The Country Land and Business Association warned recently that economic development in rural areas is being put at risk because of failures to provide adequate access to the internet
The ascent of rural community owned broadband initiatives over the last few years can be considered something of a success story. A few months ago Rory Cellan-Jones wrote for the BBC of Broadband for the Rural North, championed by Chris Doyle, who has commented here.
In 2004, our own research identified a potential market of £2.2 billion from 6 million rural homes. The greater emphasis , however was on the social objective, of tackling poverty by means of a business model which invested in the local community using the formal model of a BENCOM.
This emphasis on poverty reduction through microenterprise development derived from preceding work in Tomsk, Russia, which had been one of the first hit by the global economic crisis. A key component in what became known as the Tomsk Regional Initiative being the microfinance bank, a Community Development Finance Institution or CDFI.
In 2004, our aim had been to feed profit into CDFIs to provide much needed funding for social enterprise development.
Our business plan drew attention to the potential of uprisings as the consequence of failing to tackle poverty, suggesting that.
“The emerging Information Age will provide an unprecedented opportunity for outreach and communication at local community levels by way of the Internet. Given the opportunity to communicate and research global resources, communities will become able to assess their own needs, identify resources to meet those needs, and procure those resources. In that sense, the information economy can work to the advantage of impoverished people in a way never before possible.
In order to participate in the information economy, it is essential for local communities in any nation in the world to be able to access common information. Given that the Internet and world wide web are in their development infancy, physical infrastructure for the Internet on a global basis need to be built: the global information infrastructure, or GII . So, why not create new companies that not only fulfill this very lucrative and ongoing infrastructure deployment and direct the profit to additional social needs such as poverty and hunger relief?”
It was a theme carried forward to our work in Ukraine, which focussed on childcare reform. Arguing the case for affordable wireless broadband as part of the comprehensive ‘Marshall Plan’ strategy:
“The needs for drastically improved communication infrastructure in Ukraine are manifold. We see a democratic political movement in its infancy that will have difficulty in advancing without the same basic and affordable communication infrastructure available in each and every democratic nation in the world. Ukraine does not have this.
We see a nation staggering under the crushing burden of widespread poverty, the extent of which no one is sure but which most people assessing the situation realistically is at least twenty five percent of the population. We understand that communication – particularly high-speed Internet communication at a cost that is affordable to half the population and all businesses – is essential for economic growth and development so that poverty can be reduced.
We see a staggering array of social problems arising directly from poverty, including but not limited to tens of thousands of children in orphanages or other state care; crime; disrespect for civil government because government cannot be felt or seen as civil for anyone left to suffer in poverty; young people prostituting themselves on the street; drug abuse to alleviate the aches and pains of the suffering that arises from poverty and misery; HIV/AIDS spreading like a plague amidst prostitution, unprotected sex, and drug abuse; more children being born into this mix and ending up in state care at further cost to the state; criminals coming from poverty backgrounds, ending up as bandits, returning to communities after prison, with few options except further criminal activity. These are all part and parcel of the vicious negative cycle of poverty, and this threatens to destroy Ukraine, if Ukraine is defined in terms of people rather than mere geographic boundaries. Overall, population is steadily declining; families have not sufficient confidence in tomorrow to reproduce more than 1.2 children on average per couple.
At the very same time, there are excellent minds and people all over the country struggling to alleviate these problems. The communication infrastructure that can most effectively and quickly facilitate these efforts does not exist. Nor are there any serious plans for it. Draconian barriers stand in the way of progress. In Ukraine, people can be fined or jailed for operating simple wi-fi devices, which are common and unlicenced in all democracies and developed nations. In Ukraine, a license to operate a simple wi-fi device is required. Licenses are costly and almost impossible to get through a central-controlled Ministry. These devices hold the promise of rapid, community-wide high-speed Internet deployment from a single point of access, the cost of which can be shared equally among each user.”
A year after the plan was delivered to government, national rollout of Nortel wireless technology began under the PeopleNet banner.
Founder Terry Hallman was also involved in helping leverage investment for science education , but his major impact was in the area of childcare policy reforms and the cause of ‘Ukraine’s forgotten children. For founder Terry Hallman, a mission that would cost him his life.
Back to rural Gloucestershire, the county that social enterprise forgot, in spite of efforts to leverage community broadband in the Forest of Dean.
In the adjacent county of Somerset, things are rather different with South West Internet CIC gaining support from local authorities and Western Power.
It was a conversation with Tim Snape of SWI CIC, which revealed to me that their plans for expansion had been undermined by what he saw as underhand acquisition of RDPE funding by Forest of Dean and Devon County councils. He pointed out that the funding rules required infrastructure investment, whereas the Forest of Dean council were to fund a think tank. We never learned what they did with that funding.
I’m still advocating for community own broadband in the Forest of Dean and Gloucestershire, where extraordinary effort seems to have been made to keep it from the discussion table. It beggars belief that with all the political rhetoric on social value, those who’ve invested so much, can be so marginalised.
Can I find solidarity among those who have made at least some progress? We’re all in this together, after all, aren’t we?