Next generation Community-Driven Networks: Options and Policy
Openings to Empower Local Communities
From an information system and telecenters network project to a
community network: building financial sustainability over social
Juan Fernando Bossio
This paper presents the case of the Sistema de Información Agraria –Agrarian
Information System- (SIA) promoted by the NGO CEPES in Huaral (Peru). Being
initially a telecenters network and information system project, SIA is starting to be a
kind of community network.
Huaral valley is in the coast of Peru, 90 Km north of Lima. The majority of its
populations get livelihoods from agriculture which entirely depends on irrigation. The
organization related to irrigation had always embedded social organization in this and
other coastal valleys. Nowadays, water resource management and irrigation
infrastructure is in hands of small farmers’ organization: the Irrigation Board and
The project developed by CEPES with the Board had installed telecenters in rural
communities and set a web-based information system on water management and
cultivation monitoring. The project has one connection to Internet and a wireless
network that connect telecenters and offices; this technology permits giving
telecommunications services, however there are regulation constraints.
The role of local CBO shaping the project, accommodating it to changing environment
and pressing policy makers had been crucial on achieving success and sustainability.
Telecenters, information systems and other ICT for development projects struggle for
sustainability. Several times sustainability is just considered in financial or economical
terms, but we would like to argue here for a more holistic conception that considers
social, cultural, technological, legal, political and organizational aspects.
This paper presents the case of the Sistema de Información Agraria –Agrarian
Information System- (SIA) promoted by the NGO CEPES in Huaral (Peru). As we will
see, this project is getting sustainable because of it is being appropriated and shaped by
the local CBO with which it was developed.
Being initially a telecenters network and information system project, SIA is starting to
be a kind of community network. The WiFi technology used permitted them to do so
but there are policies and regulations barriers to be solved. This was originally thought
to be just a financial sustainability strategy; however it seems to be becoming part of the
We hope that the experience shown here would contribute in a way on enlighten
practitioners about the importance of local organizations, consideration of context,
accommodation to environment and opportunities brought by community networks
2.0 Agrarian Information System of Huaral Valley
In 2000, a CEPES representative visited Aucallama Local Government to invite it to
participate in a project with computers and Internet to improve their internal functioning
and services. The Local Government did not pay attention to this project idea, but
Marcial Vega –member of that government and president of one irrigation commission-
suggested working with the Irrigation Board.
Since 2001, CEPES and the Board -with Mr. Vega as new president- developed the
project idea. Initially, the idea was to install one computer at every irrigation
commission and connect it to Internet with VSATs in order to improve commissions’
administration and to give access to agrarian information to irrigation users. Potential
funders worried about financial sustainability: technology option was too expensive and
there were not any income generation planned. The Red Científica Peruana (RCP)
recommends to use wireless to interconnect commissions with one central point to
access Internet and to sell Internet access service to schools, idea that later change to
provide public access with telecenters because of the difficulties to get arrangements
with education sector.
Since this moment the project idea was to create an agrarian information system that use
wireless to interconnect several points in the valley with the objective to contribute with
the ICT appropriation by farmers and the rest of the population, improve administration
of irrigation Board, and allow farmers to access useful and appropriate information, a
system that should get financed by selling telecommunication services (at this moment,
just Internet access at telecenters).
ICTs were always understood as tools for development, tools that should be
accommodated to the concrete context. It implies that, together with actual access to the
tool, its application considers community participation and ownership and capacity
building and content issues.
Huaral is 90 Km north of Lima city (capital of Peru). The valley includes the middle
and low part of the Chancay river basin. It has a subtropical arid climate and its
agricultural productions rely on irrigation –as it happens in almost all the Peruvian
coast. Agriculture gives livelihoods to the majority of its population. There are three
districts Chancay, Huaral y Aucallama, which are part of Huaral Province, as it is part
of Lima Department. Together with districts capitals –being Huaral city the biggest-
there are several small settlements that lack basic services, roads and
Peruvian agro is fractioned into small properties. The agrarian reform of the seventies
expropriated big land owners and gave those lands to cooperatives formed by lands
workers or to old peasant’s communities (Matos Mar, 1980; Matos Mar, 1984). The
contra reform process begins in the 80s by allowing fragmentation of cooperatives, by
giving cooperativits the capacity to be owners. However this fragmentation eliminated
scale economies meaning lower income, obstacles for technical innovation,
intermediaries’ advantage on commercialization and less access to formal credit
(Eguren, 1988; Fernández and Gonzáles, 1990).
In Peru farmers do not use to take into account weather forecasts or business
opportunities to change productive or commercial uses and persist using the option they
better know (Bossio, 2002; Cancino, 2001; INEI, 1996). Those who actually change
those options use social networks to access required information, while for some
technical issues rely on providers.
2.1.1 Access to Internet
In the case of Peru, there is an enormous quantity of commercial Public Internet Access
Point (PIAPs) the ‘cabinas públicas’1. It is estimated that there are 20.000 to 30.000
‘cabinas’, for a 28 million population, being the unique point of access to the Internet
for around 70% of Internet users. However, the immense majority of ‘cabinas’ just
provides access but not training or content development. Then, while lack of access is
being solved by urban entrepreneurs –it does not happen at the same pace in rural areas-
there is a lack of appropriate content for different interests or groups.
Before the project, in Huaral were cabinas just in the city and in Huando (an irrigation
commission in the proximity of Huaral). Several public institutions –as all the related to
agriculture sector- did not have access too. That is why the project planned a telecenters
network to provide connectivity to rural communities. ‘Telecenters’ does not mean the
same for everyone, for some they are just another PIAP as cybercafés or libraries
because what is considered crucial is their capacity to provide access to Internet
(Proenza, 2001). The project shares the idea of the community telecenters movement
that argued that telecenters are tools to be used for development purposes and not ends
by themselves (Delgadillo, Stoll et al, 2002; Gómez and Casadiego, 2002; Stoll and
Menou, 2003). Then, telecenters take the role of intermediary and make ICTs usable by
the poorest people. This intermediation includes creation and dissemination of
knowledge or appropriate information, and development of local capabilities (Madon,
2.2 Irrigators’ (farmers) CBO: the Irrigation Board
Agriculture relies on irrigation and its organization had always embedded social
organization. Before the reform, large land owners (‘Hacendados’) manage the water
1 Cabinas públicas were promoted by the first Peruvian Internet provider (RCP) as
means to give access to people that have not it at a reasonable (an accessible) price.
Almost all of them are micro-enterprises.
resource using social relationships with highlands communities. After the reform a
strong regulation was needed and the Government started to manage the resource (Oré,
In 1979 new organizations were created to manage water: the Irrigations Users Boards
at every Irrigation District (most of the times, a river valley). Boards should maintain
irrigation infrastructure (mainly channels, sluice gates, and water reservoirs), they get
financial resources by charging farmers for the irrigation infrastructure use.
In Huaral the Board is elected by representatives of 17 Irrigators Commissions’. There
are 6000 “irrigation users”, it is important to clarify that only land owners registered at
the board are considered in that amount, farmers who rent land or agricultural workers
are not members of the commissions.
2.3 Description of the Project
This section presents project relation with different actors and counterparts, project
landmarks of the implementation process and project services.
2.3.1 Institutional actors related to the project
The most important actor for the project has been the Irrigation Board. An assembly
(including two delegates from every commission) took the decision to participate in the
project and another one to buy twelve computers as economic contribution to the project
in 2002. Furthermore, from the twelve commissions with telecenters one improved its
building while other ten have bought or rent one, they had not offices before the project
and they have it now.
The project had related to three governmental sectors: telecommunications, agriculture
and education. CEPES presented the project to FITEL (Investment Fund in
Telecommunications) in 2001, it took more than 3 years to be approved, in the interim
certain regulation problems were solved (it was not allowed to use digital linked radio
between different institutions, as the Board and the commissions are). The institutions
of the agricultural sector from local and national level were always considered as key
partners because of the information they have. The project tried to engage the education
sector and it obtained a compromise from local decision makers (UGEL), however
contracts could not be implemented because of bureaucratic problems, probably caused
by the national Internet related education sector project (Huascarán).
The project wanted to include commercial stores of agricultural issues since the
beginning but those enterprises did not find a purpose to do it. In 2005 some
laboratories were associated as providers of technical information.
2.3.2 Implementation of the project
There were activities related to the project since 2001 as the research on information
needs (Cancino, 2001). The design of the information system started in November 2002.
In 2003 CEPES obtained funds from the agricultural sector: the Agrarian Information
General Direction (DGIA) of the Agriculture Ministry funded 280 farmers training on
computers and Internet use, and the INCAGRO project supported the development and
first load of the agrarian information system (SIA).
In 2004 the content platform (http://www.huaral.org) was published, and, finally, at the
end of the year the commissions and the Board central office get connected among them
and to the Internet.
2.3.3 Project services
The SIA project offers the following services:
•Interconnection between twelve information centers of Huaral irrigators
organizations. In the last two months there were more than 2000 minutes of
phone calls between inside the network, use of messenger and email cannot be
counted, but they are intensively used by telecenter administrators, board
officers and most of irrigators organization leaders.
•An information system (YACU) for water resource management and cultivation
•Access to internet through 62 PCs at the telecenters using thin client technology
and open source software. This service is free of charge for farmers and their
families for agrarian information access; it is charged $0.30 per hour for other
•Telecenters administrators provide -free of charge- agrarian information through
web searches and a bulletin board, useful to give information to those who still
do not feel comfortable using computers. Telecenters offer photocopy and
scanner services, not available before in most of the places.
•Internal telephony: VoIP between information services in the valley using a
server with free software locally developed that gives message service and
•Public telephony based on VoIP and wireless internet access (omnidirectional in
one telecenter and point to point in others).
2.4 SIA: the Irrigation Board’s project
At the beginning CEPES was looking for an institution interested in developing a
project for rural development using computers and Internet. Then the Irrigation Board
got involved in the project and in some moment in 2003 the project started to be
considered a project of both institutions. Nowadays, it is the Irrigation Board’s project
which had had an impulse and continues having the support of CEPES.
There is undoubtedly a shift in the property of the project; the appropriation was
encouraged by CEPES –as usually happens in most of development projects- but it was
the Board and its leaders which make a difference. It was the pressure of the Board
which accelerate –yes, accelerate- decisions of funding in telecommunications and
agricultural sectors; it is the Board which make laboratories and local offices of
agricultural sector information providers; it is the Board which support the use of open
source software in the telecenters –something that had failed in almost every other ICT
rural development project in Peru; and is the Board which is shaping the project.
2.4.1 First effects of the project
A midterm evaluation was conducted in the first trimester of 2005 (Bossio and Rocha,
2005) –when Internet service had just some months of operation. The effects found
were institutional enforcement of the Irrigation Board, improved internal and external
communication flows, improved administrative functioning of the Board and
commissions, telecommunication access improvement in the Valley, and some small
effects of information access and internet use that could be found.
•The Board had a new 1650 Mt2 office, had doubled water storage and was
leading an information project considered an example in Peru and elsewhere,
becoming “the most important institution in the valley” according its vice-
president and getting a leadership status among Irrigation Boards at national
•Better communication was considered an important change by leaders and
personnel at the Board and the commissions because internal telephones and
Internet permitted them to have communication that was unavailable before in
some cases or expensive in the rest.
•Connectivity between commissions and Board central office helped to improve
mechanisms of collection of irrigation infrastructure tariff, information
interchange between Board technical officers, risk management of irrigation
infrastructure, and water distribution planning.
•In ten of the eleven localities with a telecenter there was not any Internet access
before the project. In one of the communities were not public phone before the
project. The project also promotes the private Internet access business because
after few months of implementation in five of the localities were new ‘cabinas’.
By the way, the experience of using WiFi had influenced a -hard to measure-
increment in such kind of connections through the coast.
•Considering Internet was just working for some months at the moment of the
evaluation it was not expected to found too much effect from Internet usage,
however some were found as independent commissions’ web pages which serve
for leaders’ accountability, some farmers went to the telecenters to get
commercial information on products, pesticides and fertilizers.
2.4.2 Board preferences: irrigation information system and telephony services
The project objective was to give farmers access to productive and commercial
information that they would use to make decisions. While it is still one objective, what
Board leaders consider most important is their own information system on water
availability and kind of agriculture products being served, and telephony service.
IP Telephony was firstly a secondary service that installed infrastructure permit. At the
begging there was just internal telephony between commissions and the Board office.
Then it was possible to make phone calls from commissions without phone service
using Board office line. Considering the system allow to charge the commission and
individual users for the phone service it was opened to general public but regulatory
constraints impede continue giving it.
The Board and CEPES had been working on regulatory alternatives with
telecommunications officers, but they have not found a solution yet.
2.4.3 Growing: dreams and plans
Board leaders want to scale the project inside Huaral and over Peruvian coast. In the
first sense, they would like to install telecenters in all the non served irrigation
commissions (6) and to amplify the services of telecenters (in number of computers, for
example) in those who have, especially in communities not served by private ‘cabinas’.
They want also to help other Boards to replicate the project in the entire coast and
mainly in the rest of the valleys around Lima; at first, because their products value is
defined by the combined offer of valleys around Lima and, secondly, because they feel
so proud of contributing in such way from Huaral.
2.4.4 Project sustainability
‘Sustainability’ is used to describe the capacity of a project or its results to continue
existing or working when funding or the external agent presence finish (Fukao, 2004).
This capacity to continue existing had been reduced to financial terms by several
development actors. However, sustainability also includes social and cultural,
technological, political and legal, and organizational aspects (Delgadillo et al, 2002;
Stoll & Menou, 2003; Fukao, 2004). All these aspects should be considered in order to
obtain the continuity of actions and results of development projects and, more
importantly, to avoid affecting future development of communities.
Social and cultural sustainability is obtained through community and CBOs
participation, local NGOs and other institutions commitment, local characteristics,
culture and traditions understanding, consideration of differences within communities
(gender, culture, ageing), marginalized groups empowerment and empathy with local
people (Delgadillo, 2004). It is achieved when project results are appropriated by the
community becoming a common. The Irrigation Board guarantees social sustainability
by appropriating of the project.
Technological sustainability refers to the capacity to update technologies in future
scenarios. It seems to be well based on the selection of open source software (accepted
and defended by Board leaders and telecenter operators) and linked radio because those
technologies seems to be scalable and updatable.
Legal and/or political sustainability refers to the regulatory framework and wellbeing of
local policy makers and political authorities because a project cannot be successful
being illegal. Some legal problems faced by the project were solved, while there are still
Organizational sustainability is related with the local capacity to run common services
developed and capacity building of local people to replace those that will leave the
project. This sustainability is been nurtured by permanent training of telecenter
operators and a group of young people which would replace any of them that decide to
leave Huaral, those young men and young woman are children of farmers members of
the commissions were they work.
Experience has shown that political, technical and social sustainability helps to achieve
financial sustainability, whilst the reverse has not been observed (Fukao, 2004; Stoll
and Menou, 2003).
The Board directive had guaranteed financial sustainability, at first they take part of
their budget –supposed to be entirely devoted to irrigation infrastructure maintenance-
to pay telecenter administrators and internet connection, now they have included a SIA
fee in annual farmers’ contribution. The SIA –including or not telecenter services- had
got merged with irrigators’ organization functioning because the irrigation management
is now computer and internet facilitated and cannot come back to files and papers. The
sustainability of the project resides there.
However, telecenters and the wireless network produce some lateral income which
serves to pay for internet connection. There are big differences between telecenters
because some of them are placed in localities which already have ‘cabinas’ and other is
in a poorer community. Provision of telecommunications services –public telephony
and wireless internet connection- had been identified as an alternative to generate some
2.5 Towards a community network
Rural areas use to be underserved in several terms and in telecommunications. They
appear to be unattractive to private providers or public sector because of high
installation costs and small purchasing power of people at those areas. Providers face
other –not so confessed- obstacles: lack of charging mechanisms applicable to rural area
lack of organization flexibility, centralized technical teams, and technology dependence.
In summary they lack of capacity to adequate their wide behavior to local context of
Community Network has arisen as an alternative model to overcome those obstacles
(Siochrú and Girard, 2007). Community Network or Microtelcos are non-traditional
local-scale organizations that deploy and operate ICT networks in place with
unattractive market for traditional operators. Those organizations use to be hybrids of
small-sale entrepreneurship, local government actions and community participation.
“What distinguishes them from traditional operators is the local scale, the use of low
cost technologies and innovative business models, and the strong community links”
(Galperin and Girard, 2007 p.96)
Community Networks could leapfrog in technology and test or combine different
technologies, rely on confidence with local people, get support from local authorities,
and develop local capacities to manage the network.
However, in order to operate community networks need of enabling regulatory
frameworks. As Galperin and Girard (2007) suggest such framework should provide
spectrum access facilitate licensing, be technologically neutral, make universal service
funds accessible for community networks or Micro-telcos, and provide guidance and
framework for interconnection arrangements between new entrants and the incumbent.
‘Pro-poor pro-market’ policies are needed in order to facilitate that local entrepreneurs-
with the willing and contribution of local government and communities – offer the
services that big providers refuse to give (Galperin and Mariscal, 2007).
2.5.1 ‘Community network’ kind of services provided by SIA
It is technically possible to provide VoIP from telecenters and there are 3 conventional
telephone lines installed at the Board office through which VoIP calls enter into the
public network. A system was developed to allow using pre-paid cards to make phone
calls from telecenters.
But in the case of Peru we still lack of an enabler framework as Saravia (2005) pointed
out. There had been policy guidelines to promote access to telecommunication services
in rural areas (MTC, 2003) and in the last year it was opened the possibility to be
‘independent operator’ and provide telephony services in underserved places. However
it is just possible if there is no any available public phone –regardless of the quality of
its service- and this is not the case for several of the localities with telecenters in Huaral.
Then, the public telephony service is provided in an ‘informal’ way but cannot be
opened and massively provided in spite of there is a big demand.
The project provides wireless internet access to eight clients (4 public institutions and 4
small enterprises). There is an important demand from schools too. New users should
make an important investment to start using internet because these connections should
be point to point because of the kind of antenna that telecenters have. The income from
this service would cover the cost of Internet connectivity of the whole project, but there
is delay in payment.
2.5.2 The future
It is planned to include GIS functionalities to YACU system in the near future.
Information from YACU will be also podcasted through local radios and farmers would
access to such programs at the telecenters (customized radio).
The use of smartphones will be tested with a small group of farmers that will receive
customized information. This research project will install three hotspots in the valley,
this infrastructure will also provide internet to new telecenters in smaller communities,
local institutions and private users which would get in the network without a big initial
investment. Then, being a community network is becoming part of the project and the
telecommunications services of SIA will be expanded soon.
The analysis of the case show that social sustainability is critical to find financial
sustainability by providing funds and, more importantly, by proposing appropriate
modifications that help to get revenues by solving local needs. That leads to the point of
determining the evolution from a telecenter and agrarian information system project to
amalgam that includes community network.
Telecenters installed in small rural localities show that there is room for private PIAPs
(‘cabinas’), so local small entrepreneurs are now investing in providing such service.
The project had shown that WiFi is an affordable and appropriate technology to provide
internet access in the Peruvian coast.
Lack of adequate regulation continuous been a problem to develop community
networks, but the compromise of CBOs open the possibility to influence in policy
The Board still needs to develop an appropriate business model in order to maintain and
enlarge the network. It should include the engagement of other local institutions, NGOs,
small enterprises and CBOs.
It should be also explore if it would be better to separate the community network
services as a non-profit organization because of regulatory, taxes, administration and
Bossio, J. (2007). “Sostenibilidad de proyectos de desarrollo con nuevas tecnologías: el
caso de la organización de regantes y su sistema de información en Huaral”. Journal of
Community Informatics. Vol 3, No 3.
Bossio, J. (2002). “Flujos de Información y Comunicación en contextos rurales: punto
de partida para intervenciones en Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación”. In:
Perú, el problema agrario en debate, SEPIA IX / M. Pulgar Vidal, E. Zegarra y J.
Urrutia. Lima: SEPIA, CIES, CARE, OXFAM. pp. 662-687
Bossio, J. y J. Rocha (2005). La organización de regantes y el acceso a información en
Huaral: apropiación social de nuevas tecnologías: Evaluación de medio término del
proyecto Sistema de Información Agraria de Huaral. Lima: CEPES. Unpublished
Cancino, I. (2001). Determinación de Necesidades Específicas de Información Agraria
e Identificación de los Sistemas de Información del Valle de Huaral. Lima: CEPES.
Delgadillo, K., R. Gómez y K. Stoll (2002). Telecentros... ¿para qué?: lecciones sobre
telecentros comunitarios en América Latina y el Caribe. Ottawa: IDRC.
Eguren, F. (1988). “Revisión y balance de los estudios sobre restructuración de
empresas agrarias asociativas”. In: SEPIA II: El problema agrario en debate. Lima:
Fernández, A. y A. Gonzáles (1990). La reforma agraria peruana, 20 años después.
Chiclayo: Centro de Estudios Sociales Solidaridad.
Fukao, T. (2004). “What are the key factors for the rural telecentre´s sustainability? a
case study of a rural town in Mongolia”. London School of Economics. Unpublished
Galperin, H. and J. Mariscal (2007). Digital poverty: Latin American and Caribbean
perspective. Ottawa: IDRC
Galperin, H and B. Girard (2007). “Microtelcos in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
In: Digital poverty: Latin American and Caribbean perspective. Ottawa: IDRC. (pp.
Gómez, R. and B. Casadiego (2002). Letter to aunt Ofelia: seven proposals for human
development using new information and communication technologies. Ottawa, IDRC.
Holmberg, J. y R. Sandbrook (1992). “Sustainable development: what is to be done?”
In: Policies for a small planet / J. Holmberg. London: Earthscan.
INEI (1996). Censo Nacional Agropecuario, III - 1994. Resultados Definitivos. Perú.
Madon, S. (2000). "The Internet and Socio-Economic Development: exploring the
interaction." In: Information technology and people. Vol 13, No 2. pp. 85-101.
Matos Mar, José (1980). La reforma agraria en el Perú. Lima: IEP.
Matos Mar, José (1984). Reforma agraria: logros y contradicciones 1969-1979. 2da ed.
Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones MTC. (2003). Decreto supremo 049-
2003-MTC: Lineamientos de Políticas para promover un mayor acceso a los Servicios
de Telecomunicaciones en áreas rurales y lugares de preferente interés social
Oré, María Teresa. (1989). Riego y Organización: evolución histórica y experiencias
actuales en el Perú. Lima, ITDG.
Proenza, F. (2001). “Telecenter sustainability: myths and opportunities”, The journal of
Development Communication Vol 12, No 2, p. 14.
Saravia, M. (2005). “Rural telecommunications networks in Peru”. In: Community-
based networks and innovative technologies: new models to serve and empower the
poor. New York: UNDP. (pp. 99-141)
Siochrú, S. and B. Girard. (2005). Community-based networks and innovative
technologies: new models to serve and empower the poor. New York: UNDP.
Stoll, K. y M. Menou. (2003). “Basic principles of telecenter sustainability”.
Somos@Telecentros. <http://www.tele-centros.org/CR/crsosten.php> March 28, 2005
WCED. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.