The Foundation of Cultural Change in Indonesia

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For many people around the world, the Internet acts as a doorway to a host of opportunities. From accessing information, sharing knowledge, creating and penetrating markets as well as opening communication channels, the Internet is a collective resource with the power to transform lives, empower communities and lift societies. However, access to these opportunities is often left only for those who can afford it. Governments and ISPs hold the key to this door and ultimately to the opportunities that opening it provides. For many of the world's poor, too many restrictions exist such that access to the Internet and it's opportunities remain out of reach.

In Indonesia there is a movement going on unlike any other in the world. It is a movement intended to remove these restrictions and to open access to the Internet up to everyone. It is a bottom-up revolution based upon simple solutions, openness, and empowering the most marginalized groups. It is a model that requires an intimate knowledge of a context, where appropriate solutions are the only ones that matter. In many ways the simplicity and appropriateness of this model are similar to other approaches to development, often found in agriculture (Polak 2008). However, with a growing desire for everyone to be apart of this technology movement, there is a much more infectious and visceral feel to this grassroots movement in Indonesia. This paper tells the story about how this model came about, by sharing tools, readying the environment and empowering Indonesians, so that together they can continue to open the door for themselves and set an example for others to follow.

The tools--An early attempt in seeking low cost Internet Infrastructure

The Internet revolution in Indonesia began with radio hobbyists in the late 1980's (Barker, 2008). Amateur radio enthusiasts began networking their computers by connecting them together with radios. By transferring data instead of voice over the radio waves, they were able to bypass the telephone network, typically a requirement to access the bulletin board systems and other early Internet applications of that time.

Controlled by Telkom, a public corporation with a monopoly on the telephone network in Indonesia, the phone network was expensive and ultimately prevented Indonesians the ability to have access to the network. Even if an Indonesian was lucky enough to be able to afford a line, telephone density was so low and service so poor, that it would often take years to be connected. Fortunately, there were a group of radio hobbyists that were not so patient.

By 1990, Onno Purbo published the first of a long series of articles that described how to build a network for all Indonesians. This network used radio technology to bypass the expensive and restrictive telephone network to connect local networks across the country. After several years, many more publications and countless speeches, this network began to take shape as universities, government research institutions, hi-tech industry and radio hobbyists began connecting and together formed what would eventually become the Computer Network Research Group (CNRG).

Crucial to the growth of these ideas, and ultimately this network, has been the open availability of resources and publications, from this group and others. Many e-books and open source software for Indonesians have been made freely available online. From e-books on Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Indonesian high school curriculum, to guides on preventing young Indonesians from accessing inappropriate content (Donny, 2009), the open availably of these resources online has facilitated a cultural shift.

The Environment--Liberating 2.4 GHz radio band

Building such a network has many challenges to overcome along the way. One of the most significant victories came after more than 12 years of lobbying policy makers for change. As radio and technology enthusiasts continued to circumvent the wired network with radio based solutions, government regulation over radio frequencies in Indonesia required users to pay costly license fees to access the spectrum. Thus, creating the very walls that the ideas behind radio networks had hoped to bring down.

These walls can only be brought down when people first recognize that they exist and then demand change. By empowering communities through workshops, seminars and many publications, Indonesians became aware of the restrictions imposed upon them and wanted change. This collective desire, combined with recognition from the International community and media outlets, caused pressure upon policy makers to adopt a different perspective. This led to pro-poor and pro-people changes in regulations that resulted in a decision on January 5, 2005 to liberate the 2.4 GHz band in Indonesia; making it open for all Indonesians to access without fees.

With a more open platform for connecting to the Internet, the floodgates of innovation, openness and citizen voice have begun to move. With a liberated 2.4 GHz band, people have begun to take advantage of this opportunity to bypass the restrictive wired networks by creating large wireless networks. Without having to pay license fees for accessing the radio band, individual computer networks can broadcast wifi signals long distances meaning that a single account with an ISP can be shared with an entire neighborhood.

Neighborhood networks have popped up all over Indonesia. Using simple wifi boosting solutions such as the Wokbolik, these networks can extend up to several kilometers for many people. Developed by Pak Gunadi in Indonesia, the Wokbolik is a wifi signal boosting device that is made out of a regular usb wireless adapter, a 3-inch PVC pipe and a cooking wok (Purbo, 2009). When connected to a computer and pointed directly at a wireless router from afar, the network reach is drastically increased. With only $35 worth of equipment and by sharing the ISP costs, Indonesians formerly unable to afford a connection to the Internet, can now have access. The broad uptake of this model represents a global phenomenon unique to Indonesia, in that it is a bottom-up infrastructure created by a self-supporting, growing co-operative of hackers.

The movement--Triggering a social movement

The notion of a bottom-up infrastructure is only the begining of what will result in positive social changes in Indonesia. More fundamental to this movement is the idea that the Internet represents an open platform for education and social engagment; a space with less hierarchy and more opportunity. One where the best ideas are nurtured, shared and ultimately rise to the top of an information economy. Just like the infrastructure that facilitates these transfers, knowledge and ideas are also a collective resource, created by the people for the people.

This change has already begun to happen. Enda Nasution (2009), the Father of Indonesian Bloggers, has estimated that there were more than one million Indonesian bloggers in 2009. The snowball has been packed and has begun to roll, but needs to be nurtured into a strong social movement if Indonesia is to fully transform into a knowledge economy. Crucial to this and any social movement are the words shared by Dr. H. Basyir Ahmad, the mayor of Pekalongan City in Central Java Province, when he said that "As we lift the weakest point in the society, the whole society will be lifted". To us, this means providing Internet access to the most marginalized groups, who in Indonesia are Women and Youth, who ultimately hold the power for social change.

One example of a simple solution for empowering these groups is seen through a local program, which offers IT literacy courses for Indonesian Women on weekends. These courses are promoted by One Destination center (ODC), and have been led by Nurlina Purbo for close to two years now. There has been very high demand for these courses as many women consider ICTs to be a key factor to contribute to their children's education. These courses are especially accessible since they are held on weekends, as these women often hold many other responsibilities during the week. The participants learn basic accounting and ICT skills, which help them to manage their savings, small loans and neighborhood shops. Some have even begun online businesses buying and selling products over Facebook and other electronic forums1.

Important to gaining momentum, this approach has been captured and shared by several media outlets, on television and in newspapers across Indonesia. While featuring this IT literacy program for Women, the e-livestyle talkshow saw their highest ratings ever, demonstrating both that there is an interest amongst Indonesians in participating online, and also that traditional media can be a powerful factor in initiating others to join this movement. As this and other inspiring stories arise, the snowball effect that these stories generate can help motivate the rest of the 240 million Indonesians to join this movement.


Though it is only just beginning, the story of Indonesia and the Internet is one that is very different from the rest of the world. It is based upon having the appropriate knowledge, innovating with simple solutions and creating openness. But more importantly, it is about empowering people with knowledge and the tools required to access the opportunities for themselves, instead of waiting for others to provide it. Many Indonesians have seized these opportunities and are now online, creating and sharing stories, educational materials and other resources. However, as a foundation for any significant changes, in Indonesia and elsewhere, this movement depends upon empowering the most marginalized groups with opportunities to access, learn and contribute to a collective resource. In Indonesia, the knowledge based society of the future rests on the shoulders of Women and Young Indonesians.


  • Donny B.U. (2010, February 13). History of Wise Internet Movement (Sejarah Internet Sehat oleh ICT Watch). Retrieved April 7, 2010, from Sejarah Internet Sehat oleh ICT Watch
  • Joshua Barker. (2008). Guerilla Engineers: The Internet and the Politics of Freedom in Indonesia. Presented at the Sociotechnical Imaginaries: Cross-National Comparison Workshop. Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.
  • Nasution, E. (2009, February 2). Bapak Blogger Indonesia. Retrieved April 7, 2010, from
  • Onno Purbo. (2009, June 14). Wokbolik, what's that? [video file]. Retrieved April 7, 2010, from
  • Polak, P. (2008). Out of poverty: what works when traditional approaches fail. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  • The History of Internet in Indonesia. (2009, February 15). . Retrieved April 7, 2010, from Sejarah Internet Indonesia

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