In the digital age, and in particular in the (post-)COVID-19 era, reliable access to the internet is essential for reducing social, economic, and educational disparities. Access to wireless internet is encompassed in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 9.c: Access to Information and Communications Technology) and has been enshrined by many states and acknowledged by the UN as a fundamental right, in particular in so far as it is linked with other fundamental rights and freedom of speech, right to development, and freedom of assembly.
Off-grid rural Palestinian communities in Area C are denied access to internet infrastructure, part of the more general denial of access to infrastructure and services by the Israeli authorities. Palestinians living in Area C thus rely on prepaid, often costly, 3G/LTE plans from Israeli cellular companies that provide only limited coverage. Due to these high costs, families must ration their internet use, and it is often only the adult male members of the communities who have such plans, whereas the less mobile members of the community (primarily women and children) have virtually no access to the internet unless someone is home to provide a hot spot. Not only does this situation hinder opportunities for development and education for women and youth, but it can also be life threatening in cases of health and safety emergencies, settler attacks, etc.
Community Internet Program
Comet-ME has developed and implemented its community internet program since 2021. Through the provision of affordable, stable, high-speed internet services, the program aims to mitigate social, economic, educational, and gender disparities for and within vulnerable off-grid communities; to increase communities’ resilience in the face of settler and military violence—supporting documentation, dissemination of information, and advocacy efforts; and to provide tools that promote healthy and safe digital habits for men, women, and youth.
This project serves herding and farming communities in transition, whose traditional way of life and livelihoods are being degraded daily by the coercive forces of the Israeli Occupation, as well as by climate change. Thus, access to the internet and the opportunities it provides, opens up potential new avenues of development, learning, and income for the younger generation.
In the context of the traditional communities in Area C, the project has vast potential to benefit women. For the women, who rarely leave their communities or even the space of their private homes, the Internet affords opportunities to expand their horizons (virtually if not physically), learn new things, and communicate more easily with family members beyond and even within the boundaries of their community.
The networks deployed include a central routing infrastructure that delivers broadband access through AirFiber technology. We bring this service though private Palestinian providers, thus also supporting the burgeoning Palestinian IT sector.
Each household is entitled to opt in or out of the program, much like the way internet service providers (ISPs) operate in more conventional settings. This is part of Comet-ME’s buy-in philosophy, giving beneficiaries a sense of ownership and responsibility, building trust between the communities and Comet-ME, and creating a sustainable business model for the project.
Digital Literacy and Safety Workshops
In order to help all community members get the most out of the wireless infrastructure provided, we conduct digital literacy, safety, and privacy workshops for each community. The workshops provide tools for fostering healthy digital habits, accessing knowledge, communicating safely, and protecting community members, in particular children. The workshops are conducted for women, men, and youth by an experienced facilitator and are tailored to suit the needs and baseline knowledge in each of the communities.