Balancing the Global Through the Local, by Leslie Regan Shade
Community NetworkingThere are many examples of a broad range of citizen and community-based communication networks in North America. Community networks are examples of the democratic technology movement, which brings together various stakeholders in the design, development, and deployment of the system, including experts (i.e., computer professionals), community activists, librarians, teachers, and 'ordinary citizens'.
The rapid movement towards setting up community based computer networks across North America, which is growing expansively in the 1990's, is indicative of the need felt by many localities and individuals to assert the primacy of the local community in creating and sustaining educational opportunities, communicative associations, economic development, and civic participation. Community networking proponents wish to make this technology readily available to all community members at no (or nominal) charge, with public libraries and other community network sites set up as public access points.
Community-based computer networks are situated between commercial online services (i.e, CompuServe, Microsoft Network, America Online), Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and individual computer bulletin board services, or "BBSs." The fundamental difference is that community networks have the mandate to provide communities with public, low-cost access to the Internet. However, they provide more services than a mere "on ramp" to the "information highway." They are preeminently local systems, run by local people and organizations, utilizing local resources to meet local communications, educational, social, and economic needs.
Community networks are typically owned and operated by a nonprofit, community-based organization whose Board of Directors is made up of people active in local community affairs. They are variously organized, but in general, they are staffed by a few paid members and a large volunteer core, who typically group themselves into several committees concerned with technology, content, volunteer recruitment, fundraising, outreach, and training. Often community networks are affiliated with institutions such as universities, public libraries or non-profit associations. As nonprofit entities, community networks struggle with the issue of sustainability.
Doheny-Farina looks at the example of Canadian community networking.