As can be seen, the problem of open infrastructure on the Internet is so widespread that some of the funders that finance technology and infrastructure believe that they are not doing so. For example, when a feminist organization contracts for the development of an app, for example with a map of the safest streets for women, they are inadvertently funding concentrated and closed infrastructure. When a funder promotes all their meetings through tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams, they are indirectly promoting and funding those closed, proprietary infrastructure platforms.
If an organization wishes to have its own local infrastructure and thinking of small countries like Uruguay or Paraguay, several important problems arise. On the one hand, the cost is very high compared to the market price (depending on the benefits obtained by the service; in some cases up to 4 times more expensive). In addition to this, there is a scarce and low-quality offer: the computing centers are few and concentrated in 1 or 2 companies and, as a consequence, support is very bad. Finally, it becomes very difficult to find available, reasonably priced, and relatively specialized human resources that can respond to the needs of organizations.
Because of all of the above, an average organization has no choice but to resort to the free public services (paid for with the organization's data for advertising) of Amazon, Microsoft, or Google, thus becoming confined to their business system and promoting an Internet that is less diverse, more concentrated and therefore less democratic.
That said, we believe it is more necessary than ever to make visible the need for organizations in the region to have the free and sovereign infrastructure, whose legal framework is based in their own countries and thus avoid corporate surveillance and potential abuses of the large oligopolies of the central countries (known as GAFAM).
“Some funding organizations do not consider open versus private digital infrastructure as something to take into account when funding social projects.
Digital Infrastructure Funding Landscape
In general, we found that the interviewed funders viewed any investment in digital infrastructure as something to be analyzed in accordance with the problem the beneficiary organizations were seeking to approach. In this sense, they adamantly stated that they could not prioritize any type of specific technology in their policies, as it could limit their action capacity. They strive to place trust in their beneficiaries' understanding of their own technological needs. At the same time, they mentioned recognizing that most civil society organizations can’t identify how to use technology in a way that helps their goals, and that this is a big issue. An interesting insight that came from our interviewee was that, perhaps, larger efforts from founding organizations to provide beneficiaries with accurate information on the pros and cons of different technology options are necessary.
When it comes to the definition of digital infrastructure, our interviewed organization did not really differentiate in their policies between digital infrastructure (being hardware or software) and other types of infrastructure. They did mention that, in general, asset acquisition was a rare focus of funding for them, and that this was intimately related to the fact that infrastructure acquisition with public funding has complicated legal requirements. When it comes to private philanthropy, there’s usually a focus on investing in human resources, and investment in digital infrastructure is a rarity. They stated that this was indeed a questionable practice, but a reality for funding organizations.
The first comment on the issues of funding open digital infrastructure projects was that, in accordance with OSF interviewee’s experience, most government agencies require the use and implementation of private software. They stated that this was, in part, perhaps related to concerns with open technology’s security performance as a double edge sword: open code and design can assure experts that privacy is paramount, but at the same time, may make systems more vulnerable to cyber-attacks (1).
When it comes to funding processes and requirements, some information was given to us about the funder organization strategies for region prioritization through the interview. As a funding organization that works on democracy issues, they named three main aspects they take into account when prioritizing specific regions:
- Threats: Countries that are suffering clear threats to democratic processes - the case of Venezuela is mentioned
- Innovation: Societies where there are significant advancements in democratic issues
- Demography: Countries with larger populations receive more funding
When extrapolating similar criteria to the general funding ecosystem (threats, innovation, and demographic factors), we can note that this can present interesting challenges to certain regions. Specifically, given that smaller countries in the global south can’t compete when it comes to population, and that innovation usually requires funding, the strengthening of a healthy civil society ecosystem can be a challenge, and more so when we’re talking about digital rights and infrastructure communities, perhaps a newer and less explored territory than more traditional CSO efforts.
- This statement was paraphrased and does not reflect on TEDIC’s views on the issue