Getting Our Community Online
May 3, 1996
What role might community networking play in Winnebago County?
Who might be involved in efforts to enhance community networking?
What sorts of funding, governance, outreach, and service models
might be applied?
What is a community information network?
Community information networks are locally oriented resources
for people to get and share information and to communicate in
electronic form. This may include:
- government information (city directories; feedback forums; minutes of
- clubs, groups, community organizations (charters; meeting times; events)
- business information (products and services; map/locator information;
question and answer)
- discussion forums on any topics or for any of the above information
- education, training, and support for all of the above, plus
outreach to the community to maximize the usefulness of the resources
In addition, many community information networks also provide basic
access to electronic mail, dial-in modem service, and Internet
But isn't [XXX] going to do that?
There is almost no funding at the federal or state level for
creation of services which support the above.
For the next few years, thousands of small businesses will start
offering commercial access to the Internet with some of the aspects
of community networks. But:
- They seldom have content of local or regional interest, instead
focusing on larger "mass media" approaches
- There are few, if any, provisions for free access to community
IPs, government agencies, libraries, etc.
- Industry analysts predict that the small companies have a limited
future, and the late-1990s will see only a few large companies
supplying 95% or more of the national Internet access and content.
These companies are likely to be the same 20 or so companies which now
supply 95% of existing media in the U.S.
So what's the prognosis for community information networks?
Like the need for public libraries with a local or regional focus,
there will be a need for locally-oriented information content.
Community information networks can supply this, probably with limited
(if any) competition from national providers. Like the interaction
between libraries, bookstores, and video stores, community information
networks will be able to carry content which helps create a
demand for other means of electronic information and access.
Similarly, commercial service providers may have little interest in
the "information have-nots" (and are very unlikely to be forced to
by federal legislation, unlike the cable TV industry of the 1980s).
Community information networks may be able to reach out to this
potential user base.
That makes community information networks sound like charities
Not necessarily, although one possible model is for the community
information network to be directed only at those who can't pay.
Consider another model, where the community information network is
like the local newspaper, library, or yellow pages. Instead of
getting lost in global discussions with thousands of people and
mass appeal (viz. large electronic discussion forums, or online
shopping areas which focus on products from leading manufacturers),
Winnebago County residents might first consult local happenings
and communicate with regional residents through their community
Most community information networks have a combination of funding
sources. All the successful networks have an "organizational home"
which offers organizational and infrastructure support (but may or
may not offer major funding). Common models are:
- Member-supported (the PBS model). Solicit donations or basic
membership fees (10% donation level; $25-$50/year average)
- Sponsored by business, government, etc. Users/IPs and non-users.
- Fees-for-services. Essentially, to be a commercial Internet
service provider but also provide for community information areas
- Co-op or community partnership. Work with area residents and
organizations who will each contribute to the system. "Members" may
get priority access to services.
What variety of services are offered?
Community networks all have a different variety they offer.
- Services for Individuals
- Electronic mail
- File storage
- Individual access to the Internet (WWW, etc.)
- Individual access to local or national discussion groups (network
- Services for information providers
- Disk space & server for WWW pages, email, etc.
- Outreach & support services
- Additional services
- Dial-in modem pool (SLIP/PPP or plain text)
- Training, consulting
- Assistance with WWW authoring
Minimally, today's technologies call for an Internet-accessible
WWW server with some capability for email forwarding, file updates by
Technologies will evolve. In order to meet the needs of IPs and expectations
of users, services will change as time progresses.
Support for these services is dependent on the general services
offered. Minimally, expertise in both system administration and
user training/consulting is required. This is typically two different
people, but they may not need to be full-time for a minimal configuration
How much will it cost?
||56K or T1
||1 to 4 FTE + volunteers
||Internet server; hardware
||$6K-$10K/year for dial tones
||$250/year + computer
||A physical location
Build on existing strengths!
Possible participants are here today, and other people you know.
The Sinnissippi Valley Information Network is off to a tremendous
start and has raised community awareness.
Other Illinois communities and regions are available for cooperative
efforts (NSLS, Champaign, Peoria...)
Focus on synergy and cooperative efforts. Duplication of effort is
OK if good coordination and communication exists.
Dr. Gregory B. Newby
at the Rock Valley College on May 3, 1996.
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