Village Base Stations (VBTS): The Promise of Community Cellular Networks As a Project for Public Sociology

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Josephine DIONISIO, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
Cedric Angelo FESTIN, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
Jalton TAGUIBAO, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
Manuel Victor SAPITULA, University of the Philippines Diliman, Philippines
Kurtis HEIMERL, University of Washington, USA
The Village Base Station (VBTS) Project in the Philippines builds low-cost, low-power community cellular networks that enable remote and unserved localities to have access to communications services, which is envisioned to leverage more investment, and spur development and empowerment in these localities. It is an interdisciplinary research project funded by the Philippines’ Commission on Higher Education through its Philippine-California Advanced Research Institute (PCARI) program, which brings together a collaborative team of researchers from the Philippines and the US as well as a multi-sectoral array of stakeholders as partners in project implementation.

This presentation examines the challenges that impede the diffusion of community cellular networks in the Philippines, such as a ‘duopolistic’ pattern of spectrum ownership, an outmoded policy environment for spectrum management, and the persistent tension between commercial viability and social service provision. It also identifies the disruptive and transformative potentials of community cellular networks as a human-centered technological innovation, such as highlighting the need to democratize the ownership and management of radio frequencies, its promotion of multi-stakeholder community participation and support to ensure viability and sustainability, and the various possible uses of the VBTS for efficient and innovative delivery of social services to marginalized communities.

This presentation argues that human-centered technologies such as the VBTS have to recognize the social infrastructural requirements of technological innovations. Community cellular networks would have to amplify voices from the ‘last mile’ through passionate policy advocacy, participatory approaches to technological research and development, and sustained reflexivity and dialogue that dissolve traditional barriers between disciplines, cultures, and social statuses. Human-centered technological innovations, such as the VBTS, are projects for public sociology.