Julio Lezcano continues his quest to get Panamanians connected to the internet


“The women and men of Tusipono and Parará Puru will build a self-managed wireless community network, whose main objective is to preserve and promote the Emberá culture.”


Connecting Panama

In the early 1990s, Julio Lezcano was working as Professor in Computer Networks, Operating Systems and Basic Computer Science, and was instrumental in getting Panama connected to the internet.

“The most important thing for me about technology is to take advantage of the potential that it can offer to benefit people to carry out their tasks more efficiently, faster, with the best quality, and at a lower cost,” he says.

Powering an inclusive future for all

Julio is professor of Computer Networks at the Technological University of Panama (UTP) the main contact for the Cisco Networking Academy in Panama—UTP is the country’s Academy Support Center and Instructor Training Center. And he lives and breathes the program’s focus of transforming the lives of learners, educators, and communities through the power of technology, education, and career opportunities to power an inclusive future for all.

A recent project highlights Julio’s creative, yet pragmatic approach to making sure everyone can take advantage of the potential of technology.

Despite Panama’s introduction to the internet in 1994 and the explosion of mobile devices, the last World Bank data for Panama shows only 68 percent of the population using the internet. Part of the challenge is that providing connectivity to remote communities may not be profitable for traditional telecommunications providers. Indigenous communities in the Chagres River Basin are close enough to Panama City to be tourist destinations, yet remote enough that they didn’t have internet connectivity—until recently.

The community-owned network solution

Community networks represented a solution. At the first Latin American Summit of Community Networks, held in September 2018, a joint definition was developed: “Community networks are networks owned and collectively managed by the community, non-profit and for community purposes; They are constituted as collectives, indigenous communities or non-profit civil society organizations, which exercise their right to communication, under principles of democratic participation of their members, equity, gender equality, diversity and plurality.”

On October 21, 2023, the Panama Chapter of Internet Sociedad (ISOC Panama), with the support of UTP launched the community networks of Tusipono and Parará Puru, Emberá indigenous communities.

“The objective of the community networks project in the Emberá indigenous communities of Panama is that the women and men of Tusipono and Parará Puru will build a self-managed wireless community network, whose main objective is to preserve and promote the Emberá culture through the sustainability of artisans and entrepreneurs of ethnic tourism, because these activities are the main sources of income for the community,” says Julio.

Internet everywhere—even without electricity

“We have implemented a wireless network that provides service to all residents in the community using a satellite internet service, which gives us low-latency, direct, reliable access and at a low cost for the community,” he says.

“The community use mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and even laptops to access the service 24/7 from their residences,” says Julio. “As there is no electricity in these regions, the implemented system also includes the use of photovoltaic energy with solar panels and batteries.”

As part of the team realizing the project, Cisco Networking Academy of Panama at UTP celebrated a milestone in helping reduce the digital divide and strengthening social inclusion. Plans are underway for a second phase of the project focused on continuous training to guarantee the sustainability of the community networks.

Recently the communities of the reserve of Emberá were awarded a grant by the Internet Society Foundation to install a training center. The center will deliver diverse training including Cisco Networking Academy courses.

Thirty years after succeeding in getting Panama connected to the internet, Julio continues to
engage underrepresented communities to create personal empowerment, workforce opportunity, and stronger communities.



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