Getting Our Community Online

May 3, 1996

Fundamental Questions

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:

In addition, many community information networks also provide basic access to electronic mail, dial-in modem service, and Internet access.

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:

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 information network.

Funding models

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:

What variety of services are offered?

Community networks all have a different variety they offer.

Technical services

Minimally, today's technologies call for an Internet-accessible WWW server with some capability for email forwarding, file updates by IPs, etc.

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 of services.

How much will it cost?

Item Description Approximate Cost
Internet connectivity 56K or T1 $300-$2500/month ongoing
Personnel 1 to 4 FTE + volunteers $25K-$100+K/year
Equipment Internet server; hardware $10K-$75K
Modem access 30-50 lines $6K-$10K/year for dial tones
Public-access sites Each $250/year + computer
Office, infrastructure... A physical location $0-$500/month

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.

(Presented by Dr. Gregory B. Newby at the Rock Valley College on May 3, 1996. This presentation is available online as: