Community Networking Around the World

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Reporter: William Hart

David Wilcox, a former journalist with interests in community action and campaigns, helped develop the Partnerships for Tomorrow network in the United Kingdom. Wilcox has consulted on partnerships to regenerate local communities and has written a book titled The Guide to Effective Participation .

When he saw the Internet "coming over the horizon" in the UK, he saw it as a way of helping with community participation, a way of building community and community networks (CNs). Wilcox mentioned two barriers to establishing CNs in the UK. For years academics have established academic communities. Listservs are easily set up in the academic communities, but were not easily set up outside academia. CNs also have to deal with a relatively high local call charge.

Wilcox also attempted to define a community network from his UK perspective.

CNs in the UK are usually public information disseminate systems started by volunteers with local government support. He admits, though, "we don't really know yet" what a CN is. It is a "whole mix of things." One of the 'things' that Wilcox feels that should be an important part of any definition of a CN is the concept of community development in general. CN development should be rooted in community development. There is a link between community development and electronic community development that Wilcox feels has not been looked at enough. For more information on the Partnerships for Tomorrow network and the book The Guide to Effective Participation contact David Wilcox at

Giovanni Morchio is a computer consultant who has assisted various organizations in Chile with using computer and telecommunication technologies. Morchio described two education-oriented community networks in Chile (the MECE-Media Project and the Enlaces Project). According to Morchio, community networks are seldom established outside of schools because of the high cost of the technology, the high taxes and the low ownership of computers in Chile. The Chilean Ministry of Education funds the development of networks in schools.

The MECE-Media Project was set up to improve education in 62 high schools in Chile. The specific goals of the Project include (1) to establish a nationwide network with active participation of high schools and universities, (2) to develop an "informatic culture" as part of the education process and (3) to incorporate the new information and communication technologies into the schools curriculum.

The Enlaces Project is a component of the MECE-Media Project. The Enlaces Project is a nationwide project for high schools, but primarily for elementary schools. As of November of 1995, the network has integrated 148 elementary schools, 22 public high schools and 31 institutions. (MECE-Media Project web site: ; Enlaces Project web site: See also the separate ComNet '96 story on Morchio at Morchio's personal e-mail and personal web site are and

Tony Colaraine, a native of the UK, worked in the US as a physicist. In the past few years Colaraine retired to San Felipe, a small city in northwestern Mexico. Soon upon his arrival to San Felipe he began to suffer from withdrawal. He had become accustomed to browsing the web, e-mailing and various other Internet activities. San Felipe has the beauty and seclusion to have attracted over 3,000 American retirees, but about 98% of the people in the San Felipe do not have telephones. Colaraine discovered no Internet access in San Felipe. The nearest computer store is 130 miles away. San Felipe is in isolated area. There is only one major road into San Felipe..

Colaraine decided to bring another road into San Felipe, the information superhighway. He currently plans to bring in Internet access via a microwave link. Colaraine has turned his search for a cure to his personal withdrawal symptoms into a quest to attain Internet access for the people of San Felipe, especially the school children. The San Felipe school system has about 4,000 students and about 24 computers, none of which are networked. This works out to about 15 minutes per week of computer use per student. Colaraine said that many of the school children are "learning about the Internet, but never have seen it."

In addition to the school children, Colaraine sees other possible benefactors of Internet access. Local businesses, especially in the tourist industry, could benefit from being linked to the Internet. Many of the local hotels are near empty during the week. Some area hotels have showed an interest in setting up conference and workshop rooms with Internet access to attract businesses from the US. Web sites could also be set up to attract tourists to San Felipe. A link to the Internet would also allow US retirees to keep in touch their families in the US. Colaraine sees the local tourism and retirees as potential sources of revenue.

With the help of others, Colaraine recently set up computers with Internet access in a San Felipe shopping plaza. A thousand people came to the 14 hour demonstration of what the information highway could bring to San Felipe. The San Felipe school children were especially attracted to the demonstration. "The school children were just wild about it," said Colaraine. In turn the school teachers and parents wanted access. The area phone company was soon swamped with orders for phones. Colaraine continues his quest.

Anders Olsson, a journalist from Sweden, has written several articles and books on computers and freedom of information. He recently received a grant to travel around the US and Canada to study the impact of information technology on democracy. His most recent stop is in Taos, New Mexico, the site of ComNet 96.

Olsson briefly described community networking in his home country of Sweden. In Sweden, a country the size of California with a population 9 million people, many communities have web sites. Many of the web sites, however, are no more tourist advertisements proclaiming that the community they represent is "the hidden pearl of Sweden." Few sites are more advanced, said Olsson. The web site established by Kalmar, a city in southeast Sweden, is "one of the more ambitious [sites]." Olsson gave the session audience a tour of this site and others. The Kalmar site is not in English, but some sites do have English versions. The URL for the Kalmar site is Olsson's e-mail address is olssona@algon