Beyond Community Networking and CTCs: Access, Development and Public Policy
Type of work: Communication
Categories:Digital Inclusion | ICT Infrastructure | ICT4D
Providing computers and Internet access to members of the community has taken several forms in many countries over the past several years. Called community networks, telecenters, community technology centers, or freenets, such endeavors represent a range of institutional bases, of ideological premises, of State commitments, and of local empowerment.
The research presented here focuses on one set of such efforts, a program whereby 36 communities of varying sizes in the state of Texas received $500,000 to establish community networks over a two-year period. In evaluating the efforts of those towns and cities in terms of how they organized themselves – essentially the process features (management, access to expertise, organizing volunteers, organizing training, etc.) associated with their community networks – and in terms of the range of outcomes attributable to local networking activities, we find formidable challenges facing these groups. Our work compares the 36 sites and highlights the unique roles and difficulties of collaboration, large-institution involvement and support, and the economic development and civic engagement processes associated with technology training and access. Assumptions about public access and the economic development outcomes associated with more broadly available computers and Internet connections vary widely across these communities, as did the actual achievements on both counts within the telecommunications projects.
The policy community can benefit by examining these experiences as it endeavors to extend broadband connectivity more thoroughly throughout the states. These communities’ experiences underscore the limited utility of financial resources alone in trying to launch effective programs.