New Community Networks

Wired for Change

Addison-Wesley, 1996

Douglas Schuler



Chapter 8



Networks are empty without content; content is inaccessible without networks; networks and content are useless without computer systems, information specialists, and users; research is meaningless without systems for instantiating and disseminating the results; government funds, policies, and regulations have no impact unless they result in innovation; information specialists and users are isolated without systems to satisfy their needs for information. And so it goes.

  John Garrett (1993)

The system is the people.

  TWICS on-line greeting (Rheingold, 1993)



The community network provides a "social space" for the community, a place where community members can interact with each other, a place to learn, discuss, persuade, or just have fun. The community network is also a community institution, an organization that is supported by the community, helps support the community, and is situated within the community. The community network organization provides the framework and the institutionalization that helps create, administer, and promote continuing development of the community network. Both the community-network system and the community-network organization exist within a social and political context that helps shape the community-network system and organization and, in turn, is shaped by them.

We have attempted to show the social relationships (including political and economic) that influence a community network in Fig. 8.1. The figure shows major types of "players" that help determine the shape, direction, and philosophy that individual community networks might take, as well as the community-network movement as a whole. This figure is a very broad characterization of the social and political model, and developers in local communities must take the specifics of their local environment into account when building and maintaining a community network. The model includes (1) individual and organizational participants, (2) nonparticipants, (3) other community networks (including BBSs), (4) influencing organizations, (5) infrastructure providers and other commercial service providers; and (6) the community network itself. We'll discuss each one in turn, starting with the community network.



Just as electrical systems began to transform urban and small-town America a century ago, community computer networks will do so in the 1990s.

  Steve Cisler (1993)

At the center of the model is the community network. The community network must be an integral part of the larger community — not autonomous and isolated — if the community network is to be truly a community network. Nestled within the community-network box are its essential attributes, including the on-line community, the community-network services, the community-network organization, and the information-usage policy that guides it.

On-line Community

The on-line community is the group of people who participate in the community network by offering their opinions, by reading those of others, and by using and providing information and services. The on-line community is at the center of the social and political architecture. If this community is inactive or dysfunctional, the entire community network is deficient.

The character of the on-line community is influenced in three basic ways: by the system itself, the users, and the culture. The first influence, the system itself, makes its presence felt through its user interface, capabilities, and content. The user interface should make the system easy to use and be free of surprises, and the system should do what users expect it to do. The system capabilities include various ways in which users communicate with other users, including the use of static files of information, forums, real time "chat,"or e-mail, as well as by other available capabilities that could include file transfer capabilities or access to other community networks and the World Wide Web. The system content describes what's on the system. Is the information useful? Lively? Up-to-date? Are the conversations scintillating? Exasperating? Engaging? The second major influence is the user population, including its numbers, interests, and formal and informal roles. The third influence is the culture of the on-line community or society, with its interaction patterns, themes, conventions, folkways, and cast of characters that has evolved and will continue to evolve over time. Community-network developers and participants alike should keep these influences in mind as they work on the system. Although it is neither possible nor desirable to precisely mold the on-line community according to specific requirements, it is both possible and desirable to attempt to steer the system in ways that best advance community goals.


Technology as Mediator

In a community network—as in all other communications technology—technology plays a mediating role. The manner in which people use the system is circumscribed and partially shaped by the system. At a general level, the technology allows or affords certain activities. A telephone affords voice communication, whereas community networks afford text and sometimes graphics and other information. At a more subtle level, the technology also mediates. Usenet newsgroups, consisting of "postings"contributed by readers, are dedicated to a topic following a fairly rigid naming convention. They're often read using a "news reader"that displays computer paths, message-identifying numbers, and other generally technical (and largely irrelevant) information. On the other hand, the Caucus interface—used, for example, in the Santa Monica PEN system—displays virtually no header information except for the identification of the person who wrote the entry and the forums can have any name whatsoever. One PEN forum, for example, is entitled "Is PEN dead?"A Usenet newsgroup on a similar theme might be called soc.comnets.pen (where "soc"stands for "social" and "comnets"stands for community networks). The topic or general discussion area of an electronic forum sometimes sets the tone for the discussion—the "weird" discussions on the WELL, or the rec.pets.cats or alt.tasteless Usenet newsgroups, for example. Some forum topics, on the other hand, are so general—seattle.general, for example—that about the only thing a reader can expect is disconnected and heated disagreement.


Network Citizenship

There is a growing body of literature on the sociology of cyberspace (Kollock and Smith, 1994) that reflects the growing number of participants and the emerging diversity of forms of on-line communication. Although much of this is relevant and should be studied by developers, we will not include an extended discussion here, but instead turn to the concept of community network "citizenship." This concept helps define the responsibility that individuals should have for the on-line community and the responsibility that the on-line community should have for individuals. The community that is made possible by a community network is in actuality a multitude of smaller communities, each with an individual style and level of intimacy and purpose, much as a geographical community is comprised of neighborhoods, families, and associations, each with their own distinct characteristics.

Forums and e-mail distribution lists can support information sharing solely. They can be used to share feelings or opinions through conversation, or they can be used to accomplish specific tasks — planning a conference, or writing a proposal, for example. Shared purpose is an important way of unifying electronic communities. Confusion over the purpose of a mailing list or a forum is a common situation and can result in a disjointed electronic conversation, as can happen in a more traditional conversation in which participants have diverse expectations.

While passive participation ("lurking" ) will take place in all types of forums, it is far less disturbing than the aggressive antisocial behavior that seems to crop up all too frequently in electronic forums. Unfortunately, there are endless variations of these behaviors, varying from simple sarcasm to violent and sexual threats to "virtual rapes" (Dibbell, 1993). While a single person can fairly easily turn a pleasant (nonvirtual) social scene into an unpleasant one through loudness, vulgarity, or threatening behavior, the electronic venue seems exceedingly vulnerable to many types of abuse, probably because of the fact that people are not interacting face-to-face.

Design of "Virtual Communities"

Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned that new cyberspace visitors will be "left wholly alienated, isolated, without any sense of belonging" if there is inadequate planning and there is no "deliberate architectural vision" in mind when creating new systems (Godwin, 1994). With that in mind, he offers nine principles for virtual communities (Fig. 8.2). These principles play a role in but are not identical to those needed for community networks (which are designed around geographical communities).

Although I'd suggest additional features such as the need to meet in person (in addition to virtual meetings) and the need for discussion modelling (discussed below), Godwin's principles are worth considering, especially as they compare and contrast with other principles sketched out in this book that are designed to support geographical communities. Note particularly Godwin's front-loading suggestion: Too often people feel that putting up the standard fare on the community network is sufficient. There is a vast number of other activities competing for people's time and attention and providing excitement and diversity in the community-network offerings is critical.


Ostrom's Design Principles for Collective Goods (from Kollock and Smith, 1994)

1. Group boundaries are clearly defined

2. Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.

3. Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules.

4. The rights of the community members to devise these rules is respected by external authorities.

5. A system for monitoring member's behavior exists; this monitoring is undertaken by the community members themselves.

6. A graduated system of sanctions is used

7. Community members have access to low-cost conflict- resolution mechanisms.

Figure 8.3


Community-network organizers and volunteers need to think competitively in terms of market share, for example, to create a compelling culture by providing lively forums and esoteric information not readily found elsewhere.

Godwin's last point — confronting the users with a crisis — suggests that fabricating controversy (right here in CyberCity!) is acceptable. While beating the drum capriciously to whip up interest in the system is not acceptable, confronting and grappling with legitimate crises is fine. In Seattle, for example, Seattle Community Network users from all locations in the political galaxy rallied against a "mini Exon/Gorton" bill in Washington State that would have paralyzed Washington's community networks with unrealistic and unconstitutional restrictions and fines. Rheingold's book (1993) offers instructive anecdotes on how virtual communities on the WELL used electronic networking to deal with emergencies such as life-threatening diseases or natural disasters while incidentally strengthening their sense of community.

UCLA researchers Peter Kollock and Marc Smith have been concentrating on the problems and guidelines for managing the new "virtual commons" and have raised intriguing issues for community-network developers. The virtual commons, according to Kollock and Smith has many features that are shared with other commons, especially the temptation for individuals to behave selfishly, partaking of the results of others' benevolence without adding anything to the community assets in any way. They've researched the concept of cooperation in a virtual environment primarily by studying behavior and norms in Usenet newsgroup electronic forums.

In their analysis Kollock and Smith list seven design principles uncovered by researcher Elinor Ostrom who has studied a wide range of communities that have succesfully developed and maintained "collective goods" (Ostrom, 1990). Although not conclusive, these principles (shown in Fig. 8.3) could prove useful in setting up and maintaining new community commons, both virtual and actual. Many of these principles will be best addressed through a combination of democratic principles and clear policies that follow these guidelines. (The SCN policy, for example, clearly addresses the sixth and seventh points by specifying a range of penalties and for establishing a low-cost procedure for dealing with conflicts that arise on SCN.)

Discussion Modelling

While open computer-based discussions seem to be generally immune to outright rigging or controlling by those that established the system or by other participants, there is a strong need to preclude or curb some of the potential for antisocial behavior that the systems seem to allow or even to promote. Ken Phillips, the originator of the Santa Monica PEN system, feels that many of the forums on PEN became overly contentious. When such a situation arises, those with less aggressive natures are likely to lose interest in the forum and drop out. While monitoring forums or policing them in other ways represents reactive approaches, positive proactive approaches are also possible. Evelyn Pine, former executive director of Community Memory in Berkeley, says that "discussion modelling is critical but notoriously difficult."By definition, "modelling"a discussion forum is a conscious attempt to guide the conversational flow, primarily by providing good examples by engaging in exemplary on-line behavior. Pine says that the writers' group on the WELL is a good example of a cordial and convivial environment. When a new writer posts a short story to the group, the other participants are very supportive. Since the discussion actually creates a microculture, behavior is shaped by the sum of the participants—not by a moderator or discussion leader alone. For that reason, the mores and attitudes need to be shared and enforced by the whole group—or at least a large percentage of it—for the shaping to be effective. People must have the right to disagree and to offer dissenting opinions or the forum will become lifeless. On the other hand, a forum must have standards of conduct if it is to be useful. Contrary to the views of some people, the beauty of cyberspace is not that it's easy, or acceptable, to be a jerk.

Retaining ... the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; ... never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting.
  Benjamin Franklin (Rottenberg, 1985)

There are many ways to make the same point as the Franklin quote above indicates, and a message that follows the guidelines of the prevailing culture is more likely to persuade than one that doesn't.

Limits and Restrictions

Although rarely used in practice, software could, in theory, prevent some types of antisocial postings, such as messages that were too long or messages that were going to too many recipients. This type of software protection could have prevented the recent incident in which a religious enthusiast dispatched his apocalyptic warning to over one hundred Usenet newsgroups on a single day. Current technology would not prevent this person from electronic proselytizing in this way on a daily if not hourly basis.

A more common phenomenon is that of a frequent poster dominating a discussion: "The one who posts the most wins."Suppose Jane works fifty hours a week as a nurse and barely has time to check in on her favorite discussions once every couple of weeks. John, on the other hand, does not have a job and apparently does not have a life outside of posting to forums. Obviously, John can more easily influence others—all other things being equal—than can Jane, who barely has time to read and post at all. System-imposed limitations on size, number, and frequency of postings could be employed to dampen this brand of built-in bias. An artificially low limit could, on the other hand, act against people who are less succinct in their postings, or have more ideas, or who provide more detailed analysis. People with less popular ideas would also need latitude to adequately defend their position. In those situations, posting limits would act as an electronic "gag rule,"preventing a person from exercising the right to speak.

Realistically, there are times when time limits or other restrictions must be imposed on discussion in the non-cyberworld. This is particularly important in decision-making bodies, which are discussed in more detail in Chapter 10. Clearly there is a need to strike a balance between unlimited freedom and overly restrictive constraints when designing and evaluating computer-mediated discussions.

Administrators need to have authority to warn, then later to suspend or ban a user from the system. Some possible abuses include sending e-mail to a person who has requested that he or she not receive e-mail from that person. Other offenses may include some malicious use like broadcasting to all users ("spamming") or sending chain letters. Advertising or using the system for financial gain could also be inappropriate in some cases. Using the system to gain illegal access to other machines needs also to be expressly prohibited.

Much has been written about proper on-line interactions or "netiquette," but Henry Sedgwick's seven rules on the art of conversation written in 1930 (Fig. 8.4) may be the most timely and succinct (Sedgwick, 1930; Oldenberg, 1991).


Although services on the community network will vary to reflect the needs, interests, and assets of particular communities, the services need to support all six community core values. A set of core services derived from the core values for a generic community network is shown in Fig. 8.5. This set is not an exhaustive list, but it is representative of the types of needed services, and could be useful in identifying potential organizational participants as well as for determining locations for public access terminals.

The Art of Conversation

1. Remain silent your share of the time (more rather than less).

2. Be attentive while others are talking.

3. Say what you think but be careful not to hurt other's feelings

4. Avoid topics not of general interest.

5. Say little or nothing about yourself personally but talk about others there assembled.

6. Avoid trying to instruct.

7. Speak in as low a voice as will allow others to hear.

Figure 8.4


Core Services for a Community Network

Conviviality and Culture

Health and Well-Being

€ Forums for ethnic, religious, neighborhood interest groups

€ Q&A on medical information

€ Recreation and parks information

€ Access to health-care information

€ Arts events

€ Self-help forums

€ Community calendar

Economic Equity, Opportunity, and Sustainability


€ Want ads

€ On-line homework help

€ Job listings

€ Forums for educators, students

€ Labor news

€ Q&A on major topics

€ Ethical investing

€ Distributed projects

€ Community- development projects

€ Pen pals

€ Unemployed, laid-off, and striking worker discussion forums Information and Communication

Strong Democracy

€ Access to alternative news and opinion

€ How to contact elected officials

€ E-mail to all Internet addresses

€ E-mail to elected officials

€ Cooperation with community radio, etc.

€ E-mail to government agencies

€ Access to library information and services
€ Forums on major issues
€ Access to on-line databases
€ On-line versions of legislation, regulations, and other government information
€ On-line "Quick Information"
  € Access to on-line periodicals, wire services

Figure 8.5




Leaders lead people but organizers organize organizations. Word play? Hardly! The role of an organizer is to build an organization that lasts.

  Kim Bobo, Jackie Kendall, and Steve Max (1991)

The community-network organization is the organized body whose primary responsibility it is to ensure that the community network is as effective as possible. Some of its tasks include the actual administration of the system, financing, and other organizational duties. Most importantly, the organization must ensure that the system helps support the core values discussed in earlier chapters. The organization must be involved with day-to-day operations, including system maintenance and administration, as well as community outreach, fundraising, and participation in the political process at the local, state, and federal levels. The organization itself may be a nonprofit organization, a public development authority, a nonprofit/government cooperative venture, a governmental organization, or (if certain guidelines are met) a for-profit organization. The organization could also be allied in coalitions, cooperatives, or associations with other organizations. Chapter 10 is devoted to discussing the community-network organization in more depth. Although the community-network organization is a key element in the social architecture, we'll postpone an extensive discussion until then.

Information-Usage Policy

At its basic level, all information on a computer looks the same — a parade of bits, each holding the value of one or zero, in patterns no human eye can discern. Viewed from higher levels, however, the bits become information. And information is an important, highly scrutinized, and valuable commodity indeed.

Information policy determines the "rules of the road" for what information can be conveyed, by whom, and to whom, and under what conditions. The information policy will also cover what happens to an alleged or actual transgressor and specify who's liable in illegal communications. Unfortunately, the legal frontier in many areas has not been settled, and costly duels are being waged with lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians, leaving community-network participants and organizers in uncertain territory. The community-network movement (like the BBS community) is singularly underfunded and underorganized among the players weighing into the networked arena.

A community network's policy statement is the explicit attempt to formulate the guidelines by which the principles or goals are addressed. It can set up conditions under which an effective on-line society can grow, promoting successful use of the system to meet the needs of the new community. The policy statement also establishes the rules — or procedures — that will be followed when problems arise involving the use of the system.

A sound information policy is critical to a community network, for it must address the wide range of issues that undoubtedly will arise. An information policy must anticipate and address questions and issues like the following:

These types of issues reflect in large part the tension that exists between individual and community rights. This conflict isn't unique to community networks, but since these networks are a new medium, many of the related issues are currently unresolved.

We can begin to devise policies based on other media, but the analogy is often strained. Community networks are like libraries, and like libraries, they must be champions of free speech. But disagreements in libraries usually arise between library users and contents of books—not usually between two (or more) library users. Furthermore, even though libraries don't officially disallow material, the space limitations on their shelves provide implicit constraints, unlike the essentially boundlessness of cyberspace. Community networks are also like telephones in some ways. Both provide a medium for discourse—discourse that is sometimes acrimonious. Phone calls, however, are fleeting, private, and have a limited number of participants. Some "discussions"in public electronic forums are more like public fist fights than private discussions. An on-line discussion involves potentially large numbers of participants and spectators, and every spectator optionally can record the session, which can be disseminated still further.


Privacy and Fair Information Practices

Privacy on the network is an important, yet not widely considered, aspect of community networks. Since the electronic media exacerbates many concerns over privacy, it is vitally important to consider these issues in the design of the system—not as an afterthought. The most important aspect of privacy probably has to do with e-mail. It is important that the contents of any private e-mail remain as private as the system administrators can possibly ensure. Just as telephones can be tapped, there are ways that computer-network communication can be intercepted with no indication to sender or recipient that the message has been inspected. For this reason, privacy cannot be totally guaranteed, but the system's administrators must consciously and conscientiously strive to ensure a high degree of privacy. Besides the contents of e-mail, all peripheral information must be kept secure. This certainly includes registration data, which could include address, phone numbers, and other information that the registrant regards as private. If it is necessary to collect other peripheral information such as records of to whom a user sent e-mail, from whom a user received e-mail, what forums he or she visited, and what files were downloaded by the user, then this information should be deleted regularly and subject to the same high standards of privacy as e-mail, private files, and user records.

It is not difficult to imagine ways in which electronic records could be used in ways that the user did not envision, intend, or expect, for legal, economic, or political reasons. Law enforcement officials and others, for example, sometimes attempt to find out what books people have checked out from the public library, while telephone companies have expressed the desire to sell telephone-call records to clients to aid in their marketing activities.

Although circumstances will undoubtedly vary from community to community and from system to system, the "Code of Fair Information Practices" (Fig. 8.6) adopted by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1973 offers a very good set of principles that can serve as a framework for privacy considerations of community networks (as well as other electronic systems may contain records on individuals). The code, based on five principles, contains simple and straightforward suggestions for protecting privacy.


The Code of Fair Information Practices

There must be no personal data record-keeping system whose very existence is secret;

There must be a way for a person to find out what information about the person is in a record and how it is used;

There must be a way for a person to prevent information about the person that was obtained for one purpose from being used or made available for other purposes without the person's consent;

There must be a way for a person to correct or amend a record of identifiable information about the person;

Any organization creating, maintaining, using, or disseminating records of identifiable personal data must assure the reliability of the data for their intended use and must take precaution to prevent misuses of the data.

Figure 8.6


Who's Who?

Computer systems don't know whether a user's identity is real or manufactured. But the value of knowing or not knowing the true identity of a user varies according to context. User anonymity is important, for example, when users ask sensitive questions about sexually transmitted diseases in an on-line forum or submit such questions on-line to a doctor or nurse who's volunteered to field such questions. On the other hand, delivering anonymous e-mail is not the main responsibility of a community network. It should not necessarily be trivial for people to send anonymous threatening letters to the president, their neighbor, or anybody else that's reachable via e-mail.

Beyond the idea of anonymity is that of a false or even intentionally misleading user id. As Newsday writer Jonathan Quitner (1994) has pointed out, this can apply to login name but also to the domain name, which is to say the computer and the organization that hosts the user. Quitner, for example, registered the domain name "mcdonalds" with the Internet Information Center and began receiving e-mail at the address, a direct reference to the clown image and character that the McDonald's hamburger chain has made famous. The information center—swamped with applications for new domain names—basically just checks to see if the name is taken, not to see if the requester has a right to the name. Likewise, the Seattle Community Network will assign any login name that's not been spoken for. The assigned name will appear on any e-mail that is sent from that account. A "real name"will also appear unless the user has requested anonymity. Thus a user can send e-mail that has been basically purged of identifying information (except for the domain "scn.org²). If an e-mail message is objectionable in any way, the SCN administrators can make a reasonable attempt to establish the person's identity based on the original registration form that was filled out. Since SCN does not actively check registration identities, there is no way, of course, to know with certainty if individuals are really who they claim to be. Similarly, a new telephone subscriber is not fingerprinted or checked for identity by the telephone company, either. In any case, the carrier of the content should not be liable for the content. Telephone companies are not charged as accessories if thieves use their telephone wires to plan robberies. Unfortunately legislators in many states and at the national level seem to be pushing in the wrong direction.


Network Etiquette

In addition to the policy statement (see Appendix D), the Seattle Community Network has a netiquette (a portmanteau word from "network etiquette") guide to help promote good cyberspace citizenry among network users. Since the electronic medium is new, the use conventions are not established and there is a tendency for some people to use it in ways that seem rude to others. While the U.S. Constitution doesn't exclude rude speech as a protected form of speech, it's clear that many people would rather not receive sarcastic, insulting, insinuating, lewd, obscene, violent, or accusatory messages from other users.

The SCN "Netiquette Guide," is an attempt to anticipate these potential problems with the hope of preventing them from occurring in some cases and dealing with them effectively in other cases. Although the vast majority of people do want to be civil and realize that civil arguments are more likely to influence than uncivil ones, there are those people who will not and cannot be civil. Since it doesn't take too many of these people to spoil an electronic commons, we need to develop methods that will preserve civility without stifling free speech or introducing arbitrary and parochial restrictions.

In addition to community initiated influence—either positive or negative—it is necessary for some rules of conduct to be formalized and well-publicized to all users. This need is prompted by practical and legal considerations and is especially important in a moderated discussion where a moderator may exercise his or her power to excise postings or portions of postings from a forum.


The SCN Code of Etiquette
All registered users of the SCN MUST agree to the following Code of Etiquette while using SCN:
1. I will not knowingly engage in illegal distribution practices when posting information. Some examples of illegal distribution are: posting large portions of copyrighted material; posting libelous material; posting material that knowingly aids in a crime; posting credit card number; posting passwords.
2. I will not attempt to gain unauthorized access to SCN nor use SCN to gain unauthorized access to other systems.
3. I have read the SCN disclaimer.
4. I have read and understand the SCN policy statement and agree to abide by it as the governing policy of the SCN.
5. I will read the description of the forum to which I am posting and post only material relevant to its purpose and theme.
6. I will not use the SCN to harass individuals or organizations.
7. I understand that all public material on SCN may be redistributed, subject to copyright laws.
8. Private e-mail may not be redistributed without permission from the originator of the message.

Figure 8.7


In addition to its overall policy statement, the Seattle Community Network uses a code of ethics (Fig. 8.7) based on a similar document from the Victoria Free-Net organization. Forum moderators must also make their policies explicit. When situations arise, the moderator, community-network user and community-network administrators all have rights and responsibilities that should be well-defined and well-known. Although Mike Godwin (1994) would presumably disagree, the moderator should be able to censor postings for length, relevance, or unnecessary accusations and personal attacks. On the other hand, a user should be able to appeal a moderator's decision. The system administration should also be protected legally from controversies that erupt on their system much as the telephone company is not held liable for activities—legal and otherwise—that are accomplished or planned using the telephone system.

What are the appropriate responses to uncivil behavior? There is a fairly wide range of responses — some are informal, while others are more legalistic and formal; some are social, while others are technological. All have analogs in the "real world."

One response is to send a message back to the sender asking him or her to desist. This can be done in a private note — or via "cc" ("carbon copies" or duplicate messages) to a group of people. Sometimes the group "outing" approach backfires and the "offender" will redouble his or her efforts. Another approach is not to "take the bait"; ignoring unfounded accusations, attacks, and the like may be most successful. The offender often becomes bored and may seek other targets. If a user gets unwanted personal mail from somebody, he or she can ask the person not to send them any more personal mail. If the sender persists in sending them messages, this can be grounds for that person's temporary or permanent removal from the system. On a more unilateral level, the user can set up a "bozo filter" or "kill filter" that intercepts any e-mail or forum posting from any sender who is listed in the filter, effectively removing it before it can appear in the user's incoming mail or forum queue.

There are slightly different considerations in a moderated forum. The moderator can reject a posting if it doesn't pass the criteria established by the moderator — for example, if it is off the subject, too lengthy, if there are too many postings per day, or if it contains ad hominem attacks. Note that these criteria need to be explicit and as unambiguous as possible. The moderator can't reject a posting because he or she doesn't like the poster or doesn't agree with the posted argument. The posting can't be rejected because the poster doesn't meet some criteria — height, weight, race, religion, gender, IQ, and so forth. The poster also must have the right to appeal if he or she feels that the postings are being excluded unfairly. The SCN policy statement explicitly describes an appeal process for this eventuality.



What if you built a community network and nobody came?


Of course there would be no on-line community without contributors. The people and organizations that add information, opinions, issues, and questions to the system while noting what others have added are the life blood of the system. These contributors can best be thought of as belonging to one of two categories — individuals (who may assume the role of forum moderators as well) or organizational contributors.

Moderators and Other Individuals

As in a geographical community, people who participate in a community network do so for a variety of reasons. Some will use the system to find information, while others want to find conversation. Some will use the system to communicate on a one-to-one basis, others will be interested in forums — as active participants or passive "lurkers" — while others will want to assume even more active public roles in the on-line culture.

People who assume the responsibility for running an on-line forum are called "moderators."A moderator generally has strong interest, experience, or knowledge in a particular topic and wants to communicate with others on that topic. A moderator of a forum is like the host of a party, but how strenuously this role is assumed varies widely from moderator to moderator just as it does among party hosts. A moderator can also be seen as a discussion facilitator. If this role is assumed, it becomes a moderator's responsibility for ensuring that lively conversation occurs and that the conversation keeps on track if, indeed, keeping on track is important. While some types of forums—question and answer forums, for example—are less likely to be troubled, others may boil over with controversy and a moderator may need to wield some of the power of the role. If postings are too long or too numerous or if they contravene other established guidelines by being irrelevant, abusive, or libelous, the moderator is obliged to prune or excise the posting. As mentioned previously, guidelines should be established so that the moderator does not act capriciously or is viewed as acting capriciously. Since this area is among the most potentially hazardous realms for community-network developers and participants, these guidelines are critical.

John Coate, described by Howard Rheingold (1993) as the erstwhile "innkeeper, bartender, bouncer, matchmaker, mediator, and community-maker for the WELL" (the "Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link"), an on-line system run by the Whole Earth Catalog people, compares an on-line system to an inn (Coate, 1992). While staying at an inn, people converse with people they know and with people they encounter by chance. To Coate, facilitating an on-line community is like innkeeping; that is, the innkeeper encourages interchange between patrons but sometimes problems arise and order has to be restored.


Many community organizations are interested in exploring opportunities offered by community networks. These opportunities range from e-mail use to large programs that use network facilities extensively. The League of Women Voters, for example, could distribute electronically some of the vast amount of information they collect on issues and candidates. They could also devise more ambitious projects as well, such as "electronic townhalls" in which citizens could question candidates directly on issues.

Virtually all organizations have information that they'd like to distribute electronically. Initially this effort may duplicate what they already distribute on paper: newsletters, briefing papers, and contact information, for example. Lack of resources or technical expertise may inhibit their desire to participate in a community network, although the promise of increased visibility in their community, reduced communication costs, and the desire to "modernize" their operations often helps to overcome these obstacles. Furthermore, organizations that are thinking about making their information or services available electronically may reduce their costs considerably by foregoing the development of an independent BBS system that they would have to purchase and maintain themselves. Using an existing community-network system also makes it easier for potential clients to use by providing a common access point — the "one-stop shopping" advantage.

A few of the possible organizational participants are listed in Fig. 8.8. All community organizations might feel the need to participate and none should be excluded. While some organizations may have exclusionary, undemocratic, or anticommunity principles, there is no valid reason for preventing them from using the system. As a matter of fact, denying them access to the system would be seen—justifiably—as exclusionary. While organizations should not be denied the right to participate, it is possible to argue that some types of electronic postings should be barred because of the content of the posting, such as the nature of an event being advertised. An analogous situation exists within the public library in regard to their meeting-rooms policy and their public-notices policy. A group is barred from using the facilities of the public library for meetings that deny participation on the basis of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. The public library also permits the posting of announcements for events that have no admission charge and are open to all. Whether or not policies like this are adopted for public postings (in forums, and so on) these restrictions would not apply to private e-mail correspondence.

Cooperative Projects

An "information provider" (IP) is defined as an individual or organization that uses the network to post information electronically or to convene on-line forums. An organization with whom the community-network organization has entered into a strategic alliance can be called a "partner." Somewhere between "information providing" and "strategic alliances" (discussed in Chapter 10), lies a myriad of possibilities for cooperative projects between organizational participants and the community-network organization. These projects are generally less formal than strategic alliances, but they may require written agreements, as money, staff time, or other important resources may be involved.


Possible Organizational Participants

Culture and Conviviality

Health and Well-Being

€ Arts organizations

€ Free clinics
€ Churches
€ Referral services
€ Boys and Girls Clubs
€ Hospitals
€ Homeless shelters
€ Self-help groups
€ Activist groups
Economic Equity, Opportunity and Sustainability
€ Hobby groups
€ Labor unions
€ Employment office
€ Public and private schools
€ Welfare rights organizations
€ ESL and adult literacy organizations
€ Community
€ Drop-out programs
Development Groups
Strong Democracy
€ Co-ops
€ League of Women Voters
Information and Communication
€ Political parties
€ Cable-access organizations
€ Government agencies
€ Public TV and radio stations
€ Municipal research centers
€ Libraries

Figure 8.8


A cooperative project is an endeavor that reflects the character and objectives of all participating groups and frequently will depend on the terms of specific project proposals. Some cooperative projects have included: placing terminals at organizational offices; obtaining, formatting, and distributing information of special interest; connecting particular BBSs, databases, or other systems to community networks; bringing in telephone lines to additional sites; producing printed materials; providing specialized training; developing new software; and enhancing the existing community-network software.

In addition to traditional community groups, like the YMCA, community centers, and the Camp Fire Girls that are evolving to meet changing needs in the community, there are scores of new organizations and informal groups, alliances, and coalitions of more recent vintage. These newer groups — described in more detail in the civic renaissance section of Chapter 11 — are also worthy of attention. In many cases, these newer groups may be more politically aggressive, better tuned to the era, and more participatory. In other words, the values of these newer groups may be more consonant with the values of the new community and are likely to become valued partners in the development of community networks along with the more established groups.



Most community networks are more communities of networkers than networked communities.

  Frank Odasz (1995)

Currently the largest group of players in the social architecture that encompasses the community-network universe doesn't even play. This is the large group of "nonusers" whose presence as a potential voice in the discussion of future technology is largely nonexistent. Users of electronic information and communication systems tend to be white, middle-class males between the ages of 20 and 50. They tend to be employed, have greater than average incomes, speak English, and have few disabilities. As the list in Fig. 8.9 indicates, there are large numbers of people that fall outside these categories. If community-network developers are serious about making systems that are used by a broad spectrum of people and provide genuine community benefit, then understanding the reasons why current systems aren't used is essential.



The inter-organizational work involved may seem like it consumes more time than the project, and it may, depending on existing commonalities in the organizational mission and policy, and on the participant's interaction skills.

  Clark Rogers and Brian Vidic (1995)

It is extremely unlikely that a community network will be the only computer-based resource that the community uses. It is far more likely that some combination of independent bulletin-board, referral, special-purpose, commercial, library, and government-based systems will be used to meet a community's diverse needs. The existence of this network stew has advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages is the higher likelihood that the desired information would exist and that organizations would compete with each other, working harder to provide valuable services to the community. And competition would help ensure that rates were relatively low for access to useful community information. Competition also has its disadvantages. Competing networks might fight each other, squandering resources while missing important opportunities to cooperate; they might both concentrate on enlisting certain high-prestige or high-popularity information providers while neglecting others. They might compete for funds from the same sources. In addition to unproductive competition, the existence of many networks could present a daunting "user interface" (writ large) to the public: If every system had its own telephone number, user interface, registration procedure, policies, mail system, and so on, the public would be more likely to be puzzled than charmed.


Not as Likely to be Community Network Participants

€ Women

€ Mentally or physically ill people
€ Children and youth
€ Drug users
€ Elderly and retired people
€ Institutionalized people-prisoners, hospital patients
€ People in the lower and lower-middle economic classes
€ People whose job or school doesn't provide connections

€ Illiterate people

€ People who are too busy (single moms) or too tired (those working two jobs)
€ Unemployed people
€ Ethnic minorities
€ Homeless people
€ People who don't speak English or who use non-ASCII alphabets
€ Disabled people-vision or mobility impaired
€ Indigenous people
€ Rural people
€ Immigrants (legal or otherwise)
€ Gay/lesbian
€ People in the (second and) third world
€ Computer-illiterate/ computer-phobic/ computer-averse people
€ Combinations of the above

Figure 8.9

Cooperation and Competition

Fortunately, there are many cooperative approaches that can strengthen community-network organizations while keeping community concerns uppermost. One approach is to provide reciprocal access to each others' machines. This means that the user would need to memorize one less phone number and make one less telephone call. Community networks could also cooperate on a registration system that would give users accounts on both machines, while going through one process. In a similar vein, it would be useful to provide e-mail access from both systems. Although this could result in more accounting and policy work, the benefits to the community are significant. With BBS systems, it makes sense for a larger community-network system to act as an e-mail gateway between the BBS and the Internet. The BBS system and the community network could also arrange for certain newsgroups and forums to be shared or "echoed," just like the Usenet community does with its newsgroups.

While it is technologically feasible to maintain the facade of a single community network by connecting multiple smaller systems together, this approach may also have its drawbacks. One danger is that the individual components of a "mega-network" might lose their individual identities. Without a discernible identity it might be difficult to find the necessary funding. And a community network with no discernible identity might offer no coherent theme or approach to the community. Additionally, a distinct identity may be irrelevant or overwhelmed if one of the network components is much larger and more conspicuous than the others.

Ultimately, many of these concerns boil down to questions of "turf": Who has the right and the responsibility to run what parts of what systems? And, furthermore, who is recompensed for their efforts and through what mechanism? Government, for example, should have the responsibility to provide government information, and information-referral agencies (such as crisis clinics and suicide-prevention hotlines) should probably retain their responsibility. While the government has the responsibility to engage the citizenry on current civic issues, should it have sole responsibility for running civic forums? Probably not. Moreover, there may not be global answers to these questions. One community may want government to provide a service and be willing to pay for it, while another community may rely on a nongovernmental organization for the same services.

There are many other ways in which geographically-based community networks can cooperate. At a minimum, it should be possible to send e-mail between them, over the Internet or via a variety of lower-tech ways, and community networks should be able to share forums that cross geographical lines. Community networks could share principles, policies — even user interfaces — and they could collaborate on fundraising and information-sharing on how best to run a system. It will probably be necessary to negotiate roles and responsibilities (based on new definitions of "turf") for improved cooperation to take root. An important form of collaboration could come from citizens who gain an increased understanding of people in adjoining communities and who work on projects for the benefit of both communities.

As time progresses and network usage becomes more widespread, one thing is quite clear. If access to e-mail and other network services is to become universal, joint planning, and cooperative ventures between many types of organizations — public, private, and nonprofit — will be required.



It can honestly be called a movement. In many people's minds the model of a citizens-based, geographically delimited community information system has taken hold.

  Steve Cisler (1992)

A wide range of organizations influence community-network development and coordination. These include government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit companies. Advocacy groups, including library and educational groups as well as nonprofit groups such as the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), the Morino Institute, the Center for Civic Networking (CNN), and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), are also strongly involved and have produced influential documents and reports (CPSR, 1993; CCN, 1993; Morino, 1994 and 1995). Other organizations offer competitive services, including telephone companies, cable television companies, and various other media and communication companies. These companies are well-positioned to address community needs, but have not prioritized it because of the perceived lack of strong financial return on investment.


The government's historical and current influence as well as its potential for future involvement, in its roles as both supporter and regulator, is very strong. Historically, the U.S. government is responsible for the existence of the Internet, and the tab for both the necessary research and the implementation has been picked up by U.S. taxpayers. More recently, the government, through then Senator (now Vice President) Gore's NREN (National Research and Educational Network) legislation, effectively subsidized the ubiquitous and free Internet connections that many university students enjoy.

In recent years, there has been an astounding amount of federal government information made available electronically, from impending legislation in the House of Representatives (via Thomas) to the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reports (via Fedworld) to Supreme Court decisions (via Juris). While much of this was done voluntarily, sustained political pressure by people like Jamie Love of the Taxpayer's Assets Project and entrepreneur Jim Warren has helped to make federal and state government information easily available electronically and to end commercial strangleholds on some government information (Love, 1995).

There has also been a great deal of activity at state, county, and municipal levels of government as well. Many elected officials are getting on the Net with an e-mail address, some on their own, using a commercial account or a community network and an increasing number on government-sponsored systems. Nearly all state governments and a large number of county and city governments have recently put information up on the World Wide Web. Some states are developing ambitious public computer systems such as Maryland's Sailor Project, slated to cost 87’ per Maryland taxpayer after the initial seed money provided by the federal government has been spent (Powledge, 1995). In Washington State, numerous agencies are devising policies and seeking public input on how government services could be delivered more effectively. In the city of Seattle, the data processing Department of Administrative Services has set up the PAN (Public Access Network) system that is providing government information and is planning to provide many of the services that are currently found on community networks. Although the information in this area is exploding rapidly, we have provided some pointers in Appendix B that will continue to have relevance.

Government is showing a great deal of interest in electronic access to information and services, and generally this activity should be encouraged. Many concerns still remain, however, that we need to recognize as citizens and as proponents of the new community. The first is that these efforts are often very disorganized and spring from a desire to join the stampede. Often there is little understanding or experience of either the technology and its implications (both positive and negative) nor the principles and policies that should guide its development. The second is that there is often little effort to truly involve the public in a meaningful way. The third concern is that government law makers—who are essentially "clueless," according to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) spokesperson John Perry Barlow—will pass unsound laws. Working more through ignorance (and political posturing) than malice, they might embrace measures like the Exon Bill that would address "decency"in the electronic realm by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Clearly the government can be a strong ally of community networks. Like the citizenry it ostensibly serves, it must be informed. If the legislators lack understanding or serve other masters than the people, democratic community networks are in for an uncertain ride ahead. Ready access to information and communication services, for example, is critical to a democracy, but government officials and agencies are generally unwilling to explore innovative concepts such as providing free e-mail accounts to all citizens. Although this could be provided inexpensively, corporate interests are likely to obstruct projects of this type. Since this medium may very well be the dominant medium in the twenty-first century, citizens can ill afford to let important government decisions go unmonitored. Without public outcry, government may — wittingly or unwittingly — leave citizens entirely out of the process.

The Commercial Sector

As we've mentioned throughout this book, corporations are the dominant structure of the modern age for organizing resources to attain goals. We've argued that these corporate goals — and the processes by which these goals are realized — have frequently gone unchecked, often to the detriment of communities. This caveat, however, is very general and is useful largely as a reminder not to rely entirely on the commercial sector for community networks or other public goods. The commercial sector will not do it. Corporations' priorities are elsewhere.

As consumers and as citizens, we need to work with corporations as independent groups of consumers and citizens in a give-and-take manner to ensure that citizens and communities get what they need. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, citizens are generally unorganized and rarely speak with authority or power. Citizen deference would need to change as some corporations are truly thinking big and are apparently poised to take multi-billion-dollar leaps into the network frontier. While their plans are certainly interesting and will undoubtedly expand the opportunities for entertainment (creating, for example, Mortal Kombat XXIV as interactive virtual reality), the concerns of ordinary people in ordinary communities may be the last thing on the minds of the developers of those new services.

Corporate Scenarios

In various places in the United States and all over the world, corporations are developing pilot programs, such as wiring homes for interactive television using fiber-optic cable. On top of that there is already a bevy of commercial-network providers that supply services (such as chat lines, on-line support groups, and hobbyist forums) in addition to or instead of standard Internet services like Telnet and e-mail and access to the World Wide Web through Lynx and graphical browsers. By now the software behemoth Microsoft has also weighed in with its Microsoft Network, which has already sparked harsh criticism based on its bundling of the network client software in with its Windows 95 operating system. Microsoft Network has been carefully crafted to appeal to a large spectrum of interests and features with, for example, a large section on women's issues. While Microsoft and others may be able to cultivate a large user base, the future of democracy and community building solely within the confines of a corporately owned "cyber-mall" is unlikely. There is also a push to build consumer expectations in ways that echo corporate direction. AT&T, for example, has launched a series of ads both testing the waters and painting a future for a series of (AT&T) products: "Have you ever gotten a call on your TV? Ordered tickets from a bank machine?"Et cetera, et cetera. "You will,"they state confidently. Stay tuned ...

In addition to the expensive and ubiquitous public relations campaign that companies are waging for the hearts, minds, and wallets of the next generation of media consumers, corporate lobbyists are also waging a behind-the-scenes struggle for legislation that favors their particular enterprise. Gary Chapman of the 21st Century Project in Austin, reports, for example, that Southwestern Bell had 129 registered lobbyists working in Austin (the Texas state capitol) to ensure passage of a telecommunications "reform" bill that was favorable to Southwestern Bell. In order to begin to appreciate the magnitude of this lobbying work done in the corporate behest versus a public-interest agenda (however defined) one need only consider the salaries alone of the people involved in the lobbying in this single state (albeit a large one) of the 50 American states. Clearly, outspending the corporate sector is not an option.

Corporations come in all shapes and sizes and do not speak with a single voice. Some have supported community networks. For example, U.S. West, a regional telephone company in the Northwest and West, has given Frank Odasz's Big Sky Telegraph project substantial financial support. At the same time, U.S. West has developed a Community Link system that provides low-cost access to community information, a system that would compete with community networks. Companies building new community products need to have a strategy that works for them, but the field before them is very dynamic, uncertain, and competitive, making long-term strategizing difficult. If U.S. West or other telephone companies can develop the content, then people might be willing to pay for it. On the other hand, if content exists, people may be willing to pay for the delivery—over the telephone line or other "channel," be it cable, wireless, or some other form. Since corporate interests clearly dominate many aspects of modern life, it will be impossible to ignore them. Developing and defining a new and balanced relationship between community and corporate interests is a critical goal and is one in which community networks can play a strong role.



Academic institutions have also influenced the development of community networks in various communities and could conceivably play a larger role in the future. (This topic is discussed in more detail in Chapter 11.) Universities have often provided the site and resources for a Free-Net or community network. Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio was and is the home of the Cleveland Free-Net while Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada is the home of the National Capital Free-Net in Ontario, Canada. For every successful collaboration, however, there have been scores of non-starters. Many large universities seemingly have bigger fish to fry and appear to be relatively uninterested in the community in which they happen to be physically located. For that reason it may be more fruitful to work with community colleges or smaller schools. Other universities have cited the "appropriate use"and other restrictions (now largely historic) placed on them by their Internet provider to support their decision not to work with community-network developers. In other communities, universities that perceive declining support for their activities may now be willing to explore a range of community projects including community networks.


Advocacy Groups and the Community-Network Movement

The early community networks such as Community Memory, PEN, and the Cleveland Free-Net reflected the inclinations, idiosyncrasies, and best guesses of their originators. These systems were constrained by the relative unsophistication — yet high cost — of the available technology, insufficient financial resources, and a public that wasn't quite sure what to do with them. These pioneering systems were running on the energy and instinct of their developers without the benefits of market research, adequate funding, public understanding, or communication among developers. Currently, there are vibrant and healthy community-network projects in most states with over 250 public-access networks in the United States (Morino, Institute 1995a) and many others around the world. Tom Grundner of the National Public Telecommunications Network reports that the number of users on their affiliate "Free-Nets" is approaching 400,000[1]


Free-Net Roots — From St. Silicon's to NPTN

In the mid 1980s, Tom Grundner, working at the Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, started St. Silicon's Hospital, an Apple II based on-line question-and-answer forum that people could reach with their modems. Doctors were on-hand electronically to answer questions on a wide range of medical issues. The system proved to be very popular, and Grundner launched a more ambitious system, the Cleveland Free-Net in 1986 (Neff, 1995) whose basic features defined the canonical Free-Net or community-network system. Students and faculty members at U.S. universities had long had their Internet access subsidized by taxpayers but Case-Western was the first university (and still only one of a handful) that allowed some of its computer resources to be used by the community at large. After the success of the Cleveland system, people from all over the United States and from many other countries began to inquire as to how they might replicate the system. In response, Grundner started a new organization, the National Public Telecommunications Network (NPTN), to help facilitate these requests. Initially an "organizing committee"is formed and, later, for a small fee or an agreement to "cybercast"(distribute over the Internet) information to other Free-Nets, a community network becomes an NPTN affiliate. Each NPTN affiliate (now numbering over 70 and growing) has an exclusive franchise over its local calling region, precluding the existence of two NPTN affiliates in the city of Seattle, for example. Although NPTN does not play a major role in the development of the Free-Net or community network in the affiliate's community, NPTN provides useful services, particularly through their "blue book,"which describes both organizational and technical advice on setting up community networks. Incidentally, NPTN has no desire to force community networks to develop according to a Free-Net "party line."

In recent years, Grundner's attention has been focused on ways in which community networks can be institutionalized. One such approach involves the creation of a "Corporation for Public Cybercasting," modelled somewhat along the lines of the U.S. Public Broadcasting System, that would help develop and maintain community networks by leveraging community resources with federal support (Grundner, 1993a). Grundner has very strong feelings in this area: The first is that the U.S. taxpayer paid for development of the Internet and subsidized its use for many years and, consequently, should reap some of the benefits. Another is that Free-Net community networks should have no fees associated with their use — they must be free to use, much as public libraries are free to use. Grundner believes that free public computer networks will be as important to the twenty-first century as free public libraries are to the twentieth century.

The Rest of the Movement

In addition to the organizations working within communities, there are many organizations working outside communities that are nevertheless very important to the community-network movement. To build strong communities we must focus on communities as well as the context that surrounds the communities; we must look and work simultaneously inside the communities and outside the communities.

Although NPTN's influence has been significant, it is not the only player in town. A largely unrealized but potentially powerful alliance of librarians, educators, network and bulletin-board systems users, community activists, social service providers, government agencies, and concerned computer professionals has been growing that helps develop community networks, but is involved in all aspects of democratic communications technology as well. Several electronic distribution lists for discussion now exist on the Internet (Appendix B) that provide active forums on these issues. There are also an increasing number of conferences and workshops on these topics. Two early and influential workshops were organized in the early 1990s by Richard Civille for Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and for the Center for Civic Networking. Steve Cisler of Apple Computer has hosted two well-attended "Ties that Bind"conferences (Cisler, 1994b and 1995b) with support from the Morino Institute in which many pioneering community-network advocates including Frank Odasz, Dave Hughes, Lauren Glen-Davitian, Andrew Blau, Tom Grundner, Jane Polly, Doug Carmichael, George Baldwin, and many others participated.

There are many organizations helping to shape issues and represent concerns of nascent community enterprises in larger contexts—in government, in media, and in the general consciousness of the citizenry. Many of these organizations are specifically interested in computer-network issues: the Center for Civic Networking, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the Institute for Global Communication, the Morino Institute, and the National Public Telecommunications Network. Many others have expanded their roles as electronic information and communication technologies have become more prevalent. Groups in this category include the American Library Association, the Alliance for Community Media, the American Society of Information Scientists, the Taxpayers Assets Project the American Council of the Blind, the American Civil Liberties Union, OMB Watch, the Benton Foundation, and many other organizations and foundations. Participating in these organizations is an excellent way to help build an ameliorative environment for community networks; a list of many of these organizations can be found in Appendix A.

In early 1994, a number of nonprofit groups headquartered in Washington DC, started the Telecommunication Policy Roundtable (TPR, 1994), an informal coalition that meets monthly to present information and proposals. The TPR group and many other advocacy organizations have published numerous white papers on their recommendations for telecommunications such as "A Vision of Change" (CCN, 1993) by the Center for Civic Networking. Contact and other information on those organizations is also available in Appendix A and on the Web site for this book. In 1995, a regional version of TPR, TPR-NE was launched in the Boston area (Klein, 1995), and several others, including ones in Seattle and Chicago, are planned or are under development. Also, in 1994, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) launched the CWEIS (Community-Wide Educational and Information Systems) Initiative to help develop community networks in conjunction with CPB radio and television affiliates.



Don't let telecom politics leave you in the dark


GOPHER <gopher://>

FTP <>

WWW <>

email <>

    Ad in Wired, October, 1994

Infrastructure providers including Internet providers, telephone companies, and cable television companies influence individual community networks directly through their rates and policies. Their influence is much broader than that, however, largely because of their strong role in the creation of public policy through lobbying and public relations work as Bell's two-page, four-color advertisement in the October, 1994 Wired magazine exemplifies. The magnitude of actions of such companies has the potential to swamp issues of access and participation that are so critical to the development of community-oriented, democratic technology.

Since community networks will depend increasingly on these providers (which may ultimately involve Public Utility Districts) for their technological infrastructure, it is important to secure the best relationship possible. This generally means negotiating the best possible rate, but it sometimes means securing bandwidth for the network, especially when resources are limited. Historically, in order to win community presence on the cable television spectrum, it was necessary that political pressure be brought to bear. Community-access activists applied pressure on the government and the cable industry to provide channels and funding for access centers in exchange for local franchises according to public, educational and government (PEG) guidelines established by federal legislation. Although seldom realized, it may also be possible for the community network — by itself or as a member of a cooperative (Feuer, 1993) — to become an Internet provider, possibly attaining both better prices and peace of mind.



Whether you are a technical expert, information professional, government official, businessperson, or interested citizen, there is a role for you to play in incubating, growing, maintaining, and using these systems.

  Steve Cisler (1993)

As this chapter shows, there is a rich and diverse set of players comprising a social web of a community network. Integrating the community network with this web is one of the fundamental challenges facing network developers and their supporters. Although the structure and the roles and responsibilities of the participants will necessarily vary from community to community, the nature of the challenge is identical: The community network must become part of the community in order to serve it.

1 Personal correspondence. July, 1995.


D Schuler, NEW COMMUNITY NETWORKS, 1996 Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc.

Chapter 9