A community network in a rural area in Thessaly was given a European Broadband Award for its work in building up a broadband network that connects 15 villages and for hosting interactive seminars to promote digital literacy in the region.
Elassona.Sarantaporo.gr, with its score of 9.8 out of 10, the highest in Catergory 4: Demand generation and take-up of connectivity, was one of five to receive the award out of the hundreds of projects submitted that are designed to give EU citizens access to high-speed broadband.
It all began in 2010 when a small team of young people from Sarantoporo set about showcasing a website they had built for the village of just over 2000 people which is about 40km west of Mount Olympus.
They began the project with the idea to create a website that would not only link childhood friends but would also help to organise volunteer and cultural activities for communities in the surrounding region.
The drawback at the time was pretty major – there was no internet connection. Telecommunication companies saw little need to invest in such a remote rural area. Sarantoporo.gr were not put off by this and began to develop its own wireless community network.
“That was the starting point for the Sarantaporo.gr core team in collaboration with the local community to design and deploy the Sarantaporo.gr Wireless Community Network, which has since expanded to 11 villages in the region,” said the award citation.
Free and open access to the Internet has attracted dozens of young people to small villages – ‘grandchildren or young parents’ who can now visit the villages without internet isolation.
The aims of the project were to: “create development opportunities for the local economy – improve quality of life for local communities – enhance social cohesion – provide incentives for locals to age in place – restrain young people’s migration to urban centres – provide equal opportunities for locals towards digital citizenship – bridge the digital divide in rural areas – expand the idea of a community network in other areas of Greece”.
During the award presentation in Brussels earlier this month, one of the European Broadband award judges, Franco Accrordino, the a director of DG Connect said: “We need to build a European Union that works for its citizens. The Greek example is a strong message to support community networks in Europe… In Europe we do not have communities that innovate through connectivity.”
A spokesman for Sarantaporo.gr said: “This victory came as a result of the collective building of the wireless network, as well as of our community, of all our members. It’s the people who make the difference. We invest in them and move along. This award is a prize for our whole community.
“Our ultimate goal is to create a model for the development of such infrastructures, which will be replicated in other areas of digital isolation.
“Internet access is a human right. At the same time, digital literacy is a prerequisite for safe and effective use of the Internet. We call on the State and the EU to recognise the services we provide to citizens in this area as a Community network and to support the work of Community networks throughout the country and Europe with appropriate institutional interventions.”
Ellines.com said: “The most moving change, according to the Community network members, was also relatively unpredictable. This was, after all, the main reason why dozens of elderly people immediately embraced the initiative: to provide their grandchildren with what they needed so they could have them close.”