The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically brought to the fore the need for internet access, for all the residents of our villages, professionals and students alike. In the Sarantaporo.gr Community Network community we consider internet access a human right and we strive daily to maintain and improve our infrastructure, which provides all residents of 11 Elassona Municipality villages with open Internet access.
Letters such as those sent to us today by these students make us proud of our work and motivate us to continue struggling for equal access to communication, knowledge and digital citizenship.
Two students from the village of Karya, Elassona, have moved to Flampouro village so that they can use the Sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network for their distance learning in the midst of the corona virus pandemic. They have sent us a letter, where they recount their experience.
A parent from the village of Pythio Elassona, also sends us his appreciation for the operation of the Sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network in his village and a photo of his son, while attending classes connected to our wireless community network.
Sarantaporo.gr and Homo Digitalis contributed their comments in the online consultation, which expired on July 17, 2020, on the draft law on the new Electronic Communications Code. The amendments proposed by the two organizations are aimed at creating a favorable regulatory framework for the development and operation of community broadband networks by citizens in Greece. Following their participation in the consultation, the two organizations jointly sent an open letter to the Minister of Digital Government Mr. Kyriakos Pierrakakis and the Secretary General of Telecommunications and Post Mr. Antonios Tzortzakakis, bringing these proposals to their attention.
Community broadband networks created by citizens to provide internet connectivity are recognized by the European Commission, the Internet Society (ISOC), the UN and other international organizations as an approach that can make a significant contribution to bridging the digital divide and to empower digital citizenship. The importance of these networks has become particularly apparent in recent years due to the fact that, even today, half the world's population remains unconnected. At the same time, the voices and decisions of international organizations that characterize Internet access and communication as a basic human right are increasing.
The village of Sykea in the Municipality of Elassona is another case of settlement, as is the settlement of Akri village, which which lacks access to modern telecommunications infrastructure and the internet, even though it is located just 15 km from the city of Elassona.
The initiative and the kickoff meeting
At the initiative of the Mayor of Elassona, Mr. Gatsas Nikos, Sarantaporo.gr Non-Profit Organization made contact by teleconference on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, with a delegation of residents of Sykea village at Elassona town hall. During the meeting Sarantaporo.gr NPO presented its work so far and the impact it has on the local community and planned the first steps of integrating the local community of Sykeon into the wireless community network of Sarantaporo.gr. In cooperation with the residents of the village we plan to implement the expansion of the Community network as a common good. This network expansion will help to bridge the digital divide and will provide an exit path for the village from digital isolation.
Internet access is a human right
We strongly believe that internet access is a human right, which must be guaranteed by using existing public infrastructure and resources in order to offer citizens equal access to the digital era. In the midst of the on-going corona-virus health crisis, digital isolation is becoming even more difficult due to the increased needs for remote education, teleworking and access to information and public online services.
Therefore, in cooperation with the University of Thessaly, the residents of the villages and local stakeholders, we fight to ensure basic internet access for all residents of isolated villages in which there is no alternative internet access from a commercial provider.
In collaboration with the Municipality of Elassona
Citizens' Community Networks bridge the digital divide
During this period of home restricted quarantine that we are experiencing in the midst of the pandemic, no citizen is allowed to remain excluded in the shadow of digital isolation. Community networks around the world, such as the Sarantaporo.gr wireless community network, offer citizens the opportunity to bridge the digital divide by building their own telecommunications infrastructure as a common good.
Homo Digitalis and Sarantaporo.gr are officially announcing their partnership to promote and defend digital rights, with an emphasis on the right of all citizens to access modern high-speed networking infrastructure and the internet..
Homo Digitalis is the most active non-governmental organization in Greece dedicated to the protection of human rights in the digital age. Sarantaporo.gr, is the most successful Nonprofit Organization that develops broadband networks of public interest, with the most active citizens' network in Greece, the Sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network.
According to a recent survey by Hellenic Statistical Authority, only 78.5% of Greeks have access to the internet, which reveals that more than 2.5 million of our citizens remain in digital exclusion. Not all social groups are provided with the same level of service for two main reasons. Either because they live in remote areas with low population density and therefore low investment interest for telecommunications companies, or because, although they reside in cities, they do not have the financial resources to obtain a satisfactory broadband connection, as modern day digitalization now requires.
The Sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network is a project that fights against this particular digital exclusion to bridge the digital divide in the mountainous and isolated villages of Elassona Municipality. Actively engaging local inhabitants in the area, Sarantaporo.gr is building a modern wireless telecommunications infrastructure that currently serves 11 villages and about 3,500 residents. This initiative was recently awarded by the European Commission with the first prize at the European Broadband Awards 2019, the leading institution in highlighting and honoring major broadband development initiatives at European level.
The two leading Greek civil society organizations in their field have decided to join forces to propose concrete measures that the State can adopt to support community networks and an institutional and financial level and promote public awareness for community broadband networks in Greece, mainly in remote areas of the country that have no alternative access. This is also the direction suggested by the most recent EU Broadband Special Report.
We are thrilled to share some very good news with all of you. Sarantaporo.gr Community Network has been awarded the first prize at the European Broadband Awards 2019! This is an exciting moment for us, but also, we believe, an exciting moment for CNs around Europe and around the world.
Our proposal received a score of 9,8 out of 10. What made a big difference was our focus in digital literacy and skills building. This is a characteristic of CNs that one does not find in telecom operators. And it makes all the difference, in adding the word "meaningful" to connectivity.
It started with guifi.net being awarded at the first EBA in 2015 as the best innovative model of financing, business and investment. Today Sarantaporo.gr has received the first prize as the best example of demand generation and take-up of connectivity.
European Commission could not have put it more clearly that it is counting on CNs to achieve its connectivity goals. In the words of Franco Accordino, DG Connect Unit Director, at the closing of B-Day:
"We need to build an EU that works for people. The Greek example creates a strong message to support community connectivity in Europe [..] In EU we don't have the "garages", but we have the local communities which can innovate, through connectivity."
We welcome this victory of ours as a victory of our local community, but also as a victory of the Community-Networks-way of connecting people. At the IGF in Berlin it was acknowledged that CNs are indeed an established approach to connectivity when it comes to connecting remote areas or providing affordable, meaningful connectivity for all. We thus believe that this is a time of profound recognition of CNs as important stakeholders in connecting the unconnected across Europe and the world and we should leverage this momentum that is building up.
We hope you will all celebrate this victory with us as a common achievement, which hopefully contributes in bringing at a new level the discussion about the future of CNs in connecting the unconnected.