How the Network Startup Resource Center helps bring Internet access to communities around the world

“I’ve been a big fan of NSRC for decades now. They are the gold standard when it comes to preparing groups to build and operate networks that are part of the Internet. Their work is fundamental to PCI’s objectives. We can’t be very people-centered if there is no Internet on which to center our focus on applications and locally useful content. It is deeply satisfying to share this article with the PCI community.” – Vint Cerf, Chairman

In this article, Steven Huter, Director of the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) shares details about the NSRC’s participatory development model, which demonstrates a clear people-centered approach to bringing Internet to communities. Steve also asks an open question to the People-Centered Internet members: how can the NSRC and PCI implement an effective development model of affordable connectivity, combined with advocacy, education, and implementation that puts community participation and local ownership first?

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By Steven Huter

NSRC cultivates collaboration among a community of peers to build and improve a global Internet that benefits all parties. We facilitate the growth of sustainable Internet infrastructure via technical training and engineering assistance to enrich the network of networks. Our goal is to connect people. Our participatory development model follows a set of guiding principles:

* Listen first. We listen carefully and do our best to be sure we are addressing and helping people solve the right problems to achieve their objectives and desired Internet development outcomes. Listening first to what local Internet developers request and desire in terms of assistance, as based on their respective conditions and challenges, is vital for a successful outcome.

* The Internet is Made of People. The net is not just wires and routers and servers and datacenters. The heart of the Internet is made of people reaching out to each other to connect and communicate for a myriad of reasons. Skilled people working together around the world is how we create, build, operate and grow the Internet. Encouraging national cooperation and enhancing regional collaboration can often reduce costs, aggregate demand and improve access for larger numbers of people, resulting in greater constructive impacts.

* Local hands, cultivating local expertise. It is essential to foster critical mass of technically skilled personnel in all countries to manage the growth and interoperation of the many thousands of networks around the world that form the Internet. This leads to self-determination, driven by local expertise, and the creation of much-needed employment and new opportunities for innovation anywhere in the world. This is particularly important for cultivating viable business models in rural areas.

* Support producers, not just consumers. The creation of culturally appropriate and educationally useful content in more countries and cultures around the world is also of great importance for enriching the global Internet and increasing its utility value for all. The combination of improving infrastructure, which creates more supply, and people working together to deliver relevant platforms and services, which drives demand, is good for the whole Internet eco-system.

Over the past few decades, NSRC personnel have worked directly with thousands of Internet developers in 130 countries to help build hundreds of networks that now connect millions of users, resulting in deep, built relationships in all regions of the world. We utilize this fabulous human network to cultivate new network engineering talent via hundreds of hands-on, lab-based technical training programs with network operator groups, and coordinated collaborations with industry, government agencies and research and education networks (RENs).

NSRC specializes in promoting a culture of network operators that help each other, thereby cultivating a community of professionals to enable continuous progress across the Internet ecosystem. To be clear, the NSRC does not parachute people and equipment in, build infrastructure and leave. Based on specific requests and invitations, the NSRC group provides training, technical skills and equipment to allow the local operators and engineers to build, maintain and operate well-structured networks tuned to their local needs, provides documentation and training materials, facilitates regional collaboration, remotely assists local Internet developers when asked for follow-up help, and then leverages all of the built relationships for the collective good of the Internet.

Success for NSRC is a sustainable community of Internet-savvy engineers and operators around the world that can enable continuous progress in their countries to bring more affordable Internet access and better network performance for their respective communities. These guiding principles can help any organization, whether commercial, academic or philanthropic, cultivate people-centered approaches to deploying the Internet in communities around the world.

How can the NSRC and PCI implement an effective development model of affordable connectivity, combined with advocacy, education, and implementation that puts community participation and local ownership first? We look forward to comments and suggestions from readers and supporters of the People-Centered Internet (PCI).

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