Advancing Internet Inclusion Q&A: IEEE working group leaders share points toward progress

By Karen McCabe, Senior Director, Technology Policy & International Affairs, IEEE Standards Association

10 October 2017

The IEEE Internet Initiative will convene technology and policy experts in Washington, D.C., on 16 October to help advance solutions for universal internet access. Among participants are seven working groups focused on prioritized challenges and barriers – from public access and community networks to the digital gender divide and digital literacy – to help connect more than half of the world’s population that isn’t connected to the internet today.

Group members will discuss their progress and next steps toward outputs that can be adopted and used in various regions of the world. Several working group leaders shared insights leading up to the IEEE Internet Inclusion: Advancing Solutions—Washington event.

Question: If resources (money, people, etc.) were no barrier, what would be the best contribution to worldwide internet inclusion your working group could make over the next six months? 

Community Networks Working Group Lead Roger Baig Viñas,, and Public Access Working Group Lead Don Means, Digital Village and P4PA

Baig Viñas: It is generally accepted that connecting the unconnected can only be achieved through a pool of solutions. Community Networks (CN) can be part of this pool due to their many positive aspects: adaptation of local needs, costs reduction, citizens’ empowerment, etc. Nevertheless, the lack of clear understanding of what CNs are makes it difficult to estimate their effective capacity and how they can be promoted externally.

The intended outcome is a report that identifies and standardizes, whenever possible, the patterns of CNs and requirements for them to happen and be successful and makes recommendations to development agencies, Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), and others on how to boost CNs.

Means: Our best contributions would be advancing existing exemplary collaborative actions in Africa (Tunisia, central Africa) and initiating new actions in Latin America (Colombia, Mexico, Argentina) and on another continent (Southeast Asia). In addition, unlimited resources would allow:

  • Finalizing and publishing policy positions advocating urgent USF and spectrum reform
  • Building out a knowledge-base and database to create a toolset that can be utilized globally to help local communities launch PA initiatives
  • And advocating PA strategy through participation in IGF (DC-PAL session) and other venues/events.

Question: What aspects of existing community network models can be replicated in other locations?

Baig Viñas: CNs can be replicated, because they are the response to the cross cutting need of internet access and the right of citizens to actively participate in the design, construction, expansion, and maintenance of the infrastructures that solve their needs.

The aspects to be replicated are those that set the bases of CNs: construction and operation of an inclusive network infrastructure through the empowerment of the locals and the creation of business opportunities able to make the infrastructure sustainable. The inclusion not only refers to the capacity to add infrastructure to extend the network but also the right to participate in the decision-making processes.

The localization of the solutions is critical for a successful implementation and appropriation. Thus, any implementation plan must integrate the localization and customization aspects from the beginning. The participatory design approach has produced successful results on all five continents.

Why are public access points, such as libraries, logical focus points for advancing internet access?

Means: There are multiple and complementary benefits – from providing connectivity to public access facilities like libraries or other trusted community centers. 

Libraries typically add support/ training services, access technologies and a deep understanding of local needs to make raw access more meaningful to new users as well as to experienced users who may otherwise lack more advanced equipment, a safe, comfortable space, or even simply a faster connection.

Connecting and adequately staffing libraries, schools, colleges, health clinics or other community anchors for public access provides government with simple, inexpensive ways to fulfill universal service programs: access to public information, educational content, and e-government services for an entire population.

Connections at these community anchors can serve as infrastructural “intermediate endpoints” that not only provide valuable end user access at and around facilities, but also as potential interconnect points to extend “last (first) mile” networks further into communities (markets) via technologies such as TV white spaces.  

To maximize such investments, a multi-stakeholder approach is required to not only look at access, access technologies and necessary digital literacy skills, but also to foster favorable regulatory environments that allow the use of innovative technologies like TV white spaces to serve as catalysts for last (first) mile deployment implementations, including community built networks. 

Additional value can be derived from libraries’/centers’ capabilities to host/cache, as well as facilitate creation of local-language and relevant value-added content in each community.

Question: How do you define digital literacy in the context of internet inclusion?

Digital Literacy Working Group Leads Melissa Sassi, Microsoft, and Stephen Wyber, International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)

Sassi: Forging consensus around a broad, useful definition of digital literacy is one of the first undertakings of our working group. As we gather input, we find digital literacy can mean everything from turning on a computer, to exhibiting the critical-thinking skills to consume media wisely, to maintaining online privacy and security, and all the way through to making/doing, building apps and monetizing digital creations.

Wyber: “Meaningful” is a key word. If we limit our vision in internet inclusion to merely rolling out raw connectivity everywhere around the world, the risk of polarization among groups of people actually heightens. If a first-time user doesn’t know how to use the access they have been given – other than maybe to pass time or buy things – the gulf between the world’s haves and have-nots stands to widen. We could potentially create a Fourth World.

On the other hand, if we successfully roll out digital literacy along with connectivity – enabling people to go from unconnected to connected to thriving by shrewdly interpreting information and creating their own ways to use digital tools most effectively in their own contexts – internet inclusion is destined to transform lives for the better.

Question: What are some essential items on a tactical checklist for gender equality related to internet inclusion?

Digital Gender Divide Working Group Lead Gary Fowlie, Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations

Fowlie: Key elements of access, skills, and leadership that we collectively need to address include this checklist:


  • Universal connectivity
  • Affordability of internet access
  • Affordability of hardware on which to access the internet
  • Improve safety and security online with attention to addressing the specific risks that women and girls face.

Other points of importance, but in need of further discussion on tactics and indicators include:

  • Develop more content relevant to women and girls to increase demand and interest.
  • Actively involve women in the design, development, and implementation of national digital policies and ensure that bridging the gender divide is integrated in them as a priority.
  • Build the confidence and self-esteem of women and girls to empower them to seek access and acquire/build digital skills.


  • Improve the quality of digital training programs and education. Ensure that it is gender sensitive. Use blended learning to integrate digital skills capacity building into other programs that reach women and girls.
  • Build literacy generally – too many women and girls can’t yet read.
  • Build and illustrate the business case for investing in skills building for women and girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), including digital skills.
  • Promote that gender equality is integrated as an objective with key performance indicators (KPIs) in all programs on STEM, including digital, training and education.

Other points of importance, but in need of further discussion on tactics and indicators include:

  • Reach more women and girls with e-skills and digital literacy programs
  • Counter stereotypes that hold women and girls back from acquiring STEM skills, including digital skills.
  • Support more women in tech businesses and female tech entrepreneurs with capacity building, mentorship, and access to finance.


  • Encourage more tech companies to commit to the Women’s Empowerment Principles.
  • Develop a list of tech sector specific key actions that companies can take to empower women and girls in the workplace, marketplace, and community.
  • Encourage tech companies to buy from, invest in, train and partner with women tech entrepreneurs through the SheTrades
  • Encourage governments to use their hard and soft power (including through procurement policy and practice) to support more women in employment and leadership in the tech sector and women tech entrepreneurs.
  • Identify sex disaggregated KPIs and improve data collection to accelerate closing the gender gap, recognizing that data is a vital tool to measure progress and ensure accountability.

Other points of importance, but in need of further discussion on tactics and indicators include:

  • Promote that national digital strategies and policies be gender sensitive and addressing how to bridge the gender digital divide in the country.
  • Programs that engage men in tech to see that gender equality is their issue too and to proactively address backlash that is present in some areas.
  • Ensure initiatives to bridge the gender divide in tech are backed by the needed budget.

Question: What are some key points in the development case to bring reliable energy integrated with delivering affordable, secure internet access?

Connectivity and Energy Working Group Lead Nilmini Rubin, Tetra Tech

Rubin: Internet availability depends on energy reliability. Without energy, the internet simply cannot work. Roughly four billion people on the planet do not have access to the internet. More than one billion people do not even have access to electricity, and countless others have inadequate access to electricity and the internet. Both internet and energy connectivity help people improve their economic lives, bolster their relationships, access educational tools and find relevant information. Going forward, it is important for both internet and energy access to be included as core parts of infrastructure plans.

Select sessions from the 16 October IEEE Internet Inclusion: Advancing Solutions event will be livestreamed by More information about the IEEE Internet Initiative’s mission, programs, events, and working groups can be found at