Community Computing Networks (e.g. Free-Nets, city nets, electronic villages), for the purposes of this presentation, are defined as non-profit or otherwise non-commercial telecommunications networks. They can range from a text based, local access only BBS to a cooperative of media organizations (TV, radio, cable, telephone, Internet, newspaper, other print media, etc.). The cooperative may well include commercial, for-profit organizations but the operation and function of the network itself is non-profit/non-commercial.
The RECA Foundation has operated a Free-Net in rural, Southeastern Washington State (Pacific Northwest, USA) since 1992. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to information dissemination and focused on the "have-nots" of the telecommunications age. The function of the Foundation has changed from operating a stand alone Free-Net to that of facilitator and coordinator of all sorts of media. The Columbia Basin Public Information Network (CBPIN) is the current stage of this evolution. Community computing networks have, for the most part, been information and access providers. We see their role as evolving, if they are to survive, into content providers, collaboration facilitators, and advocates for the "low end user".
The Tri-Cities area is undergoing a transition from an economy based on government support (Hanford) to a market-driven economy. At least that's the theory. The "government" recently hired outside consultants to analyze the local economic situation and "develop strategic economic directions and an action agenda for the future Tri-Cities economy". The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) report provides plenty of analysis, references to other communities, and some detailed recommendations in its 120 plus pages. The bottom line focus is on "cluster-based" economic development and collaboration.
At the risk of wearing out that last term, we'll use up most of our quota here and move on! The report was critical of the many economic entities all working on the problem but not truly working together. The authors of the report were apparently not aware of the RECA Foundation, CBPIN, or the collaborative efforts we had initiated. Communications, as we see it, are the key to the success of any community-wide effort - no matter what the goal. CBPIN already exists and provides the beginnings of the infrastructure for such communications. Specifically, the report stated: "Successfully implementing the Hanford Partnership Council (HPC) depends less on finding funds to support staff than it does upon leaders in the Tri- Cities agreeing to collaborate to solve specific problems together". Sound familiar? We thought the consultants had borrowed a quote from Frank Odasz (Big Sky Telegraph - a Free-Net in Western Montana) when he was "wondering when the top-down leadership will figure out the benefits of supporting bottom-up innovations and local leadership". He said: "Mass collaboration is more dependent on shared imagination than elaborate bandwidth".
Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration! With that said, we'll move on to the reality of The Changing Role of Community Computing Networks. Excerpts from the CBPIN Project Plan follow and, together with the references in the bibliography, clearly provide one model for that changing role.
COLUMBIA BASIN PUBLIC INFORMATION NETWORK [CBPIN]
Executive Director, RECA Foundation
"Like the PC, the Internet is a tidal wave. It will wash over the computer industry and many others, drowning those who don't learn to swim in its waves. The Internet has shortcomings, but they will be overcome.
Only some of the companies laying bets on the Internet will be winners. But companies that bet against the Internet will be losers."
-- Bill Gates, InteraAvtive Age Daily; 9/1/95...
CBPIN is a network of organizations dedicated to providing the widest possible access to the Information Superhighway. Our goal for this project is to ensure everyone has access appropriate to their needs - business, educators, students, children, non-profits, the rich, the poor, the homeless. The CBPIN will take the RECA Foundation's Lewis & Clark Project to the next level in Southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon. The RECA Foundation will act as the primary agent for the CBPIN and endeavor to expand the Tri- Cities Free-Net(c); establish and maintain a World Wide Web Server for educational, government, and other not-for-profit organizations; and generally facilitate information dissemination among the network members and the general public.
WHO IS THE RECA FOUNDATION?
We are a Washington non-profit organization, exempt from federal income tax as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and classified as a publicly supported non-profit organization.
The Foundation has operated the Tri-Cities Free-Net (formerly the Tri-Cities On-Line) as a demonstration project and research and development platform since 1992. The Foundation is a member of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) and one of the many Free-Nets that are growing world-wide. The NPTN provides similar functions and services that PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) provides to member Public Television Stations. The Foundation's major focus is information dissemination. The Lewis & Clark Information Highway Project is the primary vehicle of that focus. Additional information (including annual reports) are available on the Tri-Cities Free-Net and as referenced in the bibliography.
The Lewis & Clark Information Highway Project (1). The Project was presented at Telecommunities '95 (August, 1995, Victoria, Canada) and is available in the Proceedings on the Web and on the Tri-Cities Free-Net. The Executive Summary for that Project reads:
"The goal of this project is to assist rural communities in the Pacific Northwest in planning for their own public access to the Internet, World Wide Web (WWW), and other online resources. This project will: endeavor to provide access to those areas underserved; maximize the use of existing and planned telecommunications infrastructure; and ensure active participation from a wide range of social, economic, and cultural interests. The emphasis will be on establishing, as a minimum, a community computing network (data telecommunications) based on the unique needs, assets and expertise of each locale. A well developed, turnkey community computing system will be made available as a low cost option."
There are five (5) problems/needs that are addressed in the L&C Project. Briefly, the status of the five areas as applied to the greater Tri-Cities area are:
II. Application of Technology - serving the needs of everyone. The CBPIN provides access throughout the entire spectrum of user capabilities and requirements. Recently, for example, the RECA Foundation donated a 2400Kbps modem to a Richland school teacher so that he could participate in the K-12 Student exchange on the Free-Net. He is now able to fully participate in the project even though he only owns an IBM PC (8088 processor) with dual 360Kb floppies and no hard drive. He communicates with student and teachers in Russia via Internet e-mail free of charge. High-end users, on the other hand, have access to the latest technologies through commercial members of the network.
III. Most commercial services and some community networks do not serve all members of the community. The commercial Network members provide free access to the Free-Net. The Free-Net, in turn, serves the potential "have-nots" both directly and indirectly through the Mid-Columbia Library Network and the communities' service providers. The text based systems also provide an essential service to certain disabilities. There are several blind users, for example, that use text reading hardware/software devices. The high-end browsers (e.g. Netscape) is of no use to these individuals. The collaboration and integration of a wide range of services (in television terms: free access, to basic cable, to pay-per-view) ensures service to the entire community.
IV. A training program is needed. The beginnings of a comprehensive program are in place. The Foundation provides some training through Community Education Classes, "hands-on" training for non-profit organizations, and free Internet seminars. Commercial providers supply a wide range of classes and hands-on training. The Foundation is working on a number of grant applications to provide additional education and training for the non-profit community and their clients/patrons.
V. There is no local organization that exists to facilitate and help organize the various telecommunications projects and programs. The RECA Foundation performs that role in the Tri-Cities area and will continue to do so within the CBPIN.
HOW WILL THE PROJECT GOAL BE ACCOMPLISHED?
I. Expand current membership.
Founding members of the Network include:
Network membership is open to any organization or individual who contributes in some way to the project goal. Representatives will be recruited from government, education, business, health care, social services, senior citizens, other community networks, etc.
II. Educate and train the general public in information technology.
Significantly expand upon the number five area of need identified in the L&C Project. This Project will include a broad range of education and training that will:
In November, 1995 the RECA Foundation was awarded a grant by the U.S. West Foundation to conduct a series of seminars (Internet Business Application Program) for small businesses in Franklin County. The Foundation was also awarded a HUD (Housing & Urban Development) block grant to provide a computer with Internet access, and a series of seminars and workshops for the City of Kennewick Senior Citizen's Center.
III. Coordinate the further development of the "Electronic Village".
The Tri-Cities area has an excellent start. The Columbia Basin Virtual Community Project (BOSS), the Tri-Cities Free-Net, the Mid- Columbia Library Network, and information providers (current and future CBPIN members) all contribute to the Electronic Village concept. Collaboration of assets is a major emphasis. Some specific intentions include:
IV. Plan for and provide funding
The RECA Foundation has carried out its objectives for the past three years with minimal funding. Two full-time employees have worked without salary during this period while equipment and supplies have come from community donations. This Project will require equipment upgrades, new equipment and software, and paid staff.
V. Continue to provide a model of success for others
The Lewis & Clark Information Highway Project was one of 15 papers presented at Telecommunities '95 (International Community Networking Conference, August, 1995 - Victoria, B.C., Canada). Like the L&C Project, the success of the CBPIN Project is measured in real time, by example, as the network grows. The Changing Role of Community Computing Networks will be presented at a number of regional, national, and international conferences. The major component of this presentation will be this Project Plan, revised as evolution occurs.
The budget below is the basic operational budget. The CBPIN Project and budget will be administered and managed by the RECA Foundation. Additional funding for specific programs (e.g. seminars, group and individual training, computers for non-profits, travel) will be the subject of grant applications and other funding initiatives.
.... budget summary - details available upon request ....
Total one year budget is $63,365.00. This includes equipment upgrades for the TCFN, a non-profit WWW server, and two one-half time staff members. In-kind funding totals $20,840.00 and includes phone lines, Internet connectivity, and server support.
I. What You Get.
II. What Your Membership Supports.
III. Minimum Suggested Dues (Yearly Dues).
"Lewis & Clark Information Highway Project", RECA Foundation, Bruce McComb, Executive Director. Available: Proceedings, Telecommunications '95 and on the Tri- Cities Free-Net, RECA Foundation Files Library.
"The Library and Wired Communities in Rural Areas", Apple Library, Steve Cisler (1994). Available: Tri-Cities Free-Net, RECA Foundation Files Library.
"Technology: Are Charities Missing the Revolution?", The Chronicle of Philanthropy October 19, 1993, Stephen G. Greene. Available: SYSOP@tcfn.org.
"From Oregon to the Kalu Ganga in Sri Lanka: Computer Networks Link Non-Profit Groups" The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 19, 1993, by Vince Stehle. Available: SYSOP@tcfn.org.
"Survey on Have Nots", US Department of Commerce, 1995. Available: SYSOP@tcfn.org.
"Columbia Basin Virtual Community Project."
"Columbia Basin Public Information Network."
"Tri-Cities Free-Net", Telnet: tcfn.org, modem: (509) 543-2900, or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Homeless find their place: Internet 'geeks' discover whole world to explore at downtown library", Linda Keene, Seattle Times, July 11, 1994. Available: SYSOP@tcfn.org.
"Guide to Online Systems for Nonprofits", Second Edition, CompuMentor, December, 1994. Available from CompuMentor: email@example.com.