When the internet is not a barrier (no matter how far you live) | Future Planet

The pandemic caught 8-year-old Sofía Ríos with more difficulties than many children in Medellín to continue learning. He lives in the town of San Sebastián de Palmitas, a beautiful rural town just 40 minutes from Medellín, although nothing resembles life in the city. The rush and the cement don’t come here. But neither does the internet. The solution to not miss the classes that were taught through virtual platforms? A kind of makeshift parlor made of wood and waterproof fabrics with a plastic chair inside, located at one end of the farm; the only corner of the house where the mobile data of his mother, Luz Análida Ríos Ospina, 39, reached.

“We paid 30,000 pesos (eight euros) per week and it wasn’t always enough. There were months that I lost several days ”, remembers the mother. The family earns about 900,000 a month. About 200 euros. A project of the city council to bring the connection to the surroundings of the Colombian municipality converted this little ranch that served as a study room into a storage room. “Now you don’t need it; you can join from inside the house ”, he narrates.

Connecting to the internet is an obligation of the Government. Law 2108 of July 29, 2021 expressly establishes access as an essential public service in Colombia. But so far it is a right that does not come off the paper. The digital divide in the five townships of Medellín is almost 60%, according to the latest administration data. Only four out of ten houses have a connection to the virtual world. A figure that is invested in the capital. To close this gap between citizens of the same municipality, the city council launched a pilot project in which 20 routers with 30 megabytes per second were installed that make work, study and leisure something easier.

Doña Luz Análida Ríos Ospina (39) at her home in San Sebastián de Palmitas, Medellín, in front of the Mayor's Office technician's computer.
Doña Luz Análida Ríos Ospina (39) at her home in San Sebastián de Palmitas, Medellín, in front of the computer of the Mayor’s Office technician.Santiago Mesa

This initiative arises in the Mede-inn innovation laboratory. The team in charge mapped 238 challenges to improve the city from open calls. Of all of them, three were selected as priorities. “Bringing connectivity to the townships was one of them,” explains Jennifer Atehortua López, Undersecretary of the Smart City of the Secretariat of Digital Innovation of Medellín. “The topography here is very difficult, we are in the mountains.” But the rumble was the same: “There has to be a way for it to get there.”

“The proposals that were presented were evaluated by citizens of the quadruple helix (State, university, company and entrepreneurs). Some were specialist engineers, others had experience in telecommunications ”, explains Gabriel Osorio, from the Ciudad Inteligente team,“ they took into account parameters such as the greater number of connected homes, greater bandwidth in connectivity delivered to each home, greater number of sidewalks. with coverage, stability of the solution, delivery time … ”.

The company TIC Line was chosen to face the challenge. “In addition to giving us a very good solution, and they were going to give us 20 tablets for the beneficiaries ”, says Atehortua. And, since they had never had access to the internet before, the only smart device for families was mobile phones. Many times only one per group. The project also aims to provide basic courses so that families (mostly peasant families) feel technology as an “ally” and not something distant and complicated. The project will last one year and once the pilot test is finished, they say, a way will be sought to give continuity to the free model. In addition to the 20 direct beneficiaries, a public Wi-Fi zone was installed in one of the village’s sidewalks, which will be powered by energy from solar panels.

On the mantelpiece of Doña Luz Ríos’s house rests a vase made with a bottle of alcohol, some daisies made from detergent wrappers and a device to hold the mobile with melted bottle caps. YouTube has opened a world of opportunities in the home of these farmers dedicated to planting bananas and coffee and recycling. “I am also taking the opportunity to learn more sustainable cultivation techniques,” he says. “I have learned new grafts, natural poisons … We have had it for a short time, but we have taken advantage of it,” he laughs. Sofía took advantage of it too: for a few weeks, she has been sitting almost every day in front of the screen to learn English.

The town of San Sebastián de Palmitas, with a digital gap of 60%.
The town of San Sebastián de Palmitas, with a digital gap of 60%.Santiago Mesa

The family was chosen by one of the teachers from the rural school in the area, in charge of identifying the homes where they were most lacking. A week after finding out, they already had the technicians at the house installing the equipment. So far, they say, it works well for them. This coming week the long-awaited will be distributed tablets which, he assures, will facilitate the connection: “Until now there are three of us who have connected from the same cell phone.”

In the house of César Correa Sucerquia, nine years old, the internet arrived like May water. Although Magalí, the mother, would have liked him to apply himself more with his studies, for the shy little boy it is a huge source of fun: “Here I listen to music and play,” he says without taking his eyes off the screen. This small wooden house boasts two huge windows without glass overlooking a beautiful ravine that hides all shades of green. Before the pandemic they had some economic stability, but Covid-19 turned everything upside down. “At that time, I didn’t even have a cell phone. So Caesar’s studies were going to be very difficult. He didn’t study me at all, ”he says. They spent half of his monthly salary on a phone so he could connect with data. Now, with a phone and free connection, he laughs, he has no excuse not to study. César, however, continues with his gaze fixed on the drawings as if it were not with him.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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