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Community network

Community Network is a term used broadly to indicate use of networking technologies by and for a local community. Free-Nets and Civic Networks[?] indicate roughly the same range of projects and services, whereas community technology centers (CTCs) and Telecentres often indicate a facility to compensate lack of access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Table of contents

Definition and Diversity

There is no widely-accepted and used definition on the term. When one looks at the entries of community network directories or the papers and web sites whose titles and names bear community network or communitry networking, it is noticeable that a variety of practices exist. This diversity can be seen in:

  • types of information and services offered
  • operator and the primary goals of the community network
  • area covered by the network

Each of these is discussed in the following.

Information and Services

Based on this ongoing use of the term, a community network could be any or some combinatin of the following:

  • a web site offering information on a place for locals. The information may include local events, news, weather forecast, governmental offices, pictures of local architecture, landscape, event scene, and so on.
  • a web site offering services for locals. The service could be either information mentioned above, or access to some online activities such as making a reservation, posting an personal advertisements, and so on. The site could be owned by a local government.
  • a communication network among non-profit organizations in a local area.
  • a non-profit organization offering affordable (or free) computer lessons, Internet access, and/or advanced training in computer use.
  • a local ISP having some discount for local non-profits and others.
  • a web site for potential tourists and those who might relocate to the area, offering a range of information and services.
  • a web site offering means of online communication such as discussion forum, mailing list, chat room, and email.

It should also be noted that, while community network increasingly involves a web site, it may be of secondary importance for the project (such as in case of a local ISP), or there might be no web site - in the past, some operated via ftp and other networking protocols than http.

Operators and Primary Goals

As seen from the above list, community networking is practiced by many different groups with different goals.

The groups in charge of planning and operationg the project may be:

  • a local government office such as a chamber of commerce
  • a local non-profit organization
  • a local or other for-profit organization
  • a volunteer group

The primary goals of community networks may include:

  • closing of digital divide and/or leading in the inter-local race of informatization
  • offering easier access to already existing information and services for locals
  • promotion of local economic development and employment
  • promotion of the operators' own business
  • strengthing of local identity and local's attachment to the place
  • revitalization, promotion, and/or maintenance of local communal ties

Some of these are not completely independent goals, nor contradictory, but interrelated and can reasonably pursued at the same time.

Geographical Coverage

In general, what is common among these is the use of some means of communication and involvement of some locality. It should be noted that here, locality indeed mean again many different size of places. The area a community network identifies with could be a town, city, county, metropolitan area, state, or occasionally a region including parts of whole of multiple states. However, majority of the community networks seem to be associated with a metropolitan area or smaller places.

Factors behind Diversity

There are a number of factors contributing the diversity of practice under the term.

  • There is no legal, regulatory definition of the term, and that the practice has been grass-root.
  • The words 'community' and 'network' both have wide appeal to potential users, funders, volunteers, and other groups.
  • Community is rather a vague term, and different groups take different definitions.
  • Information and communication technologies may bring many different benefits for a local area, and different groups emphasize different aspects of them.

History

Among the earliest practices that are frequently mentioned are Big Sky Telegraph (Montana, USA), (Cleveland, USA) Public Electronic Network (PEN) in Santa Monica (California, USA), Digital Amsterdam in Amsterdam (The Netherlands),

Future Prospects



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