they may not be economically viable to operate. Speakers shared success stories of surmounting tremendous obstacles to establish by-the-community-for-the-community networks to close connectivity and cultural gaps.

As Internet Society CEO Kathy Brown put it, “In order to be connected to the economic backbone of the 21st century you have to be connected.”

Similarly, community-driven networks are critical to self-determination. We know that when people get access to the Internet, amazing things can happen. They can share ideas, build communities, start businesses, improve health outcomes, access education opportunities and support cultural and language preservation. This list of possibilities is endless.

As several ICS attendees noted, successful community networks also involve community networking.

The ICS was a good starting venue for community network manager/operators, Indigenous-owned Internet service providers, community members, researchers and policy makers, and Indigenous leadership to have a broader discussion about the value of connecting with each other to build capacity. We’re incredibly grateful to the youth, participants and speakers who dedicated valuable time to contributing to well-rounded conversations.

But the work has just begun.

As Kathy said at the outset of the Summit, to be truly successful in our mission to ensure all communities can get connected, “We can’t just fly in and fly out.”

The ICS was the start of a much larger and very critical conversation about how we can work and partner with Indigenous communities to ensure they can connect themselves to the Internet on their own terms.

To keep the ball rolling, we are working on a report on the ICS to make knowledge publicly available and contribute to future discussions with key stakeholders.

Internet Society will also continue its work to foster an enabling environment where Indigenous communities can connect and build community networks. This includes developing strategic partnerships and supporting opportunities for education and capacity building, initiatives that promote infrastructure, as well as supportive governance and policies.

Just as community networks are built and operated by people working together and combining resources, it took many efforts to make ICS possible and accessible to all.

Internet Society is incredibly thankful to its partners at First Mile Connectivity Consortium, New Mexico Techworks, 1st-Mile Institute and the recently-created Internet Society New Mexico chapter. We would also like to thank our event sponsors who played an equally important part in bring the event to fruition, including Google, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), REDI Net, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Their support and generosity was critical to the success of the ICS.

The Internet is a powerful tool for change, but we can’t meaningfully move forward if millions are left behind. ISOC was founded by some of the Internet’s earliest pioneers and we have an important mission to work for an Internet that is open, global and secure – today and for future generations.

We encourage all ICS delegates to keep the momentum going by sharing what they’ve learned with people in their own communities and networks. Use our discussions to set goals, influence policy makers, and develop solutions and business models that respond to individual community connectivity needs now and into the future. 

Did you miss the Indigenous Connectivity Summit?

To learn more and access video of panels, presentations and discussion, please visit the event’s page.

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Connecting Indigenous Communities

Internet access is often a challenge associated with developing countries. But while many of us in North America have the privilege of access at our fingertips, it’s still a huge barrier to success for many rural and remote Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States.

According to the 2016 Broadband Progress Report, 10% of Americans lack access to broadband. The contrast is even more striking when you look at Internet access in rural areas, with 39% lacking access to broadband of 25/4Mbps, compared to 4% in urban areas.

Many Canadian rural and remote communities face similar access issues. In December 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) set targets for Internet service providers (ISPs) to offer customers in all parts of the country broadband at 50/10Mbps with the option of unlimited data. CRTC estimates two million households, or roughly 18% of Canadians, don’t have access to those speeds or data.

Let those figures sink in for a minute. Today in 2017, millions of people in North America still don’t have access to broadband Internet.

It’s an even harder to pill to swallow when you realize how disproportionately and gravely it affects indigenous communities, many of which are in rural and remote locations across North America. Internet access in these communities is increasingly a lifeline to health, education, and economic development. For many, it is a vital link to the world and means the difference between being remote and isolated.

When we think of the future of the Internet, surely we can’t move forward in a meaningful way if millions are left behind.

The challenge? It’s a huge infrastructure investment.

North Americans already pay among the most in the world for broadband access, and it’s nowhere near the fastest. According to FCC, half of American homes have only two options for Internet service providers for basic broadband. For faster speeds, a majority of households have only one choice. Several cities have chosen to create their own municipal broadband services to compete with larger providers.

Rural markets, however, face a bigger challenge with massive entry costs for ISPs due to low population densities. Companies often have to lay their own fibre or cable to provide Internet access.

In the Canadian North, delivering high-speed services to remote indigenous communities that span a vast geographical expanse is extremely expensive and difficult. Residents pay high costs for slow speeds that often make just opening an email attachment painfully difficult. I’m reminded of a Facebook post from a friend who lives in Nunavut: “When your internet is so slow you search for a phone number but have time to find a phone book and get the number before Google produces a result.”

As we grow increasingly dependant on the Internet for services that are vital to a sustainable community, it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone can get up to speed. The Internet Society is committed to an Internet for everyone, everywhere. We envision a world where everyone can access and help develop a connected, borderless, limitless Internet that creates opportunity and progress for all. That’s why we’re taking on one of our most important efforts yet to make sure to Internet is inclusive to everyone in North America.

The Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) on November 8 to 9, 2017 in Santa Fe, New Mexico will be a unique event focused on connecting Indigenous communities to the Internet. In a two-day series of panels and presentations, we’ll help find solutions to ensure Alaska Native, American Indian, Inuit, First Nation, and Métis communities have affordable, high-quality, and sustainable Internet access. Pre-summit education days will provide an opportunity for indigenous community members to share and learn about deploying sustainable community networks and navigating the complex policy environments in Canada and the U.S.

We’re not starting from scratch. There are many incredible success stories of indigenous community networks in North America and around the world. The ICS will showcase these innovators to inspire strategies and solutions to help get all communities up to speed.

Just as it took many efforts to shape the Internet into what it is today, it will take a community effort to make sure it works for everyone. We know there are many people with ideas about how to connect Indigenous communities, and many more who can help can bring these solutions to fruition.

That’s what we hope to achieve at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit. We’re gathering over 200 community network managers/operators, indigenous-owned Internet service providers, community members, researchers, policy makers, and indigenous leadership to discuss what Internet access means to communities and how to make it work for everyone.

Thanks to the open access, permission-free environment afforded to us by the Internet, we’ve already proved we can accomplish great things when we work together. It’s time to step up our efforts. Otherwise, many Indigenous communities will get stuck in a continuous game of catch up as technology continues to evolve beyond their infrastructure means.

If you have ideas on how to make the Internet more accessible to indigenous communities, we want to hear from you. Registration will open soon for the Indigenous Connectivity Summit. I hope you can join us!

The Indigenous Connectivity Summit is an initiative of the Internet Society, the Internet Society New Mexico Chapter, the 1st-Mile InstituteNew Mexico Techworks, and the First Mile Connectivity Consortium.

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Community Networks: By Indigenous Communities, for Indigenous Communities

At the Internet Society, we believe that the Internet is for everyone. We’re standing by that belief by supporting network development and deployment for indigenous communities that face Internet access challenges.

Community networks, communications infrastructure deployed and operated by local people, offer indigenous communities a way to access the Internet to meet their own needs. These community networks offer a connection to health, education, and economic strength. For many, affordable, high-quality Internet access means community sustainability. In addition, community networks encourage policymakers and regulators to examine new ways and means to fill local digital divides, like supporting local content in the appropriate language(s).

These benefits are not theoretical; we have seen great changes through small projects and united community members working toward a common goal. There are many success stories of indigenous community networks around the world. Take a look at how some of our partners have been working with indigenous communities to develop community networks:

  • The First Mile Connectivity Consortium supports remote and rural First Nations developing and innovating with information and communication technologies (ICT) through research, policy, and outreach. Their website highlights stories of people like Bruce Buffalo, who developed a system that offers four free Internet access points to the Maskwacis First Nation in Alberta, Canada. You can watch his story here.
  • The Internet Society Chapter of Mexico helped bring wireless connectivity to indigenous and rural people in Las Parotas, Cacahuatepec and Aguas Calientes. After their community was hit by hurricanes in 2013, locals came together to create a community network not only to get help in emergencies, but to support education and economic development. You can watch their story here.

This November 8th and 9th, the Indigenous Connectivity Summit will bring together community network pioneers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to develop strategies and solutions to help connect indigenous communities to the Internet.

In addition, we will host a two-day training session on November 6th and 7th for indigenous people who are currently operating a community network, or who are considering deploying one. Attendees will share and learn about community networks and navigating the complex policy environments in North American and beyond. We do not expect all attendees to come with prior knowledge of community networks. In fact, we want to hear from you to guide the training days. The Indigenous Connectivity Summit will be driven by indigenous people, for indigenous people. Join us.

Register the Indigenous Connectivity Summit here.

The Indigenous Connectivity Summit is an initiative of the Internet Society, the Internet Society New Mexico Chapter, the 1st-Mile Institute, New Mexico TechWorks, and the First Mile Connectivity Consortium.

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