Community Networks

Community Networks

R. A. Cropf (Saint Louis University, USA)
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch029
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Since the emergence of community networks in the 1980s, several authors have put forth a number of different definitions of the concept. The definitions included below emphasize certain key elements of community networks and comprise a representative sample of views regarding this phenomenon. The Association for Community Networking (AFCN), for instance, defines community networks as “projects that bring local people together to discuss their community’s issues and opportunities, learn about Internet technology, and decide upon and create services to address these community needs and opportunities” (AFCN, n.d.). Furthermore, according to the AFCN, there is a “special focus on including those who are traditionally left out of community decision making in general, and technology decision making in particular (e.g., low-income, minorities, senior citizens).” Broadly speaking, community networks are designed, created, and implemented with the purpose of “improving communities—in the social, political and economic realms” (O’Neil, 2002). Indeed, “networks are sometimes defined as communities themselves.” A common theme among the various definitions is the belief that networks should create a little self-contained part of cyberspace. Thus, a community network could be construed “as a mini-Internet, only open to members of the community” (Vazquez, 2003). Another important aspect of community networking is the capacity of the Internet and e-mail to aid in community development, in that they “provide access to a new mode of social interaction, one that virtualizes community development processes” (Graham, 1996). Ultimately, community networks and the relationships that develop among the participants make up what has been called an “electronic greenbelt to reinforce and add value to the community” (Cisler, 1993).Schuler (1996) defines community networks as “community-based computer networks … intended to help revitalize, strengthen and expand existing people-based community networks (p. 25). Based on the previous definitions, we postulate our own definition of community networks as organizations that help to strengthen real communities through the creation of virtual communities, not as a substitute for but as a complement to real communities. Typically these community networks are created to address specific local needs involving expansion of Web access to underserved segments of the community but often end up embracing the enhancement of other forms of social, political and economic access as well. Furthermore, as we discuss in some of the sections below, governments can have an important role in sponsoring community networks but, in general, these networks are the offshoots of community activists-volunteers serving in a nonofficial capacity. This allows them to take positions contrary to those of the government(s) serving the jurisdictions that the community networks are in.

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