Up until 2019, residents of the Brazilian neighborhood of Pouso Alto (in the state of Sao Paulo) had no access to the internet. With a population of only 1,000, the area simply wasn’t an economically sensible investment for internet service providers (ISPs) from an infrastructure development perspective.
But the people who live there—like everyone else in our modern world—still need the internet to access education, healthcare and seek employment.
Viasat is a staunch supporter of digital inclusion and through our social impact program and unique partnerships, we are able to support communities in need. Together with local government officials and community leaders, Viasat was able to set up a community WiFi hotspot that provided internet access to users e in Pouso Alto for the equivalent of less than $1 per hour of use.
For residents accessing the internet for the first time, this was a life-changing event. Not only did they now have anytime-access to information and internet communication, but they could also pursue opportunities and chase dreams that were impossible without connectivity.
This is the power of community internet.
● Community internet is internet offered at the community level (rather than individual household or business level).
● It’s set up with the help of ISPs and community leaders, with high engagement from stakeholders in the community.
● No two community internet setups are the same. They use different connection methods and infrastructures depending on resources and community needs.
● Important core principles of community internet include local empowerment, affordability, and digital literacy.
What is community internet?
Community internet is different from individual business or household internet because it’s often set up and managed by the community members themselves – with the help of business leaders and internet service providers (ISPs) who have the expertise and resources to set up necessary infrastructure.
Community internet is an important contributor to digital inclusion in underserved areas around the world—especially those not attractive to ISPs due to their remote location, low population, or other related factors.
This problem is more widespread than one might think. Even in highly developed parts of the world, , between 25-50% of the population are still without access to the internet. In parts of Africa and India, that percentage exceeds 75%.
At the same time community internet helps to expand access, it also addresses digitally-driven inequities around education, employment, healthcare, civic participation, and more.
Key principles of community internet include:
Community-driven solutions are designed to meet the specific needs of the target area. Residents are engaged in planning, implementing, and maintaining the infrastructure.
Initiatives like Affordable Internet Connectivity Program (ACP) and services like Viasat’s Prepaid Internet strive to make internet access more affordable, often offering low-cost or subsidized plans along with different types of internet plans that include various data packages and cost.
In some cases, community internet projects involve building or expanding internet infrastructure in areas overlooked by commercial ISPs. This can include laying fiber optic cables, deploying wireless networks, or repurposing existing infrastructure.
Beyond providing access, community internet initiatives often offer digital literacy programs that equip residents with the skills needed to navigate the digital world effectively.
Community internet helps promote online products and services that can be transformational when the provision of power and connectivity combine, e.g., e-clinics, distance learning, precision agriculture, and other services.
Rural and remote focus
Many community internet efforts are concentrated in rural or remote regions where the digital divide is most pronounced due to a lack of commercial interest from other ISPs.
Collaboration between local governments, nonprofits, and private ISPs is crucial to the success of community internet initiatives. Such partnerships can bring together technical expertise, resources, and regulatory support.
How to set up community internet where it’s needed
It’s important to note that community internet is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, it’s a flexible approach that’s tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of each community. For this reason, the technical aspects of setting up community internet are never the same in any two scenarios.
That said, there are core aspects and considerations of community internet setup that every initiative should include. These are:
Community needs assessment
The first step to successfully launching community internet is a comprehensive needs assessment in the community itself. Conduct research to understand the size and scope of the access gap, the current level of digital literacy that exists, and community leaders who can help.
The local community should be engaged in every step of the community internet setup process. This usually happens through a steering committee, or a designated working group that includes community members, leaders, and stakeholders to provide input, support, and oversight.
Legal and regulatory compliance
It’s important to know and adhere to all relevant local, regional, and national regulations around internet service provision. There must be compliance with licensing, permits, and any other legal requirements.
Funding and resources
Every community internet initiative needs a sustainable financial plan that covers infrastructure costs, ongoing operations, and maintenance. Funding sources such as grants, donations, government subsidies, and community cost sharing can help to this end.
The appropriate community internet technology and infrastructure must be based on the community’s geography and needs. All network equipment and infrastructure should be installed by professionals to ensure reliable connectivity over time.
Service providers and partnerships
Community internet requires partnerships with other ISPs, business leaders, and/or government agencies to create and execute an ongoing plan to manage and maintain community internet connectivity.
In addition to access, many communities will need digital literacy and training programs to empower its members with essential digital skills. Education on topics like computer basics, online safety, and how to use the internet for education and economic opportunities are especially important.
Stories from Viasat
Stories like the one from Pouso Alto are not singular events. Today, they happen all the time as part of Viasat’s community internet service offering, which is named Viasat Prepaid Internet and has changed lives in communities from Mexico to Latin America and the Caribbean and even in Eastern Slovakia amidst the Ukraine/Russia conflict.
Viasat is committed to building partnerships that drive quick identification of community-based needs, the combination of expertise and resources, and reliable connectivity provision that will stand the test of time.
Learn more about Viasat’s commitment to digital inclusion initiatives.