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The broadcasting and discovery of relevant information is one of the pressing concerns of the 21st Century. We know there is an increasing take up of mobile devices, in which consumers are increasingly demanding access to and engagement with new forms of media ‘anytime anywhere’. However, a number of challenges stand in the way of a truly ubiquitous access and retrieval of content. Research to date shows that findability and sustainability persist as two key challenges for the free flow of information in restricted environments. This is particularly true in countries with large areas that remain remote. A step change is needed to meet the needs of millions of communities worldwide.This project researches the impact of hyperlocal proximity broadcasting on communities using WiCastr devices.

This pilot is designed to overcome a central problem: providing relevant information in remote locations where connectivity is either non existent, problematic, costly and simply not reliable, and where media is, or may be controlled with biased agendas. People want to read their local blogger but find he is drowned out by the hectic and noisy online Google search-driven place of the Internet. They are at the local post office and want to know about the church service times, or when the post office is open but have no mobile data coverage. They are at a protest or concert and want to interact with all the other people at the event, without having to use Facebook or the Internet which may be otherwise controlled or restricted. Others might need valuable business or medical services but can’t access the Internet because the network has been damaged or shut down.

WHERE


CAST is being run by the Media Innovation studio in collaboration with WiCastr and Impact Hub Yerevan. Click on the maps below to find out more about us and the villages we’ll be piloting the project in.

 

FAQ

What is CAST?
CAST is a research project that is currently running in Armenia. We are introducing a local WiFi/intranet-style network to three remote villages. The project is looking into whether information can be provided in remote locations with little to no connectivity, or where connectivity is expensive or unreliable, as well as places where media may be controlled. It will test new digital ways for villages to connect with news, information and each other, without being connected to the internet. We will be using WiCastr devices. It uses freely available WiFi to make content available that you can access on your phone or laptop.

Why are we doing this?
Our hope is to support local communities in Armenia to develop and thrive. The aim is to test CAST as a digital ‘word of mouth’ tool and to see how this new technology can be used to make news and information available, especially in areas which have limited access to such resources. The research aims to prompt and demonstrate the social and commercial potential of CAST as a new local media ecosystem.

We are running this project to test the capabilities of such networks. We want to see if a digital ‘word of mouth’ service will help local communities by creating a hyperlocal online space for bloggers, youth groups, charities, health centres, churches etc in a specific area. We want to connect local communities without relying on international outlets such as Google and Facebook.

Who we are?
CAST is managed by the Media Innovation Studio in the UK as a research project. The studio is part of a UK University and a registered charity. There are several partners on this project. Impact Hub Yerevan, WiCastr and Civilnet.

The Media Innovation Studio is based at the University of Central Lancashire and is run by the School of Journalism and Media. MIS runs a range of projects on technology and media, and how they can benefit communities.

WiCastr are a London company who have designed a small wireless device that creates a hyperlocal network. They want to change the way people interact digitally without having to rely on the internet.

Impact Hub Yerevan are located in Armenia’s capital city. They help individuals, enterprises, start-ups, and organisations to set up projects that will make a positive impact both globally and in Armenia.

Civilnet are an Armenian newspaper who will be providing news content on the CAST network.

Who is funding the project?
CAST is funded by the University of Central Lancashire via the Higher Education Innovation Fund. The HEIF scheme supports projects that encourage the exchange of knowledge and lead to economic and social impact. This is a not-for-profit research project.

What is a WiCastr device?
A WiCastr is like a WiFi box but it doesn’t connect to the internet. Instead it creates a hyperlocal network, similar to an intranet. Local residents can interact with one another, key services can keep locals up to date and interest groups can have an online presence without having to go via Facebook or Google.

How does it work?
There will be approximately 10 devices per village. Each device can cover a certain distance, so placing devices in key spots across the village will create a village-wide ‘cloud’ network that anyone with a mobile can connect to.

How do I log in?
This depends on the device you are connecting with. On computers and laptops, the log in screen should automatically appear after you connect to the device and open your web-browser. On Apple mobile devices, a pop-up with the log in screen will open when you try to connect.

How do I get involved?
Are you…
…living in one of the project’s villages? If so, keep an eye out for our poster.
…interested in setting a similar project up in your country? Email info@castproject.org to find out if we can accommodate you in the next phase of the project.
…an investor? Contact info@castproject.org for more information.
…looking to write about CAST in a publication? Email mhollett@uclan.ac.uk for publicity information.

What are services and apps?
Services and apps are how you find content around a specific topic on the CAST network. For example, a health centre may have their own app which will provide opening hours and information on self-care for common injuries and ailments. A news app could provide breaking news stories as they happen.

What makes it different from other WiFi technology?
The devices we are using will create a local network of local content. According to Google, 50% of smartphone searches are for local content and information, but often this information can be buried under other content from around the world. There is a huge demand on these global networks – with smartphones becoming increasingly popular, global networks cannot cope and an alternative must be found. With our devices, local content is available to local people without having to rely on and burden an already busy internet. Content is easier to find and more relevant to the local community.

How will communities benefit?
The CAST networks we will be setting up will have a range of apps and services that will help local users find what they want easily and quickly. Some of the proposed features that we plan to test include:
News – local news with updates from services in the area, some global news in areas where state news is controlled which will provide locals with access to information
Noticeboards – job adverts, special community announcements, classified ads
Messaging – connecting people across the community
Blogsband writing platforms – encouraging people to get involved as a local correspondent or to start threads on local interests
Geolocated messaging – leaving a message at a specific location, like a digital ‘word of mouth’ tool

Why Armenia?
Armenia has a fascinating digital landscape and is the perfect place to test the project. Armenian internet is provided by Russia, leading to intermittent censorship. Despite this, technological innovation is huge in Armenia. Technology is expanding rapidly and is Armenia’s fastest growing economy. Armenia’s population is highly educated and open to new technology. Young Armenians want to break away from their passive Soviet past and make a name for themselves globally. Armenia’s desire to bring about technological innovation and their fast growing tech economy is attracting a lot of attention on the international stage. With such a hardworking, creative environment, Armenia seems to be the best place to pilot CAST.

Which villages will you be piloting in?
Kamaris – located in the Kotayk region with a population of 2,242 people. Internet access is limited and very expensive, the local school has only 8 computers and there is no coverage for smartphones.
Lchashen – the biggest village we are working with. It has 5,054 inhabitants and is in the Gegharkunik region, 1 hour from Yerevan. It lies next to Lake Sevan, the biggest body of water in Armenia that attracts many Armenian tourists every year.
Lernapat – found in the Lori region, Lernapat has 1,857 people. The village was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1988 but has since recovered.

What data are you gathering?
We will be gathering 3 types of data.

Usage data: this is how you interact with content when you are connected to the network. It includes what is viewed and downloaded, how many times this happens and how long you are online for. This data will be used to bring new content based on what you want to see.

Real world metrics: this data is anonymous and measures how many smartphones are near our WiCastr devices, where they are and where they go. This feature can be disabled.

Personal data: this will be kept to a minimum and all personal data will be confidential (in accordance with Article 2(a) of EU Directive 95/46/EC ). When you join the network, some data will be taken – this will not be used commercially. The data taken will be used to assess local browsing habits and in-app activities. Personal data that may be taken includes name, gender, email, telephone number and a unique ID number for your device.

Can I get involved if I am under 16 years of age?
If you are under 18, then you will need parental consent before using the CAST network.

Want to invest?
Email info@castproject.org to find out about investing.

How do I find out more?
Keep an eye on the website for regular updates or follow us on Twitter @castprj