Around the world, communities are building and operating their own technology development projects. This work showcases the innovation and creativity taking place every day, as people work with the tools and resources at hand to generate ICT solutions that meet the needs of their neighbours and colleagues.
This month, the international peer-reviewed Journal of Community Informatics is showcasing some of these initiatives through a special issue dedicated to the ‘First Mile’ of connectivity. Briefly, the First Mile concept seeks to overturn some of the assumptions embedded in standard approaches to telecommunications development. Community-level links to broadband networks – whether through public networks like the Internet, or transfer services such as those used to carry data in areas like health, education or banking – are typically called ‘last mile’ connections. This terminology communicates an approach to technology deployment that frames a community connection as the ‘last’ point in a development process.
In contrast, the First Mile approach suggests that communities are the first node in a network. By working with residents in all aspects of network design – from infrastructure planning to ongoing maintenance, business operations, and support – the First Mile perspective suggests that broadband development can be leveraged to take advantage of spin-off benefits. These include opportunities for local employment and revenue generation, as through Internet Service providers or data transfer and management services.
The Special Issue of the Journal of Community Informatics provides an international overview of these kinds of projects. It includes an editorial that outlines the First Mile concept. It discusses some of the implications that the relationships, structures and agreements put into place at the early stages of broadband development will have for shaping how these systems are created and managed in the future. The editorial is a good resource for anyone interested in the concept of First Mile community networking.
Inside the pages of the Journal, you can read about some of the exciting First Mile projects taking place around the world. From Hawaii to Cambodia; Norway to Zambia, people are setting up their own community networks. For a quick introduction to these projects, visit the First Mile website, which includes a link to a webstream event launching the special issue and briefly introducing the papers. You can also download PowerPoint presentations of these presentations.
Despite the diversity of contexts from which these First Mile initiatives emerge, they reflect similar goals, opportunities and challenges. It is clear that many people express interest and energy in community networking, including in regions often thought of as the ‘periphery’ of our global information society. Many of the projects discussed in the Journal are situated in conditions of scarcity – in remote, rural, marginalized areas. Yet they demonstrate how people living there are leveraging the resources in their communities to take on innovative development initiatives. With the proper supports in place, these projects will continue to inspire and engage people in their efforts to express digital self-determination.