Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Interview with Erick Huerta, a researcher helping to bring internet access to indigenous communities in Mexico

Fotografía de Carlos Baca, tomada del perfil público de Facebook del CITSAC. Usada con permiso.

Photograph by Carlos Baca, from the public Facebook page of CITSAC. Used with permission.

At the end of June 2019, the Research Center in Technologies and Community Knowledges (CITSAC) was officially launched in Mexico City (CITSAC for its Spanish acronym).

One of the current projects at CITSAC is the installation of a satellite-based network that will provide community cellphone and Internet service at affordable prices in Metlaltónoc (in the state of Guerrero), one of the poorest municipalities in the country.

CITSAC is also working with the Tosepan Titataniske cooperative (one of the largest indigenous cooperatives nationwide, based in the state of Puebla, Mexico) to design their cellular coverage system.

CITSAC is based on the partnership between two organizations that have promoted communication and telecommunications processes for rural and indigenous communities in Mexico and the region: Networks for Diversity, Equity and Sustainability A.C. (REDES A.C.) and Rhizomatica. Both are main drivers of the first community cellular network and the first indigenous telecommunications network through Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias (Indigenous Community Telecommunications).

Lately, different partnerships between companies have been set up to provide internet in the region; even the Mexican government has shown interest in partnering with Facebook to bring connectivity to rural areas.

A 2017 research by Global Voices on Facebook's Free Basics mobile application (which aims to “close the digital divide”) found that the service doesn't sufficiently supply the local needs of the communities they aim to connect, while potentially violating their rights.

On the occasion of the launch of the CITSAC, Global Voices interviewed Erick Huerta, deputy general coordinator of REDES, A.C. and a researcher for this initiative.

Global Voices (GV): How did this initiative arise?

Erick Huerta: Buscábamos darle forma y sistematizar el trabajo que ya veníamos haciendo desde REDES y Rhizomatica, así como poder integrar a esos trabajos una red de universidades y grupos con los que ya hemos colaborado, pero estando en posibilidades de brindarles una estructura, a través de la cual podríamos operar colectivamente de mejor manera.

Básicamente, lo que hacemos en el CITSAC es hacer investigación con y para las comunidades indígenas. Este es el objetivo.

Erick Huerta: We sought to organize and systematize the work we had already been doing at REDES and Rhizomatica, as well as to integrate a network of universities and groups with which we have already collaborated, and also to provide them with a structure through which we could better operate collectively.

Our main objective at CITSAC is research with and for indigenous communities.

GV: What kind of research do you do?

EV: Tenemos dos fines principales: una es trabajar en la atención a los problemas y aspiraciones de las comunidades indígenas en comunicación, la cual tiene que ver mucho con temas de investigación-acción; es decir, se trabaja mucho con las comunidades, que ubican una acción o problemática, y se constituye un grupo de investigación para trabajar en esos temas. De ahí surge, por ejemplo, la Guía para el Diseño de Estrategias de Comunicación para la Defensa del Territorio, la cual presentamos en el evento de lanzamiento del Centro.

La otra parte es la investigación en términos de desarrollo regulatorio, que tiene que ver con la posibilidad de que estas comunidades accedan a servicios de cuarta generación o LTE. Para ello necesitamos que haya espectro. El problema es que la mayoría del espectro LTE se encuentra concesionado y, por tanto, necesitamos desarrollar sistemas de espectro compartido que permitan que el espectro existente —en donde no se está utilizando— se pueda compartir, y que lo puedan utilizar estas comunidades.

Otra forma de investigación que tenemos es de índole técnica (ya sea cualitativa o cuantitativa) de política y derecho comparado, que se requiere para sostener las propuestas de las comunidades de política pública o de regulación, frente a los gobiernos. En ese sentido, documentamos y constituimos los argumentos jurídico-políticos, e integramos aquellos temas tecnológicos que se requieran desarrollar y que se necesitan para las comunidades. De esta manera, hacemos investigación que tenga incidencia en las políticas públicas o en la regulación, o en la tecnología. Esto le sirve a los gobiernos para poder desarrollar este tipo de políticas públicas, y le sirve a las comunidades porque tienen argumentos jurídico, políticos, legales, técnicos y/o económicos para defenderlos.

EV: Our research has two main purposes: one is to work on the issues and aspirations of indigenous communities related to communication; this is an action-research, which means that communities identify an action or problem, and a research group is formed to work on these issues. A result of this kind of research, for example, is the Guide for the Design of Communication Strategies for the Defense of the Territory, which we presented at the launch of the Center.

The other purpose is research in terms of regulatory development, regarding the possibility of these communities to access fourth generation (4G) services (or Long-Term Evolution, LTE). For this we need to have spectrum. The problem is that most LTE spectrum is under concession and, therefore, we need to develop shared spectrum systems that would allow the existing spectrum—which is not being used—to be shared, so that these communities can use it.

We also do technical research (either qualitative or quantitative) of policy and comparative law, which is required to support the proposals for public policy or regulatory communities vis-à-vis governments. To achieve this, we document and establish legal-political arguments, and integrate those technological issues that need to be developed and which communities need. In this way, we do research that has an impact on public policies, regulation, or technology. This helps governments develop this type of public policy, and it serves communities because in this way they have legal, political, technical and/or economic arguments to defend them.

GV: What are some of the main problems and challenges you have encountered so far?

EV: Hay muchísimos problemas en las comunidades relacionados con la defensa de su territorio (básicamente el despojo por parte de empresas y gobiernos que desean los recursos de las comunidades). Las comunidades en estos procesos quedan muy devastadas y divididas, incluso con criminalidad que no tenían. Vimos que la comunicación que se estaba llevando a cabo, entraba en estos procesos, y acababa dividiendo a las propias comunidades. Por ello, estuvimos trabajando, durante 5 años aproximadamente, en identificar una Guía para poder tener una comunicación más efectiva que fortaleciera a las comunidades en estos procesos. De ahí surgió la Guía para el Diseño de Estrategias de Comunicación para la Defensa del Territorio que te comentaba, con una serie de resultados de una investigación que se hizo en campo, con las comunidades, y que está sustentada en la experiencia.

Por otro lado, en toda América Latina la regulación que hay para las redes comunitarias es muy pobre, muchos gobiernos no saben ni qué son, no conocen los problemas legales que enfrentan, ni su importancia, ni los lugares que atienden, entonces las políticas, a veces, les son desfavorables. Aquí, entonces, trabajamos en compilar experiencias, sistematizarlas, darles estructura jurídica, ver qué políticas les han funcionado, y preparamos un documento de investigación, como el caso del reporte Redes Comunitarias en América Latina. Desafíos, Regulaciones y Soluciones. 

EV: There are many problems in the communities related to the defense of their territory (basically, land dispossession by companies and governments that want the resources of these communities). These issues affect the communities very much, they are devastated and divided, also because of the criminality that they did not have before. The type of communication that was occurring ended up dividing the communities themselves. Therefore, for approximately five years, we have been working on a Guide that would enable a more effective communication that would strengthen the communities involved in these processes. The Guide for the Design of Communication Strategies for the Defense of the Territory includes the results of a field-based research focused on the experiences of these communities.

On the other hand, throughout Latin America, the regulation for community networks is very poor, many governments do not know what they are, what legal problems they face, their significance, or the places they serve, so the policies, sometimes, are unfavorable for these community networks. We work on compiling experiences, systematizing them, giving them legal structure, identifying what policies have worked for them, and preparing a research document, for example, the “Community Networks in Latin America. Challenges, Regulations and Solutions” report.

GV: Could you talk more about the collaboration with academic groups and universities that you mentioned?

EV: Nuestra idea es también ir generando tanto esquemas de formación para la academia, o de introducción para los jóvenes para que puedan trabajar esto dentro de las comunidades, que les permitan acercarse a sus realidades, conocerlas, quererlas, sentirse comprometidos, y que, una vez que concluyan su formación profesional, su ejercicio profesional esté comprometido con las realidades de las comunidades. Este es un objetivo a largo plazo del Centro.

Sentimos que nosotros (tanto los que formamos parte de REDES, A.C., como los que formamos parte de TIC) tuvimos oportunidades de irnos adentrando a las comunidades y sentir ese compromiso con la zona y querer trabajar por ellos.

Una de las cosas que fomentan la desigualdad social es, precisamente, que la mayoría de nosotros y de los estudiantes, nos formamos no para trabajar en beneficio de las comunidades, sino muchas veces para trabajar en contra de estas. Por ello necesitábamos dedicar un espacio para la formación, si bien no dentro de la academia, por lo menos, de alguna forma relacionado con ésta, que les permita comprometerse y llegar a estas realidades, y también acceder a todo el conocimiento que se va generando en esta práctica.

Por otro lado, hay Centros que las propias comunidades están desarrollando, por ejemplo, en sus propias Universidades, bajo sus propias necesidades y realidades. Nos gusta trabajar con estos Centros porque están generando este conocimiento, g

Photograph by Javier de la Cruz, from the public Facebook page of CITSAC. Used with permission.

enerando investigación relacionada directamente con la realidad de las comunidades, y nosotros podemos quizás también participar y aportar: ya sea en la sistematización o formación técnica, que permita aprovechar mejor todos estos saberes, o incluso, colocarlos y defenderlos fuera de lo comunitario.

EV: Our idea is to generate both training programs for academia and introduce young people to the work within the communities. This would allow them to better know the situation of these communities, care about them, so that, once their training ends, their  professional practice could be committed to the realities of the communities. This is a long-term objective of the Center.

We (who are part of REDES, A.C., and of ICT) have had opportunities to be involved with the communities, feel committed to the area and want to work for them.

One of the problems that foster social inequality is precisely that most of us and the students do not train to work for the benefit of communities, but often to work against their interests. This is why we needed a kind of training, that, although not within academia, but related to it, allows the students to commit to and reach these realities, and also access all the knowledge involved in this practice.

On the other hand, there are Centers that communities themselves are developing, for example, in their own Universities, for their own needs and realities. We like to work with these Centers because they are generating this knowledge and research directly related to the reality of the communities, to which we may also be able to participate and contribute: either in the systematization or technical training, which allows us to make better use of all this knowledge, or defend them outside of the community.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.